Minister McHugh - London engagements with Irish Community, Business leaders and Parliamentarians21 February 2017
Minister of State for the Diaspora and Overseas Development Aid Joe McHugh T.D travelled to London today for a series of engagements with the Irish community, including the business community, and with British parliamentarians.
Minister McHugh met today with members of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Ireland and the Irish in Britain where he outlined Ireland’s concerns and priorities on Brexit..
This evening Minister McHugh will address the London Irish Construction Network in Westminster in a speech entitled “Navigating Brexit”.
Minister McHugh will outline in his speech the impact of Brexit upon Ireland:
“The European Union is one of the most successful peace projects of our time. It has been one of the most important elements of our own peace process in Northern Ireland and it has invested heavily both financially and politically in it.
“The Irish Government is fully committed to working with our colleagues in the EU and with the UK to maintain the hard won peace on our island and to ensure that the Good Friday Agreement is upheld.”
Minister McHugh also outlined the ongoing work of the Irish government to prepare for the negotiations ahead:
“Through a huge diplomatic effort we are engaging with our EU counterparts at all levels –the Taoiseach and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Charlie Flanagan have met, and continue to meet, with other EU Prime and Foreign Ministers.
“All of this work is helping to make others aware of the unique circumstances that pertain to Ireland and to Irish-British relations.”
Tomorrow Minister McHugh will visit the London Irish Centre to meet with the LIC welfare section, the Irish Elderly Advice Network, and the Irish Chaplaincy.
Minister McHugh’s full Speech:
Visit by Minister of State Joe McHugh T.D. to London
21 February 2017
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Minister of State for the Diaspora and Overseas Development Aid Joe McHugh T.D is visiting London to hold a series of engagements with the Irish Community, Business leaders and British Parliamentarians. As part of his programme, Minister McHugh today delivered a speech entitled “Navigating Brexit” to the London Irish Construction Network.
Minister McHugh’s speech:
I am delighted to be here with you this evening and I would like in particular to thank Alasdair and Séan for bringing us together here tonight.
It’s always an honour to speak in another parliament, not least here in Westminster. I’m delighted to share the platform tonight with Robin Walker MP, who has engaged closely with Ireland since his appointment at the Department for Exiting the EU last summer.
There’s no doubting that the last twelve months have been tumultuous, particularly here in the UK but also at a global level. It is also no secret that the Irish government didn’t want the UK to leave the European Union but we respect the referendum result.
Our priority now is to minimise the impact of this decision on Ireland, and on the Irish in Britain. I include in this the enterprising people who make up this London Irish Construction Network – building good businesses, helping each other out, helping people get jobs and contributing to London’s and Britain’s economies through the results of your work.
I know our Embassy works with you closely and that you are worried around things like access to labour, arrangements around contracting people to work with you and – more broadly – the prospects for your sector given all the uncertainties around Brexit.
I’m here to hear your concerns first-hand and to feed them back to the government back home in Dublin. Robin will no doubt do the same here in London within the British government.
Although this was something that we hoped would never happen, the Irish Government has been planning for Brexit since well before the vote on 23 June. In fact the very next morning, on 24 June, we published a contingency framework which set out the main issues that Ireland faces as a result of the UK vote. The main issues identified then remain our core concerns today:
- The economy and trade;
- Northern Ireland and the Peace Process;
- The maintenance of the Common Travel Area with the UK and all that entails; and;
- The future of the EU itself, with Ireland at its heart.
The Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, gave a very comprehensive speech on our approach last week in Dublin and I encourage you all to study it closely.
In my few words tonight, I can’t and won’t repeat everything the Taoiseach said but I want to put a few key messages to you.
First, we know more today about where things are going than we perhaps did before Christmas.
Prime Minister May’s speech in January provided greater clarity on what the UK would like in relation to Brexit.
Within that speech and within her government’s White Paper on Brexit were clear and broadly helpful messages on retaining the Common Travel Area, avoiding a hard border with Northern Ireland and reflecting the unique and deep trading relationship within Ireland and between Ireland and the UK.
These are core Irish objectives too, albeit from our necessarily different position as a continuing member of the EU. Within the remaining 27 EU member states and with the key Institutions in Brussels, we are already pushing hard for there to be:
-The closest possible economic and trading relationship between the EU and the UK, including Ireland’s €1.2 billion-a-week trading relationship
-No hard border on the island of Ireland
-And for the continuation of the Common Travel Area
Each of these matter a lot to the Construction Network, and indeed to all those in the two Houses here at Westminster who care deeply about Irish-British relations, many of whom I’ve been meeting with on this visit. I know their depth of feeling very well from my time as co-chair of the British Irish Parliamentary Assembly.
