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Sinn Fein will remind Leo Varadkar of his Brexit commitments - Pearse Doherty TD addresses the Seán Mac Diarmada Summer School

10 June, 2017 - by Pearse Doherty TD


Sinn Féin Finance spokesperson Pearse Doherty today delivered a keynote address on ‘Brexit, the economy and the impact on border regions’, at the Seán Mac Diarmada Summer School in Kiltyclogher, County Leitrim.

During the course of his address Teachta Doherty pointed out that, in recent elections north and south, border communities have rejected Brexit and are turning to Sinn Féin.

He also said that his party will seek a meeting with Leo Varadkar to remind him of his election commitment to argue for the North to remain within the customs union and the single market and have no economic border on the island of Ireland.

The following is a short excerpt from Teachta Doherty’s address;

“A chairde, as Brexit looms large on the horizon, it’s vital that Ireland’s unique circumstances be recognised by way of mitigating its inevitable challenges.

“In terms of Sinn Féin’s Brexit Planning, our party has been to the fore in putting together a coherent, sensible and practical set of solutions which we believe can best protect the national interest.

“This involves the case for the island of Ireland to be granted a number of special allowances and exemptions which can only be secured through working collaboratively with our European partners.

“In recent elections both north and south, as well as in the Westminster vote just gone, what’s evident is that in communities found both in and around the border belt, the electorate have opted to back candidates who are opposed to Brexit.

“And, increasingly, what recent ballots have proven is that more and more people are choosing to put their faith in Sinn Féin and our policies.

“What all this ultimately means is that we, our representatives both north and south, have been given a mandate by the people to execute their wishes. And chief amongst them is the rejection of the notion that there should be any hardening of the border.

“And as we here in the south prepare for Leo Varadkar’s coronation as Taoiseach, Sinn Féin too will be seeking to meet with him remind him of his election commitment that he as Taoiseach would argue for the North to remain within the customs union and the single market and have no economic border on the island of Ireland.

“We want to build on this and work with him to achieve this and more.”

Full text of Teachta Doherty’s address follows:

Seán Mac Diarmada Summer School

'Brexit, the Economy and the Impact on the Border Regions'

Saturday 10th June 2017, 3pm, Kiltyclogher, Co. Leitrim

A chairde,

Ar dtus, ba mhaith liom fáilte a chur romhaibh chuig Scoil Samhraidh Sheáin Mac Diarmada anseo i gCoillte Clochair, Co. Liatroma.

As I said, I want to begin firstly by welcoming you all to the Seán Mac Diarmada Summer School and for being here with us today in Kiltyclogher, where this afternoon our discussion focuses on Brexit and its fallout.

I’d also like to start by giving particular thanks to the organisers of this year’s event for all their hard work in putting this year’s fantastic programme together. I want to thank them sincerely for asking me to come along here this afternoon to speak with you and to contribute to what has been a stimulating and engaging series which I’ve thoroughly enjoyed being a part of.

I’m sure you’ll all agree that there are few more apt locations than this, here in the small Leitrim village of Kiltyclogher on the Fermanagh border, in which to hold such a conversation on a topic which will, without question, have such profound and potentially life altering effects on the very social and economic fabric of our island.

I do not have to tell any of you here today about the significant contribution which this small community has made throughout the years, in what is, the yet on-going struggle for Irish freedom. 

Arguably, it’s most famous son, one Seán Mac Diarmada, after whom this very Summer School is named, is indicative of the long, proud and noble republican legacy and tradition for which this area has become renowned.

Mac Diarmada, like many before and indeed many after him, would go on to make the ultimate sacrifice for his beliefs: A Republic of equals, indivisible, united and free.

A century on from his death, and while much has undoubtedly been done to bring about the Ireland as envisaged by Mac Diarmada and the other leaders of the Rising, this land remains divided: its people separated by a border which never should have been, a nation still shamefully partitioned by a foreign oppressor.

Inevitably, this leads one to ask the all too often uttered question: “Was it for this the brave sons and daughters of Éire died?”

And while today, thanks in no small part to the contributions of countless Irish men and women down through the years, and aided by our joint membership of the European Union, today – while still there – the border has become all but invisible. Brexit, I dare say, will inevitably change that.

And this leads me nicely to the topic of my own speech which I’ve been invited to deliver to you here today which is ‘Brexit, the Economy and the Impact on the Border Regions'.

