Flanagan warns of risks to Ireland if UK quits EU
The real threat of Britain leaving the European Union raises issues for people in Northern Ireland and Scotland - which will also pose problems for these regions' relations with Ireland, Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan has warned.
Speaking ahead of a visit to Scotland today, Mr Flanagan repeated the intention of the Government to speak out during the "EU exit referendum debate" in the UK - which is expected after British elections in May.
The Foreign Affairs Minister defended the Government decision to remain silent in last September's Scottish independence vote, insisting that was "entirely a matter for the Scottish people".
But he also pledged to strengthen Irish-Scottish relations at every level, partly to strengthen the Northern Ireland peace process.
Mr Flanagan stressed that he viewed the risk of a United Kingdom exit from the European Union as one big single issue.
"I believe that the EU has been good for the UK and equally the UK has been good for the EU.
"I'm convinced they must not leave, and as another member state we are obliged to express that view," he told the Irish Independent. But the Foreign Affairs Minister said Ireland must address the likelihood that soon after UK elections in May, it was very likely there would be a referendum on that country's EU membership.
He insisted that the Irish Government would be obliged to strongly express a view in that case.
Mr Flanagan reiterated the belief that Ireland is the UK's biggest trading partner, with strong social and cultural links between the two islands which date back centuries.
He also pointed out that Northern Ireland's unique position, with links to both Irish and British jurisdictions, gave an additional imperative to Dublin to speak on the UK-EU membership issue.
"I come at this issue from a 'whole of United Kingdom perspective' rather than just the implications from a Welsh, Scotland and Northern Ireland point of view.
"I realise that there are special issues for the people of Scotland - and they must decide on those in a referendum vote," Mr Flanagan said.
But he said the Government's relations with both Northern Ireland and Scotland on EU issues were extremely strong and multi-faceted.
He said the North, Scotland's highlands and islands and the west of Ireland had common interests in a number of EU policy areas.
These included farm policy, regional policy, and the so-called "Interreg Fund", which promotes cross-border and regional joint projects.
"I'm hoping that we can continue these links between Northern Ireland, Scotland and Dublin," Mr Flanagan said.
The Foreign Affairs Minister said Ireland's relations with the London government were now excellent and he met each month with his British counterpart, Philip Hammond, at EU meetings.
He said the Irish consulate in Edinburgh, which was established after the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, is to be given more resources as Ireland embarks on a major effort to develop further trade and cultural relations with Scotland at every level possible.