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Tánaiste’s Remarks to DCU Brexit Institute

I am delighted to be here today to address the inaugural event of the DCU Brexit Institute. I know the institute has already organised a number of excellent seminars but I understand that today marks the formal launch of the institute so many congratulations to President MacCraith, Deputy President Keogh, Professor Fabbrini and all involved. You’ve picked a nice small niche topic for this first event!

I know you have already had a very full day and I hope many enlightening and interesting debates. It is very important to have these discussions at a time when, because of Brexit, we are all grappling with the future shape of two of Ireland’s core strategic relationships – with our closest neighbour and within our European Union.

A key priority for me is to encourage and promote a national debate around Ireland’s place in a future Europe that is not framed solely by our reaction to the UK’s decision to depart the EU – and I look forward to sharing my thoughts on this with you.

But let me turn first to Brexit.

The European Council’s decision last month to allow the Article 50 negotiation process to move to Phase 2 was both significant and encouraging.

We have seen important commitments made in Phase 1 on EU citizens’ rights and on the financial settlement that must be agreed between the EU and the UK on the UK’s departure. 

And while Phase 1 discussions on the Irish-specific issues were at times difficult, they were ultimately successful - the Government achieved the goals that we set out to achieve.

We have secured concrete commitments on the maintenance of the Common Travel Area, and on the protection of the Good Friday Agreement in all its parts and the gains of the peace process. These gains include greater North-South co-operation and the promotion of peace and reconciliation. The European Commission has said it will propose continued funding for programmes aimed at these objectives.

We also secured important assurances in December on the protection of human rights, and on the exercise by Irish citizens in Northern Ireland of their rights to EU citizenship. On the border, we have secured clear and strong commitments. The UK has given a guarantee that a hard border will be avoided, including any physical infrastructure or associated checks and controls, and – crucially – has agreed for the first time to ways in which this can and will be achieved.

The UK’s intention is to avoid a hard border through the wider EU-UK future relationship agreement, which is also our preference, or through other specific solutions. But we now have the additional security of the UK’s commitment to a default option of maintaining full alignment with those rules of the Single Market and the Customs Union necessary to protect North South cooperation, the all-island economy and the Good Friday Agreement.

I know that many of today’s speakers and participants have travelled from Europe. In this regard, I want to acknowledge the support of our EU partners and the solidarity they have already shown and continue to show to Ireland in these negotiations.

Even considering what’s been achieved in Phase 1, there is clearly still a good way to go to address satisfactorily the impact of the significant problems that Brexit poses for this island. It is for that reason that Irish-specific issues will continue to be discussed in a distinct strand in Phase 2 of the negotiations.

It is also important that the commitments made in Phase 1 are respected as the negotiations continue. The European Council Guidelines agreed last month outlined that Phase 2 cannot progress otherwise. And so, as the negotiation process moves ahead, technical work on the withdrawal issues will continue, including the drafting of the binding Withdrawal Agreement where we and our EU partners expect to see the commitments made by the UK in Phase 1 translated faithfully into legal terms as quickly as possible.

However, focus has now turned to the negotiation on transitional arrangements and on the framework for a future EU-UK relationship.

It is our Government’s clear view that a status quo transitional arrangement would be of most benefit to both the UK and the EU, including Ireland. Agreement on such an arrangement will provide certainty to individuals and businesses while also aiming to avoid any cliff edge effects between the UK leaving the EU and a future relationship agreement coming into force.

So I welcome that the European Council has proposed that the whole of the EU acquisshouldapply to the UK during the transition. While there has been much discussion around the duration of such a transition, we agree that in the interests of long term certainty, and to accelerate agreement on the future relationship agreement, it must be time bound. Equally, as the negotiations progress, the overriding objective on both sides must be to avoid any gaps and any cliff edge effects. If adjustments to the timetable turn out to be required, I believe it would only be common sense to make them. The overall objective should be to ensure that our citizens and businesses only need to adjust to and prepare for one change.

The EU is also intensifying its internal preparations for discussions on the framework for its future relationship with the UK.

I am hopeful that the Taoiseach and the other EU Heads of State and Government will adopt further guidelines at the European Council in March, which will allow the EU to open discussions with the UK on this framework.

This work is very significant for Ireland, as it is in discussing the framework for a future relationship that we can begin to address the very serious concerns of many of our businesses and citizens, across many sectors. 

