Sunday 17 December 2017

Ireland must reduce UK trade reliance after Brexit vote, says Fianna Fail leader

Leader of Fianna Fail Micheal Martin said Ireland must become less dependent on business with the UK in the post-Brexit era
Leader of Fianna Fail Micheal Martin said Ireland must become less dependent on business with the UK in the post-Brexit era

Ireland must widen its trading horizons to become less dependent on business with the UK in the post-Brexit era, Micheal Martin has said.

The Fianna Fail leader said there was also a need for immediate support for those hit hardest by the dramatic fall in the value of sterling, namely Irish exporters and those living in border communities, while the EU had to "allow and to support direct aid" to help the Irish economy weather the impact of the UK exit.

Delivering his party's annual commemorative address at the burial site of Irish republican Wolfe Tone, Mr Martin was withering in his assessment of the UK government's handling of the Brexit situation, describing it as "little short of shambolic".

"None of the people who argued for Brexit prepared plans for actually achieving the result - other than the arrogant belief that the world, including Europe, would rush to trade with Britain," he said in the speech at Bodenstown, Co Kildare.

"The cabinet ministers responsible for Brexit have been cavalier and grossly unprofessional. They have been making it up as they go along, and after four months have yet to say what they are looking for other than to keep all the good bits, dump everything they don't like, make their own rules and pay for nothing."

Mr Martin claimed the London government's attitude to the majority Remain votes in Northern Ireland and Scotland had been "at best dismissive".

"The cost of Brexit will show itself over time and will push Britain to the margins of international affairs," he said.

"Whatever the economic impact is on Britain, and I have no doubt it will be highly negative and long-term, for Ireland there is now no doubt that we face a deep and rising threat.

"Brexit is already hurting. The fall of sterling to its lowest ever trade-weighted level is undermining Irish exporters and already costing jobs. Communities on the border are hurting and are looking ahead to an uncertain future - which is the very thing which undermines investment and employment.

"Ireland has to push for actions which can soften the potential short and medium-term destruction which Brexit may involve. We can't wait for another two and a half years before businesses and communities receive support to either replace lost markets or to be competitive in spite of the massive fall in sterling.

"What we also need is to understand that this is a decision which will affect us permanently. It challenges our core economic strategies and demands medium and long-term policies."

The leader of the Dail's main opposition party said: "If Ireland is to prosper and deliver a decent standard of living for all of its people it must be open to the world, it must trade. In these circumstance where a major market has decided to leave the security of the European Union and is facing long-term currency volatility we have to respond. It would be naive and foolish of us to think that we will be able to simply just carry on.

"There is no doubt that we have to work much harder to diversify our markets and reduce our reliance on trade with Britain. Crucially we have to seek ways of dramatically increasing skills levels and innovation levels. It is in industries where ideas and skills are central that we can compete and win no matter what is happening in the British economy."

Mr Martin said the Irish Republic had to stand by the people of Northern Ireland and also not be afraid to support Scottish demands to remain in the EU.

"Ireland will stand by the European Union," he said.

"We will be true to the great ideal of working together for shared prosperity and peace. We need Europe to stand by us. We need the Union to allow and to support direct aid to stop us from suffering serious damage from Britain's decision to take its own route."

On domestic political issues, Mr Martin defended his confidence and supply arrangement with the Fine Gael minority government, claiming Fianna Fail's "constructive" stance had stopped the implementation of "damaging" policies.

He claimed Taoiseach Enda Kenny's government was "drifting", accusing it of failures in key areas, including hospital waiting lists, education and job security.

"In area after area it is failing to tackle problems with the urgency or ambition which they need," he said.

"This has nothing to do with them being in the minority. Ministers have absolute freedom to use the immense resources available to them to set out concrete strategies for the future. Instead they are constantly reactive and failing to engage with the issues."

Press Association

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