A chairde, it’s safe to say that with Brexit we find ourselves in unchartered territory. 

I am not going to stand here and tell you the EU is perfect or that is the antidote to British policy in Ireland. I accept that across Europe in Belgium, Germany, France even there are many who see the EU and being European as part of their identity, as an unquestionable force for good.

I believe my party’s position of critical engagement with the EU is closer to the pragmatic unromantic position of the Irish people with regard to the EU and to the issue of European cooperation. For me membership of the EU is fact that isn’t going to change anytime soon - it is a club we are in and within which we must assert our rights, not simply go along with everything.

It is going in the wrong direction - adopting more and more powers and insisting on a uniform economic policy for its members. The EU lacks democratic accountability - the ECB’s power over our lives is astonishing yet it has only the bare minimum of accountability to the people.

What the EU did to the people of Greece was disgusting - what they did in Ireland was brutal even if it was aided by local bandits.

It has ambitions to be a military alliance and to harmonise tax policies.

In short it is deeply flawed but to not engage, to wish it away is simply not credible. We do not have the oil of Norway nor the gold of Switzerland. In a pragmatic and hard-headed way we know we are better off inside the tent.

The old certainties which, in recent years have only come about through a commitment by all sides to an all-island spirit of co-operation and renewed friendship now face their biggest test to date.

The signing of the Good Friday Agreement; the removal of physical as well as psychological borders; as well as the progress made to advance peace and reconciliation across the island were each made that bit more possible thanks to the EU.

Britain’s withdrawal from it will undoubtedly pose a huge challenge to all this. 

Because, what’s clear is that Brexit will be one of the single greatest political events of our time: one which will be both global in scale and in consequence. 

And yet, despite this, nowhere will the effects of Brexit be harder or more acutely felt than right here on this island. 

And it will be the north of Ireland, as well as the entire border region in particular which ultimately will find itself at Brexit’s global and tumultuous epicentre.

This is a region, which for years has suffered from chronic underinvestment and under employment, due by-in-large to indifference from both Irish and British Governments down through the years, that it is unthinkable to contemplate just how it can withstand the many complications arising from Brexit.

It will be here, should the Westminster establishment have their way, soon to consist of the Torys and their pro-Brexit bedfellows in the DUP, that we here in Ireland may just see the erection of the EU’s newest and potentially most destructive frontier. 

And make no mistake about it; should the north be dragged out of the EU against the democratically expressed wishes of its people, then the progress of recent years, as well as all that we’ve now come to take for granted, will face a precarious future.

It’s simply me stating the obvious when I say that Brexit runs entirely counter to Irish national interest. 

It runs counter to the countless families, workers, tourists and to the hundreds of business people who, each and every day, travel freely and frequently across the border.

Post-Brexit, it will be every ordinary man, woman, and child living here who will find themselves having fallen victim to such circumstance: a devastating reality and turn of events not of their making, nor of their choosing.

And while “time will tell”, as the old saying goes is equally applicable to Brexit and its outcomes, so far this adage has certainly proven to be the case in relation to exposing the economic arguments put forward by those who have long supported and been keen advocates and promoters of Brexit. 

The lauded benefits of Britain’s withdrawal, heralded by certain political factions, have proven to be nothing more than farce: a lie spun by those driven by a sinister ideology, a political doctrine fuelled by malice, ignorance and self-interest.

As a consequence, the economy of the island – and in particular the border corridor – stands to be amongst the hardest hit. 

A return to border security controls, the reappearance of customs barriers, as well as heightened restrictions on trade, all raise very real and valid concerns about the future, of not only our geo-political landscape going forward, but the economic landscape as well.

This is because the economies of this island – both north and south – are today more interconnected and interdependent than at any time in our recent past. 

As a result, they stand to be disproportionately affected by Britain’s withdrawal from the EU.

To put this economic symbiosis into context, one only has to look at the numbers.

Each week, more than €1.2 billion is traded in goods and services between the north, the south and Britain. That’s more than €150 million each day. 

In real terms, those figures represent jobs, wages and livelihoods. None of this would have been made possible without the freedoms guaranteed under EU membership.

And behind each of these stats, there are some 200,000 jobs which depend directly on all this trade.

However, any major alteration or shift in this existing trading relationship, such as that likely to occur following Brexit, could have grave implications for Ireland: not least of all for us here along the border.

