"It’s time for Brexit to be depoliticised," Mairead McGuinness, MEP for Longford and First Vice-President of the European Parliament, told a conference in Limsullin, Co Meath on Friday to discuss the challenges and opportunities it poses.
“A clamour for headlines is drowning out clarity and unity of purpose that is so badly needed at this point,” she says.
“Brexit will happen. We know the challenges, therefore, there is a requirement and obligation upon all involved in politics to work towards an agreement which will see Irish issues identified and addressed. We must absolutely avoid a return to the borders of the past on this island.”
She said all involved in politics should be Brexit ‘ministers" in their various political roles, be it MEP, backbench TD, or Local Authority representative.
"We have to use our influence to set the agenda for the negotiations, which must also focus on the future of the EU. A strong and united EU is important for our future. The decision of the UK, while highly significant, cannot set the agenda for the EU.
"We have many big challenges from migration to security which continue to confront us and which require a collective EU response.
"We have a newly elected President of the USA who has applauded Brexit and is openly hostile to a strong European Union.”
Against this background we must be strong, vigilant and alert to the challenges ahead, she said.
“We need to put the concerns of citizens on our island to the fore, including our common travel area,” she said. “The UK, when it leaves will have a new relationship with the EU, potentially a comprehensive Free Trade Agreement, the details of which will have to be worked out over time.
“What we must avoid is a cliff edge situation where on the day after Brexit WTO tariffs would apply on exports to the UK. For the Irish agri-food sector these tariffs range between 50pc and 60pc of the price of our commodities. This would potentially decimate our exports into the UK and make them more costly for UK consumers,” she warned.
"Our farming and food sector is assessing the situation with deep unease and attempting to plan for a future with so much uncertainty. Of particular concern will be the movement of live animals to and from the UK. The EU has stringent animal health and welfare rules, many in place to protect human health and these will not be compromised upon. The movement of live animals - including horses - will be impacted as the EU will want to protect and defend our high animal health and welfare standards.”
Ms McGuinness said the challenge is to find an appropriate transition period between the UK leaving the EU and a new arrangement coming into force.
“Negotiations will be difficult because the EU will not compromise on core principles and its collective determination to stay unified is very strong.
“The UK appears to want to cherry pick and this is something the EU already has said is impossible and unacceptable.
“Unity of purpose is essential for Ireland and it behoves all in political life to work to that agenda because the consequences of the alternative - a nasty divorce followed by a complete breakdown in the relationships between the EU and the UK – are too grave to contemplate,” she said.