Address by Minister Dara Murphy, T.D., Minister for European Affairs to the Polish Institute for International Affairs (PISM), 28 September 2016


The European Union in Challenging Times: the Irish Perspective

Excellencies, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen

It is a pleasure to be here this morning at PISM, the leading foreign policy think tank in Poland. I would like to thank Director Dêbski for the invitation to talk to you today. I know you have a tradition of providing a forum for visiting ministers to address a local audience. I also know from our Embassy that the papers you prepare are of high quality, and we value our engagement with the Institute.

The ties between Ireland and Poland have never been stronger. As Minister for European Affairs, I am delighted to visit this great and historic city, and to engage with the Polish government. Earlier today, I met with Minister Konrad Szymanski to discuss the full EU agenda over the coming months.

Ireland values its partnership with Poland in the European Union, and it is always very welcome to exchange views with our Polish friends.

We can all agree that we have a charged EU agenda – how to provide jobs, security and a better future for our citizens; finding a solution to the migration crisis; responding to the challenge posed by the United Kingdom’s decision to withdraw from EU membership.
We are all aware, too, of the fast-changing external environment in which the European Union and its member states must chart a path. And here, on our own continent, we must face the challenge of supporting the sovereignty, territorial integrity, and reform path of Ukraine, in the face of an increasingly assertive Russian policy.

By any standards, this is a demanding agenda. I will share with you some thoughts from an Irish perspective on the challenges facing us as a Union in a moment.

But first, let me briefly say a few words about Ireland and Poland.

We are proud that Poland became a member of the European Union in Dublin, on 1 May 2004.

We are proud, too, that we immediately opened our labour market to citizens of the new Member States. Since then, an estimated 300,000 Polish people have lived, worked and studied in Ireland.

Today, some 150,000 Poles make Ireland their home, our largest foreign community. Polish is now our most spoken foreign language - you can hear it in the streets of our cities and towns. There are Polish shops in towns big and small across the country.

The partnership between Ireland and Poland has been strengthened by the Polish community in Ireland. They are part of our daily life, part of our shared future - and they are very welcome.

Earlier this year, the 2nd Polska Éire Festival was held to celebrate the contribution made by the Polish community to Irish society. A week-long series of events across Ireland celebrated cultural, sporting, business and personal ties between Polish and Irish people. And Marek Niedzwiecki even broadcast his Top 40 chart show live from Dublin.

Planning is already underway for next year’s Festival, which I am confident will become an annual tradition.

Poles who have lived in Ireland and returned home are also building bridges. A new generation is growing up, both Irish and Polish. Our Embassy has created Network Irlandii to enable Poles who have lived, worked or studied in Ireland to retain their connections with Ireland after they return home to Poland.

We enjoy excellent connectivity. With 63 flights a week between Ireland and 11 Polish cities, it has never been easier to travel to Ireland, for business, for leisure or to visit family and friends.

Trade between our countries is growing by about 20% a year, and was worth almost €2.9 billion, or 12 billion Zloty, last year. Our exports to Poland grew by 23% last year, while Polish exports to Ireland grew by 21%. This is a trading relationship that benefits both sides.
On the sporting field, we have played more football matches against Poland than any other country – 27 fixtures since our teams first met here in Warsaw in 1938. For those with a sporting interest, the tally is in Poland’s favour. But this doesn’t stop us being friends!

The Poles and the Irish understand each other and are comfortable in each other’s company. Maybe this is because there are so many parallels between our histories.

Indeed, our Ambassador tells me that the first history of Poland in the English language was written by an Irishman in 1698. Bernard O’Connor, from Kerry in the south-west of Ireland, worked here in Warsaw as a royal doctor for King Jan Sobieski the Third before returning home to write his History of Poland. For many years it was the only source in English about Poland, its history and politics.

This year we are celebrating the centenary of the Easter Rising of 1916, which set Ireland on its path to independence. I know that you will celebrate in 2018 the centenary of the restoration of Poland’s independence.

One of the rebel leaders in 1916 – and our first woman MP and minister, was Constance Markiewicz, whose Polish husband was a celebrated artist and writer.

So we have a long history of connections, but these connections have never been greater – and closer – than now. And together, as partners in the EU, we face the challenge of charting a shared future.