And the idea of consequences is far from mere fantasy. 

Only last month in fact, during the Oireachtas Finance Committee, officials from the Office of the Revenue Commissioners disclosed to me that customs checks-points along the border are being actively examined as part of the state’s Brexit contingency planning. 

With approximately 1 million HGVs and 1.3 million LGVs making crossings into and out of the north each and every year, the idea that suddenly, over the course of a single night in less than two years’ time, we’ll see this freight traffic having to undergo customs checks at any number of policed customs posts dotted along the border is simply unthinkable.

Such a scenario would, in effect, not only cripple border businesses, but would render this area, and many communities right along the border, unemployment black-spot for many years to come.

And don’t just take my word for it. There is actually a wealth of opinions and research, much of which has been compiled by independent and expert bodies and organisations, which all point towards the same devastating conclusion in terms of the ramifications of Brexit.

BDO Customs and International Trade Services, a company which specialises in International and European customs and trade arrangements, offering its global client base expert legal advice on customs requirements in the many jurisdictions across the EU, US and Asia, has estimated that the additional costs involved for border business in meeting its customs obligations post-Brexit to likely come in at around €100 per consignment.

This is further reinforced by similar warnings and claims made in recent days by Chartered Accountants of Ireland. The institute, which represents some 25,000 members working across the globe, has likened the burden of post-Brexit customs requirements as being akin to a “new tax” effectively being placed on businesses here once Britain leaves the EU.

There is no question about it; this is a burden which the some 12,000 companies, as well as the countless number of businesses whose goods transit Britain for other markets each and every day, can ill-afford.

Officialdom and authorities here in this state are advising these traders and transport operators to begin to make long-term plans in anticipation of these heightened customs obligations post-Brexit.

In reality though, the lack of clarity surrounding the nature of the agreement which will ensue after negotiations have ended means that the vast majority of companies here have yet to do so.

In fact, recent surveys suggest that just one in twenty firms have a plan in place to deal with a potential customs Border with the north following Brexit.

And the burden of customs requirements is not merely confined to freight operators and businesses either.

For individuals living this side of the border, the trip into the north to shop and purchase goods too will be subject to similar tax implications. 

Under existing rates for third countries, duty on goods valued in excess of €300 and which are being brought in from across a land border are subject to customs duty, with the duty payable dependent on the item being imported.

While VAT is generally payable at the same rates as apply to goods sold within the state. To put this into some context, for a person here travelling to Enniskillen to buy a tv, they will be effectively breaking the law if they do not declare the additional VAT on that purchase when returning across the border.

Clearly, the imposition of such border and customs procedures will ultimately spell an end to the unhindered and unopposed open and free trading relationship which today is enjoyed by every one of us; not least of all the many border communities that lie either side of it.

In terms of the implications for the wider economy, one only has to cast their minds back to earlier this year when the Government made the announcement that, following an analysis and evaluation of the economic outlook, its forecasters have predicted that the cost of Brexit to the Irish economy would likely be between €2.5 billion and €3 billion over the next two years. 

This means that the State’s GDP growth figures and own fiscal projections may yet have to be revised downwards – and this is before Brexit has even happened.

Moving away from the economic impacts for a few moments and what it shall mean for business and trade, the prospect of the Border now becoming an international frontier between this state and the north creates particular concerns for others also. 

The EU affords our students for example, the opportunity to study in other member states. Many students here take up this opportunity each year, and choose to live and study on oppose sides of the border. 

What will Brexit mean for them? Will they see a tripling of their fees as they have, overnight, become classified as International students from a third country?

What will Brexit mean for the future of north-south co-operation in the area of our health services where, each year, countless patients from border areas in particular are referred to undergo procedures and receive medical treatment?

How will the health service here, which already struggles to cope with existing pressures and patient demand, be able to withstand the ending of the north’s participation in EU facilitated schemes such as the Cross Border Healthcare Directive where, last year, some 40% of the scheme’s participants from the state went to receive treatment?

Equally, and as I’ll talk more about in just a little while, what will Brexit mean for the future of Agriculture, particularly in the north, where some 87% of total farm incomes are subsidised by EU farming supports. How will the sector fair and remain sustainable going forward post-Brexit?

These examples are but a few of the sectors, sections of society and groups which stand to be most adversely affected by the Brexit fallout.