So, the Irish government is making its case, repeatedly, in Brussels and in every single EU capital. The UK government, as the exiting member state and on the other side of the forthcoming negotiations from us and our 26 EU partners, is making its case too.
There is a lot of common ground therefore and – I can tell you already – strongly-built understanding already with our EU friends and with the chief negotiators in Brussels regarding the Irish-specific issues.
But there is a long way to go. This will be hard and very, very complex to negotiate.
There will have to be give and take on both sides - not least from the British side, it has to be said.
So I should not and will not make promises about where the negotiations will end, or that this or that priority will certainly be achieved. But huge groundwork is already done since last June, we will keep up that momentum and are determined to make the best of what is a major, major challenge.
Dear friends, the European Union is one of the most successful peace projects of our time. It has been one of the most important elements of our own peace process in Northern Ireland and it has invested heavily both financially and politically in it. Access to PEACE, Interreg and other EU funding has been critical in rebuilding both infrastructure and communities in Northern Ireland.
The Irish Government is fully committed to working with our colleagues in the EU and with the UK to maintain the hard won peace on our island and to ensure that the Good Friday Agreement is upheld.
I’m sure that many of you here today remember what it was like to travel through Northern Ireland in the past; stopping at heavy security checkpoints on the way in, and again on the way out, queuing to have your car searched and never knowing quite how long your journey was going to take. As a proud Donegal man, I am acutely aware that to get to most other parts of the country I cross once – often twice- in every journey from Dublin. Other than a short strip of land between Donegal and Sligo/Leitrim, a hard border around Northern Ireland would make Donegal an absolute outpost at the very edge of Europe, with real impacts on transiting goods and people.
And this Donegal man is just one of approximately 30,000 people cross the border per day to carry out their normal business – going to school, work, or college, or for leisure and entertainment. The invisible nature of the border as we now know it has also had an enormous psychological impact, helping to heal, and to restore normality to divided communities.
So what are the next steps and what is the Irish government doing?
Well, pending conclusion of deliberations here in Westminister on the Government’s bill, we can expect formal notification of the UK’s exit in the coming weeks, leading to formal negotiations starting.
In the meantime, our groundwork continues. As I’ve mentioned, through a huge diplomatic effort we are engaging with our EU counterparts at all levels –the Taoiseach and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Charlie Flanagan have met, and continue to meet, with other EU Prime and Foreign Ministers – Minister Flanagan has already had over 80 such meetings.
All of this work is helping to make others aware of the unique circumstances that pertain to Ireland and to Irish-British relations. This is already showing signs of being effective with Northern Ireland explicitly named as one of Michel Barnier’s initial priorities.
And while fully respecting the “no negotiating before notification” principle, there are many areas where we have bilateral concerns with the UK. We are fortunate to have a structure of cooperation – a joint work programme - between all Government departments at home and UK ministries. We also have other useful mechanisms including the British Irish Council. Through these, we will watch closely for issues of concern on a sectoral basis, including for your own sector.
We are also taking great care to consult – to listen, as is the case today here in London and now with yourselves. Across the Irish Sea, the All-Island Civic Dialogue process has allowed up to engage with over 1,400 people across all aspects of business and society through 14 sectoral dialogues. We had the second plenary meeting in Dublin Castle last Friday. All of this engagement will feed directly into our negotiating position.
At home, our economic response is thorough and growing; for example - a Brexit-proofed Budget; improving infrastructure, a medium term Enterprise 2025 Strategy with support for businesses directly impacted by Brexit, coupled with additional resources for Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland. I know Enterprise Ireland in particular has many great and innovative client companies in your sector.
I will conclude there – I look forward to continuing the conversations with you to learn from your industry on the challenges – and indeed any opportunities where they exist – related to Brexit.
Finally, for those of you who wish to stay informed of the Irish Government’s Brexit plans you can sign up for our Brexit updates on www.merrionstreet.ie. Dan Mulhall and the Embassy team is always available to you as you know, here on the ground in Britain.
Thank you again to Alasdair and to Séan.
Go raibh maith agaibh go leir.
21 February 2017