Outside the future EU, the United Kingdom will remain Ireland’s single most important economic partner – Irish-UK trade exceeds €1 billion each week and we want that to continue. 200,000 jobs in this country, and another 200,000 in the UK, depend upon it.

And beyond trade, there are other issues which urgently need to be settled too: including aviation, fisheries, and co-operation against crime and terrorism.

It is clear that the EU shares our desire to establish as close a partnership as possible with the UK. But we need to know, unambiguously now, what kind of partnership the UK is seeking. It is time for the UK to provide clarity on what it wants, through confronting the hard choices it faces. Some of these have been spelled out in recent times by Michel Barnier, and by President Macron on his visit to Britain last Friday. 

We have long said that the optimal outcome for us would be for the UK, in effect, to remain in the Single Market and Customs Union. And I note that the very influential Confederation of British Industry made its views on the future relationship known earlier this week and argued also that the UK should remain in a Customs Union with the EU. Business in Britain does not see the dividends of new UK-only trade deals with third countries surpassing the benefits of ongoing trade with the world’s most successful free market and its partners.

This is ultimately a decision for the UK, however, and I hope the UK Government, and Parliament, will reflect carefully on what will be a crucially important decision – as set out for you earlier today by Hilary Benn. There is far more to be gained by aligning rather than diverging from standards the UK helped develop for a prosperous Europe and a prosperous Britain.

From Ireland’s perspective, I have consistently expressed our view that any future relationship agreement between the EU and the UK should be comprehensive and ambitious and as wide as possible in its scope. In my view, the aim should be for it to encompass trade not just in goods but in services sectors also, if the UK’s approach allows for that. 

And given the unique circumstances on the island of Ireland and the importance of our economic relationship with the UK, we will be firm in arguing that such an agreement must protect key sectors of the Irish economy.

Whatever shape the final agreement with the UK takes, we must ensure that the integrity of the Single Market is protected, because a strong and well-functioning EU Single Market is essential to Ireland’s continued economic development. 

It is also essential to the Future of Europe. And that is a debate that Ireland now needs to shape and not just adjust to.

As the Taoiseach articulated clearly in his address to the European Parliament last week, irrespective of Brexit, we need to work now on the Europe we want in 5, 10 or 20 years’ time.  The world is changing fast and Europe’s place in the world is evolving too. 

In 1900, Europe represented about a quarter of the world’s population.  By 2060, it will account for only 5% of the global population.  Our share of global GDP is getting smaller too.

So Europe is getting smaller in relative terms and we are getting older as well.  In 1900 life expectancy in Europe was 45 years of age.  Soon that will be the average age for Europeans. That’s great news. It means we are living longer.  But it also means we are becoming the oldest continent in the world. The average age in Africa will be just 21.

These changes in society will have huge repercussions for all of us, young and old. Will there be enough people active in the labour force to pay for our pensions? What are the skill-sets needed for people entering the labour market now? How can we ready ourselves for an employment landscape which will be radically re-shaped by robotics and artificial intelligence? Children starting school today will probably end up working in jobs that do not exist yet. Half of today’s work activities could be automated by 2055.

The best way to deal with a rapidly changing world is to have the capacity to adapt.  That means encouraging our young people to be creative; asking them to use their imagination and equipping them with the coping skills they will need as they make their way through a rapidly changing landscape.  Universities such as DCU are a perfect example of how organisations can thrive if they learn how to adapt.  If you stroll through the campus here today it is hard to imagine it was a small agricultural college in a semi-rural setting just forty years ago.  If you can imagine what DCU will look like in 40 years’ time, then you will begin to see the sort of transformation the EU will need in the decades ahead.

The Minister of State for European Affairs, Helen McEntee T.D., spoke to you this morning about the citizens’ dialogues she is leading across the country between now and Europe Day on 9 May. As she explained, they will be primarily a listening exercise, focussed on the needs and concerns of our citizens.  We do not want to be prescriptive and we want to draw on these sessions to help formulate our contribution to the broader European debate.  I would encourage you all to get involved and to follow the exercise on our website: www.dfa.ie/eu.

We want everyone to have their say.  Here is what I want.

Ireland is a trading nation.  Europe’s internal market has helped us boost our exports.  I want us to expand our exports to the single market. After Brexit we will be relying more heavily on the internal market and, as a small Member State, we know that we perform best when we have clear rules on the free flow of goods, services, people and capital. 