And yes, while it’s fair to say that Brexit is a result of atypical Tory arrogance - a callous pursuit of that party’s reckless and narrow minded vision for our islands and Europe – the example shown to date by the powers that be in Dublin has hardly been awe inspiring.

Unsurprisingly, the Irish government too has failed to demonstrate any real ambition or assertiveness in terms of its own Brexit planning, nor in how it shall approach the negotiations which lie ahead.

So far, we’ve yet to see any great detail as to how this state plans to deal with the unique challenges which Bexit will pose for the economy and for the future of trade on this island and with Britain.

Little by the way of reassurance has been afforded to the Business community, while communities up and down this state remain fearful of what is coming down the Brexit track.

For our farmers and producers, the implications of Brexit are not a far off distant prospect but are real in their consequence today and are being felt.

Likewise in the north, some £340million in agriculture and fisheries funding was paid out in 2015 alone to ensure a modern and vibrant industry.

While the some €2.5 billion worth of Single Farm Payments from the EU to the north, and the hard question of where those vital supports will come from in future too is playing heavy on the minds of farmers there.

And on the important issue of structural funds and subsidies, Ireland – north and south – has benefitted greatly also.

The north alone received some £160 million in structural and investment funds, and a further £270 million in Peace funding throughout 2015, and the economic and social benefits which these initiatives have created cannot be overlooked, nor can their contribution to bringing about a real and tangible sense of peace and reconciliation across this island.

In the areas of Science and research too, the benefits of EU sponsored programmes have also yielded significant economic benefits for researchers north and south, and we cannot let Brexit force us to must out in this arena in future.

Evidently, in such a defining moment as this for the future direction of this island, how we respond to Brexit and rise to meet the challenges posed by it will come to not only define this generation, but it will mark how future generations both live and co-exist going forward.

This is why it is so crucial that a new way of thinking is adopted by everyone in terms of how we approach these negotiations. 

Imaginative and innovative thinking is needed if we are to mitigate the challenges of Brexit, minimise its threats, and achieve and ensure the delivery of the future betterment of our entire island.

And this is why, aside from being Brexit’s most vocal opponent, Sinn Féin too has been leading the charge in arguing our party’s official Brexit position which is for special designated status for the north within the EU to be delivered.

Such a proposal, far from being unrealistic, would see the north retain its full access to the single market, the Customs Union, and hence allow for the free movement of our people, goods, services and capital on a north-south basis.

We believe that such a solution is necessary to protect all-Ireland trade, our agriculture and agri-food sectors, as well the free movement of people, of our workers as well as the protection of workers’ rights.

With regards trade with Britain, our party believes that any final deal must ultimately prioritise a trade arrangement with our nearest neighbour. 

This is needed to ensure the least possible administrative and financial burden is placed on business, while it must ensure that EU worker, consumer and environmental protections are not compromised, and our own economic and social objectives not jeopardised going forward.

A chairde, as Brexit looms large on the horizon, it’s vital that Ireland’s unique circumstances be recognised by way of mitigating its inevitable challenges.

In terms of Sinn Féin’s Brexit Planning, our party has been to the fore in putting together a coherent, sensible and practical set of solutions which we believe can best protect the national interest.

This involves the case for the island of Ireland to be granted a number of special allowances and exemptions which can only be secured through working collaboratively with our European partners.

These include a lower rate of co-financing for match-funding regional development programmes, thus reducing our share of the cost burden, while simultaneously facilitating greater north-south co-operation through treating both jurisdictions as a qualifying combination for all future inter-regional projects.

Similarly, in relation to the EU Fiscal Rules, what flexibility there is in the existing framework must be leveraged immediately. 

The case for an “exceptional circumstance” being made and for an immediate derogation to be put in place must be sought by the government here so as to allow adequate scope for investment in order to protect against the Brexit fallout, but also to best position the island to prosper post Britain’s withdrawal.

To protect regional development, we’ve called for the establishment of a new EU wide “Brexit Solidarity Fund”, the monies from which would be allocated to various sectors in all regions wherever evidence suggests that Brexit has directly resulted in economic disruption and damage.

Similarly, Sinn Féin has also called for the EU’s “European Globalisation Adjustment Fund”, which provides support to workers who’ve lost jobs as a result of the global economic and financial downturn, to be expanded in order to include workers made redundant as a result of Brexit and its impact on employment.

