'Brexit' will pose risk to Irish economy, warns Kenny
Taoiseach Enda Kenny has made his first concrete intervention in the debate over Britain's future in the European Union, warning that a 'Brexit' poses a "major strategic risk" for the Irish economy.
In an indication of the Government's intention to play a role during the campaign, Mr Kenny said it would be "sympathetic and supportive" of reform proposals by British Prime Minister David Cameron.
The Fine Gael leader said that while the choice on whether or not to stay in the European Union was for the British people alone to take, its continued membership "is good for Ireland and for relationships on these islands".
Mr Kenny stressed that a Brexit was an "outcome that the Irish Government does not want to see materialise at all", adding that his Government's commitment to the EU was "clear and unqualified".
"But I think it is right - as your friend, closest neighbour and the only EU partner with whom Britain shares a land border - to share our perspective with you. The Irish Government's strong view, backed up by independent economic research published last week, is that a 'Brexit' is not in Ireland's economic interest," Mr Kenny said.
The Taoiseach made the remarks during an address to the Confederation of Business Industry conference in London.
In a boost to Mr Cameron, Mr Kenny clearly signalled his support to the Tory leader in his bid to secure a deal for the UK.
"I have also seen how the union could do better. I share the view that we need to look critically at what we do at EU level and how we do it," Mr Kenny said, adding: "Ireland will be open and pragmatic when it comes to sensible proposals to improve the EU."
Signalling Ireland's support for Britain remaining in the EU, the Taoiseach told the conference that Ireland was the UK's fifth-largest market, with more than £20bn worth of British goods and services exported to Ireland yearly, creating an estimated 200,000 jobs in Britain.
Mr Kenny was speaking in advance of a keynote speech Mr Cameron is scheduled to give today on the issue as he prepares to present his list of demands for reform to the European Council president Donald Tusk.
Mr Cameron is expected to call for several areas of reform, including faster completion of the single market, and among his demands will be permission to restrict benefits to immigrants to the European Union and more power to block EU legislation.
Earlier, Mr Cameron told an audience that if the EU was "flexible enough, we'll stay - people in Europe know I'm deadly serious".
Mr Cameron was heckled briefly by two anti-EU protesters in the hall as he made his speech.
Meanwhile in Dublin, Tánaiste Joan Burton said EU support for the Peace Process should not be underestimated.
"When such hard-won progress has been made, the last thing we want is to see that put at risk," she said.
The Labour Party leader reiterated much of what Mr Kenny said in London, insisting that the UK's place in Europe was hugely important to Ireland and the EU.
"From the outset, our position has been clear: we want the UK to remain in the EU," Ms Burton said.
"We'll be as constructive and helpful as possible in the negotiations."
Elsewhere, leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP) Nigel Farage said there would be no threat to the trade links between Ireland and the UK in the event of a 'Brexit'.
Mr Farage, who is a renowned Eurosceptic, told RTÉ's 'Morning Ireland' that Irish voters were "bullied" into accepting the Nice Treaty after being asked to vote for it for a second time.
"Indeed, just as Ireland had in the run-up to the Nice referendum, when of course we should remind ourselves that the Irish people said No, only to be told that really isn't good enough, Ireland - you're a little country you must rethink this and vote again and you were bullied into submission the second time around."