European Movement Ireland – Brexit Blog is an “important initiative”
We are inviting guest articles on the issue of Brexit and its implications. The European Movement Ireland’s Executive Director Noelle O’Connell writes – “Brexit is bigger than all of us and will require a concerted approach.”
“The Ireland I now inhabit is one that these Irish contemporaries have helped to imagine”. These were the words spoken by Seamus Heaney in his Nobel Lecture in 1995. While Heaney was referring to how poets such as W.B. Yeats had helped transform Irish political and cultural identity after the Civil War, these words could just as easily be applied to the founders of European Movement (EM) Ireland and those who advocated for Irish membership of what was to become the EU, the European Economic Community. Ireland’s membership of the EU has been overwhelmingly positive for all the citizens of this island, both North and South. Indeed, in an independent poll carried out in 2016 on behalf of EM Ireland, 87% of Irish people agree that EU membership has benefited Ireland.
It is ironic as I write this, today over 45 years ago, Ireland, the UK and Denmark all signed the Treaties of Accession to the EEC. And now, we know that the UK will be leaving this community over the next 2 years.
Visions such as the removal of a hard border between the North and South of the island have now become realities, and with it, social and economic ties have deepened. This more peaceful and prosperous island which we all now inhabit is, in no small part, a result of Ireland and the UK’s joint membership of the EU. However, there is little doubt that Brexit creates significant challenges to this progress, both economically – where the effects are likely to be most acutely felt in the border regions – and politically. As UK Prime Minister Theresa May signals her intention for the UK to exit the Single Market and at least parts of the Customs Union, the combination of imagination and reasoned debate will once again be key in navigating the uncertain times ahead.
EMI – An independent, reasoned voice in uncertain times
Founded in 1954, pre-dating Ireland’s membership of the EU by almost twenty years, European Movement Ireland is Ireland’s longest established not-for-profit membership organisation dedicated solely to European issues. Today, EM Ireland works to develop the connection between Ireland and Europe through engagement, accountability and debate. An independent, non-partisan voice, we are very proud to have facilitated links between all sectors of Irish society and the EU for over 60 years.
Pre-UK Referendum campaigns
As early as 2015, EM Ireland started work on what was then a potentially upcoming UK referendum on its membership of the EU. In January 2015, EM Ireland co-hosted a conference with Ibec entitled ‘Reform or Referendum – The UK, Ireland and the Future of Europe’ in Dublin Castle, with speakers including the Rt Hon Kenneth Clarke QC MP, Naomi Long MP, and Ruairí Quinn TD.
Once the referendum was decided, in its lead up, EM Ireland organised a series of National Conversation events around Ireland. These events aimed to increase awareness and understanding of the UK’s EU reform and referendum agenda among the Irish public. Launched in Dublin in November 2015, there were also events in Cork and Galway. The final National Conversation event in June 2016 was organised with our partners European Movement Northern Ireland and took place in Queen’s University, Belfast.
In parallel to this, EM Ireland ran an online awareness campaign, #PhoneAFriend. The first stage of the campaign was an online voter registration drive to get the message out to 500,000 Irish-born in Britain and the 120,000 British in Ireland who were eligible to vote in the referendum of their right to vote and of registration deadlines. The second stage was to inform the registered Irish in Britain and British in Ireland of various voting deadlines and get out the vote on the day.
While EM Ireland never advocated how people should vote in the referendum, we never shied away from our belief that Brexit would be bad for the EU, bad for the UK and bad for Ireland. In this context, efforts were focussed on providing independent, factual information, including publishing numerous of our ‘Just the Facts’ briefings.
EM Ireland engagement on Brexit
Since the UK voted to leave the EU on 23 June 2016, EM Ireland has worked tirelessly to inform all sectors of Irish society on both the process of Brexit and its potential implications for the whole island of Ireland. As part of this, EM Ireland was pleased to be invited by the Taoiseach Enda Kenny TD and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Charlie Flanagan TD, to participate in the All-Island Civic Dialogue on Brexit.
Let us be under no illusion; Brexit is one of the most critical issues that has faced the EU since its foundation, and the island of Ireland, North and South, will be most impacted by the UK’s departure. Now, there is now a very short period for Ireland to articulate, mobilise and communicate our unique case and priorities, including to our EU partners. There is an opportunity, and indeed a responsibility, on all of us on this island to do so in a concerted manner. We can’t afford to be complacent.
In this regard, we welcome the Brexit Border Blog as an important initiative to develop and foster dialogue. EM Ireland believes that it will be a valuable information sharing service, and will help in pinpointing the various all-island consequences of Brexit as the situation evolves and develops.
Brexit is bigger than all of us and it will require a concerted approach. To evoke Heaney, the imagination of our contemporaries will be critical in ensuring we continue to inhabit a peaceful, prosperous island in an uncertain, post-Brexit world.