North must be given special status within the EU
This article by Gerry Adams originally appeared in The Irish Times
Last week’s All-Island Civic Dialogue was a useful exercise in bringing together a range of voices, from north and south, to outline the concerns and potential difficulties for a range of sectors in the aftermath of the so-called “Brexit” referendum result.
The economic fallout is already presenting massive challenges for the business community in particular, especially in border counties, but right across the island, as a consequence of the declining value in sterling.
The current short-term gain for retailers in the North, while I’m sure welcome, will ultimately lead to inflation and price increases, outstripping any real benefit for shoppers from the South, and ultimately leading to an increase in the cost of living for citizens in the North.
Jobs are at risk, investment is under threat and our agricultural community faces systemic challenges – and that is just the tip of the iceberg.
The potential social fallout is even more challenging.
The entire post-Good Friday Agreement architecture of the island is under threat as a result of the British government’s desire to undermine the wishes of citizens in the North to remain in the European Union. “Brexit means Brexit,” says Theresa May.
The potential consequences of such intransigence for all- Ireland co-operation and integration, enhanced community, cultural and social relations, and freedom of movement should not be underestimated.
If, however, in our collective wisdom and in line with the mandate of citizens in the North, we can successfully make the argument for an arrangement that keeps the North within the EU, such challenges can be overcome, and Ireland could be even stronger.
To that end, the principal objective of the Irish Government’s negotiation strategy for the time ahead needs to be about seeking a special designated status for the North within the EU architecture.
That means openly and meaningfully exploring options through which Ireland, in its entirety, can remain in the EU. It means moving beyond the consequences of Brexit and actively seeking alternatives instead.
Under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement there is an inherent right for those born on this island to Irish citizenship and, by virtue of that right, citizenship of the European Union as well. It is illogical that citizens who enjoy that right would not be afforded the benefits of that citizenship.
We need only look at unique arrangements in Denmark and Cyprus for just some examples for how the EU has thus proved itself capable of accommodating unique circumstances, and the Irish Government has the right, and in our view the obligation, to bring forward such proposals.
Just as Brexit will be David Cameron’s legacy, the choices we make now will determine the legacy of the Taoiseach and will impact on generations to come.
Just as there are countless challenges, there is also the opportunity to plot a new course.
Brexit will reshape arrangements and relationships between these islands and between us and the European Union. Our task must be to ensure that any new arrangements on this island are to the mutual benefit of everyone who lives here.
That means the only credible approach of the Irish Government must be to argue at European level and with the British government, for the North to be designated a special status within the EU.
If we choose to persevere, act boldly, but first and foremost in line with the mandate of citizens on the island of Ireland, we can emerge stronger in a more outward-looking, progressive European Union.