The stakes are high - so we must don the green jersey and put aside partisan posturing
Published 01/07/2016 | 02:30
For many people, there is a strong temptation to look at the unfolding events in British politics and laugh. While they contain many elements of high farce, this is the wrong reaction. The fact is that the bigger the mess is in the UK administration, the bigger the risks are for us.
What is needed most of all is clarity and professionalism. While we can't decide what happens in London, we can at least get on with implementing the urgent and comprehensive strategy required to protect Ireland's interests.
There is no way around the fact that Ireland, the UK and Europe are now facing an enormous economic, social and political threat. Every single non-partisan body that has examined the potential impact of Brexit has confirmed that it threatens long-term damage.
As we've seen in the past few days, those who were loudest in calling for a Leave vote didn't undertake even the most basic work on what to do next. On the single market, on freedom of movement and on every element of the UK-EU relationship, they haven't been able to move from slogans to proposals. In fact they can't even agree when and how they want to start the negotiations.
This is a time for us all to put on the green jersey. The stakes are too high for partisan posturing. Yes, there are parties and representatives who love to attack the EU as a monster - but everyone else needs to work together. I and my party have been addressing the issue of a potential Brexit for nearly three years and we are absolutely clear on the four core principles that we think should inform our response.
First, we have to show there is strong consensus on the fact that Ireland intends to remain as a committed member of the EU. Hundreds of thousands of jobs depend on our EU membership and it is central to the idea of an Ireland that is open and engaged in building a shared future with other nations.
While the English nationalism that delivered the Brexit vote is inward-looking and isolationist, the tradition of Irish nationalism, defined in 1916, 1919 and in our Constitution, is positive and internationalist. We must use every opportunity possible to spread this message.
Second, we must give Brexit an absolute priority in our public business. Within Government, the current inter-departmental arrangements must be expanded, with more full-time staff. We have to increase our bilateral connections with other EU states so they understand Ireland's position at every stage of negotiations.
Employers, unions and other organisations, such as those representing farmers, have decades of experience on EU matters and they must be fully involved in defining our interests and promoting them. Let's define the threats and opportunities and go about systematically addressing them. So as to ensure that there are no delays, a monthly formal report on Brexit activity should be published.
Third, we must insist the unique position of Ireland is recognised by the EU in negotiations. No country has anything approaching our level of connection with the UK. While our economic reliance on the British market has reduced, it is still significant - and the common travel area is a core part of our society. Our colleagues must recognise the all-island dimensions of Brexit.
Sinn Féin's posturing on a unification referendum has involved no attempt to reach beyond the party's base and is merely our most anti-EU party cynically trying to promote itself. When there is a possibility of passing such a referendum, let us hold it, but for now we can't waste time that should be spent on protecting the interests of Ireland, north and south, in these negotiations.
Fourth, we can't forget that the EU needs further reform. The work to refocus it on economic and social progress must not be ignored during the negotiations.
The disconnect between the EU and its citizens is not unique. Nearly every country has an even bigger disconnect between national politics and citizens. This is an era of political disillusionment and this will only change when people see a commitment to focusing on the issues of most concern to them. When the EU shows that it is acting with urgency and ambition on addressing the problems of citizens it will begin addressing the gap. As members of the euro, we have a particular interest in making sure that the identified causes of the recession are addressed.
This is a grave moment in European history, but we should never forget that the EU has been so successful that people have forgotten about its greatest achievement - ending a terrible cycle of destruction and depression. This generation faces a choice between returning to a failed model of competition between states or renewing its commitment to the principles of cooperation and shared development.
Ireland must be clear where it stands and do everything in its power to secure a positive future for us and Europe as a whole.