People from all over the midlands flocked to the Mullingar Park Hotel in their droves last Thursday night to attend a public meeting on Brexit, hosted by Deputy Peter Burke and Senator Gabrielle McFadden.
Over 400 people listened to remarks regarding Brexit from Minister Leo Varadkar TD, the President of the IFA Joe Healy and senior figures from the SFA, IBEC and Chartered Accountants Ireland.
Deputy Peter Burke said, “It is clear to see from the huge crowds here tonight that people in the Midlands are concerned about Brexit and want to set out their priorities to Government before negotiations begin. There was huge representation from the farming community, from the business community, from householders and the message is clear: this town will not be found wanting when Brexit arrives. We have time to plan, to prepare, to be ready for risks and to seize opportunities and the thoughts and priorities of the people of the midlands will be carried to cabinet and to key decision-makers."
After brief presentations, the floor was opened to questions which related to a large variety of subjects such as trade, livestock breeding, tourism, foreign languages, education, job creation, resources and bureaucracy. A number of people wanted to know to what extent we can expect special treatment in Brexit negotiations due to our close ties and important relationship with the UK.
Minister Leo Varadkar pointed out that while we must negotiate as part of the 27 States of the EU, strong ties with the United Kingdom will continue to exist after Brexit:
“Brexit poses challenges for Ireland and from what we have heard here tonight, there can be no doubt that business dealings with our nearest neighbours will have to be protected and maintained so that we don’t lose our biggest and most important trade partner. I have taken on board the concerns raised tonight, along with the priorities people have highlighted and I will be communicating this at Cabinet level. I understand that Deputy Burke and his staff will be compiling a formal report on proceedings and submitting this to the Fine Gael Working Group on Brexit and the Department of the Taoiseach."
During his remarks, Deputy Burke noted that Ireland had deviated from England on a number of key occasions in history, all which involved huge change but which reaped benefits for the country in the aftermath:
“Four times in our history, Britain and Ireland have taken different courses. First, when we became independent in 1921 and then in 1948 when an Irish Republic was declared and we formally left the Commonwealth. In 1979, Ireland took the decision to float the punt and finally in 2002 we joined the euro without Britain. Undoubtedly, each was a challenge but we worked through obstacles and came out stronger and more prosperous on the other side. Brexit presents serious challenges but it is also an opportunity to develop our country, and I am confident that the midlands have a key role to play in our State’s development. Although Brexit will not occur for two years, we need to be prepared for all events and put considered measures in place. It was with this in mind that we organised to bring this meeting to the midlands, and we will be following with a report outlining our key objectives in both the short and medium term."
Senator Gabrielle McFadden is urging those involved in Brexit negotiations to be both proactive and strategic in their approach to the talks.
“Nations do not have allies or enemies, they only have interests,” McFadden told the meeting. “We need to identify those nations with similar interests to our own, to build an alliance and to do everything we can to ensure that the UK gets the best possible deal for one simple reason - it is in our best interest.”
“Secondly, do not be afraid to hold direct talks with the British Government on areas of common interest, such as the border and a Common Travel Area, in advance of, or outside of the full negotiations,” she said, addressing those who would be involved in the talks.
“My third piece of advice is to be brave in our dealings with Europe. We should be committed to acting in a way that is right for Ireland, regardless of dogma or ideology. I do not believe that we should leave the Union, or even threaten to, but we must not be afraid to ruffle feathers; After all, we cannot be thrown out of the EU!”
She finished by saying that “When a relationship breaks down it can end in an ‘amicable arrangement’ or a ‘messy divorce’. I believe that during the negotiations, we must do all that we can to argue for the former, even if that is not popular with some of the other players in Europe. We have an opportunity to shape the future of this relationship and we must grab that opportunity with both hands.”