In relation to the various EU funds and programmes available to member states, Sinn Féin’s proposals would ensure the north’s continued future receipt of Rural Development Funding, PEACE funding as well as Structural Funds, the latter of which is worth some €982 million and which are crucial for Small and Medium businesses, community regeneration and community groups – the life blood of any economy.

And none of this is unattainable. Everything which Sinn Féin has included in its recent Brexit documents is laudable, it is doable and, with the right political will, it is achievable.

In Brussels, in Dublin and in our dealings and exchanges with legislators from the various member states, as well as with allies further afield, Sinn Féin representatives have taken the democratically expressed wishes of the Irish people to the front and centre of the political discourse surrounding Brexit.

We’ve worked to exert our political influence wherever and whenever it is we’ve felt it can be most successfully utilised and – in doing so – we’ve sought to do it in the national interest.

In recent elections both north and south, as well as in the Westminster vote just gone, what’s evident is that in communities found both in and around the border belt, the electorate have opted to back candidates who are opposed to Brexit.

And – increasingly – what recent ballots have proven is that more and more people are choosing to put their faith in Sinn Féin and our policies.

As this week’s vote has shown with our party returning seven MPs, retaking Fermanagh/South Tyrone, while overturning years of political convention following Elisha McCallion’s historic win in Foyle.

What all this ultimately means is that we, our representatives both north and south, have been given a mandate by the people to execute their wishes. And chief amongst them is the rejection of the notion that there should be any hardening of the border.

Sinn Féin has heard their calls loud and clear. This is why our representatives in the Dáil, the Seanad, the Assembly, our MPs, as well as our all-Ireland strong team of MEPs, will shortly hold a party conference at which we intend to deliver a powerful message to all corners that the mandate which we have been given, to uphold the Irish people’s views on Brexit, must be respected.

And as we here in the south prepare for Leo Varadkar’s coronation as Taoiseach, Sinn Féin too will be seeking to meet with him remind him of his election commitment that he as Taoiseach would argue for the North to remain within the customs union and the single market and have no economic border on the island of Ireland. We want to build on this and work with him to achieve this and more.

In the upcoming negotiations there is a responsibility on government here to  defend and protect the interests of everyone who calls this island home – not simply a select or privileged few.

We’re chosen to take this course of action because, like many others, my party and I reject outright the Tory hard line stance and the false belief that Brexit will be a good thing. 

Theirs is a vision which seeks to raise the draw-bridge, turn its back on its neighbours and retreat into a world of isolationism and fear. 

This is not the path which we wish to go down, and it is not the one which the people of the north have chosen either.

Instead, they chose hope over fear, openness over despondency and – crucially – they chose to put their faith in a future inside the European Union.

Because a chairde, what the Brexit vote has shown is that citizens in the north are able to step beyond the barriers erected by partition. 

The decision to remain was taken by those from both nationalist communities, Unionist communities, and every persuasion in between.

The vote of the people of the north has demonstrated that, despite past hostilities, there is in fact much more that unites us than divides us; that, as a people, and as an island nation, we are much more influential and powerful through our working together than through our pulling apart.

And perhaps, for all its evils, Brexit has served to reinforce this point. 

It may just be the case that Brexit will come to reconstitute and revaluate how we view ourselves: as a society and as a country as a whole.

Undoubtedly, the serious implications of Brexit and what it will mean for this island has had the effect of once again putting the issue of Irish unity very much back on the political agenda both at home and abroad.

Perhaps the debate which ensues as a result may act as catalyst in the winding and yet to be arrived at road to a United Ireland: one which places the needs and desires of its people at the heart of all that it does, and which cherishes all of its children equally, without fear or favour.

Whatever the outcome, and in spite of all of the uncertainty of Brexit, I think it only fitting that we each enter the negotiations and the time ahead mindful of the words of Mac Diarmada who, himself facing times of adversity, wrote:

“I know now what I have always felt, that the Irish nation can never die. Let [those] condemn our action as they will, posterity will judge us aright from the effects of our actions.”

Just like Mac Diarmada, history will come to judge each of us by our actions. 

And how we react to moments of great challenge and uncertainty such as this will not only influence how we come to be viewed by our contemporaries, but how we will be defined by future generations to come.

And so whatever the Brexit journey may have in store, let us each take inspiration from Mac Diarmada.

May he guide our actions, and give us the courage and the strength to do what’s right for Ireland, her people and for our shared destiny….

Go Raibh Maith Agaibh.

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