I want, therefore, to see the completion of the single market.  It is 80% complete for goods but only 40% complete for services.  More than half of our exports are exports of services and more than half of our labour force is in the services sector. I want to see a huge effort now in completing the internal market in services. Here in Ireland, we should be able to get cheaper mortgages and better insurance deals from European banks and insurance companies. This would be good for Ireland, good for Europe and is already long overdue.

The EU carries real weight when it is negotiating trade deals with the rest of the world. A new European trade deal with Canada has just come into effect on a provisional basis. Deals with Japan, Mexico and the Mercosur countries are in the pipeline and the EU hopes to open trade negotiations with Australia and New Zealand.

These deals will open new and exciting markets for Irish exporters.  But we are not naïve. We will expect reciprocity in the give and take of EU trade negotiations and you can be assured that we will insist on the highest social, environmental, data protection and food safety standards in each of these deals.

We should also prioritise completing a banking union and breaking the so-called “doom loop” between banks and the sovereign.  A deposit guarantee scheme would mean that deposits in an Irish bank are as safe as deposits in a German bank - but that banks in crisis could be resolved without demands on the taxpayer. A capital markets union would give Irish SMEs access to finance from other more competitive sources.

These are changes that could make a real difference to the lives of Irish consumers in the same way as the abolition of roaming charges and the availability of cheap flights under Europe’s Open Skies policy. Helping to turn the rhetoric of ‘ever closer Union’ into the reality of better services for all Europeans.

I have spoken a lot today about change and the need to adapt to a changing world.  But one thing I do not wish to see changing is the European Union’s commitment to its values. The European Treaties often get a bad press but the Union’s values are expressed neatly and succinctly in article 2 of the Treaty on European Union.  This says that:

“The Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities.  These values are common to the Member States in a society in which pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between men and women prevail.”

Member States subscribe to these values when they accede to the Union. They are not optional. No applicant State can avoid them. All Member States are obliged to respect them.

It is also on the basis of these values that the European Union engages with the rest of the world.  These are the values we bring to our trade negotiations, to our work on peace-keeping and conflict resolution, and to our international development programmes.

In May the Bulgarian Presidency will host a summit on the Western Balkans. In Ireland we believe that enlargement is part of the momentum that has contributed to the renewal of the European Union throughout its history.  The European perspective of the countries of the Western Balkans has helped transform these countries, building peace and democracy there. Respect for the values I have mentioned should be key to their accession and, between now and May, we should work to bring some momentum back into the enlargement process. Standing still will only leave the countries of the Western Balkans in limbo and leave a vacuum which others will fill.

The European Union’s relationship with Africa should also be based on these values.  I firmly believe that the EU-African Union relationship is nowhere near where it should be – the urgency of the shared challenges we face demands a much more intensive partnership. As I mentioned earlier, the average age in Africa is about half the average age in Europe. We need to look at the continent with new eyes and invest in the young people of Africa, ensuring they become our partners. The EU must have a much, much closer political and economic relationship with Africa; one based on mutual respect and fit for purpose in terms of tackling issues around migration, climate change and the economy of the future.

As I conclude, I think it is important we remember that the European Union is the most successful peace project the world has ever known.

This year we will mark the centenary of the armistice that brought the First World War to a close. The trenches that we associate with that conflict were a visible expression of a divided continent. 300,000 Irishmen participated in that war. 49,500 of them gave their lives. 

In November, Emmanuel Macron opened a memorial to the fallen in the mountains near Strasbourg. Standing beside the German President, President Macron said that an implacable desire for revenge was replaced over time by political, economic and scientific cooperation and by true friendship. That is not just history. It is the story of the European Union yesterday, today and tomorrow.

One of those who died in that tragic war was the poet, Tom Kettle, who was killed in action in the Somme.  His remains were never found but, fortunately, we still have his words and they include this advice: “My only counsel to Ireland is that to become deeply Irish, she must become European.”

Europe is united now and it is our home. In the face of a changing world, we are better together. The Irish people have no doubt about this at all.

I want to thank the DCU Brexit Institute and Professor Fabbrini for hosting today’s conference and for providing a platform for our thoughts and ideas on the future we want. We have a genuine opportunity now to influence the future direction of the European Union. I will close, therefore by encouraging you to join the debate.  It’s your future, your Europe. Get involved. Thank you.