Ladies and Gentlemen,

There is no doubt that the results of the United Kingdom’s referendum last June changed and challenged the way we see our European future. We all, collectively and individually, are undergoing a period of reassessment of our mutual relationships, with Britain, with each other and with this great enterprise we call the European Union. Each of us must assess for ourselves the impact the British decision to withdraw will have. From the outset, when Prime Minister Cameron decided to put this fundamental question of EU membership to the British people, we in Ireland recognised that the consequences of a NO vote would have a profound impact on our country too.

Ireland is an island, off an island, off a continent. For centuries our history has been inextricably linked with that of the United Kingdom. Even following our hard fought independence nearly a century ago, we were still bound closely, economically, culturally, politically. Ireland and the United Kingdom joined the then European Economic Community on the same day in 1973 - the first wave of enlargement since the Union’s foundation.

I cannot emphasise enough how transformative membership of the EU was for Ireland. The economic transformation is well known. The seeds of our economic growth were home-grown with Government policies. Policies of free education to develop a skilled, English-speaking workforce; of attracting foreign direct investment to set up businesses in Ireland employing that skilled workforce; and of support for indigenous enterprise to develop Irish talent in the small and medium sized business sector and to help them seek out new markets beyond the traditional UK market.

Membership of the European Single Market has also been a critical factor in our economic success as well as the support provided through the EU’s cohesion policies. Together these domestic policies and our membership of the European Union helped bring Ireland from being its poorest member in 1973 to one of its most prosperous in 2016.

Politically, our EU membership also had a profound impact. In 1973, Ireland and the UK became equal partners in Europe. That sense of equality greatly benefitted our national psyche.

We continue to have a close relationship with the UK but we have opened up to the world, economically, politically and culturally and that is important in securing a prosperous future for our people.

That landscape is about to change radically. But our overarching goal is clear: Ireland’s future is as a committed EU Member State and we wish to see a strong EU with the strongest possible relationship with the UK.

Prior to the referendum, Ireland was clear that we wished the UK to remain in the EU as our analyses had shown that such an outcome best served our strategic interests, as well as those of the EU as a whole. We were careful to be respectful in the debate but when the opportunity arose, we were clear in setting out our perspective and the thinking that informed our viewpoint, particularly when addressing the comparatively large number of voters with Irish ancestry or citizenship who were entitled to vote in the referendum,. That is why our Prime Minister, other Ministers and I myself travelled to the UK to meet with Irish communities there to express the Irish Government’s view.

However, by a narrow margin the result was otherwise. While the result is not what we would have wished for, we fully respect the democratic decision taken by the UK electorate. In the three months since the referendum, the UK has been absorbing the outcome. The UK exit process is not yet underway, as the UK government has yet to trigger Article 50, but three months on from the referendum result, let me share with you some of the Irish government’s analysis, approach and actions so far.

Planning for the Referendum

In Ireland, we are veterans of referendums and our contingency planning had been going on for some time before the referendum, though our public focus was on advancing a positive case for a Remain vote.

For about a year leading up to the referendum the government in Ireland engaged in a planning process. Expert reports were commissioned. All relevant government departments were asked to examine the possible impacts of a Brexit vote on their sectors – from foreign affairs to justice to energy, transport, agriculture, trade and so on. State agencies, business representatives, trades unions and other stakeholders were consulted with and kept informed on the government’s approach.

When the disappointing result was announced on 24 June, Ireland was as ready as we could be. Once the UK has triggered Article 50, the negotiations will be between 27 Member States of the EU on the one hand and the UK on the other. It is therefore essential that the unique challenges that Brexit presents to the island of Ireland are well understood by all our partners.

On the day of the referendum result, the Irish Government began a round of contacts with each and every one of our EU partners, including Poland, which continued throughout the summer months. The Government has been making clear that the UK’s decision does not in any way affect Ireland’s deep commitment to the EU. We have also set out our particular concerns arising from the decision in relation to Northern Ireland, the peace process, and border and citizenship issues; the Common Travel Area between Britain and Ireland, and the interconnectedness of our trade.

The Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, as head of government, also spoke extensively to his counterparts including Prime Minister May, Chancellor Merkel, President Hollande, President Tusk and many others.

So as you can see we must not underestimate the scale and complexity of the challenge ahead of us. Ireland’s relationship with the UK is composed of many different strands, all of which will be affected by the UK’s decision to leave the European Union. These strands include the relationships between Ireland and the UK, between North and South on the island of Ireland, and between the UK and an EU which includes Ireland.

The negotiations themselves will prove challenging to say the least – on the one hand, the formal exit process as set out in Article 50 of the EU Treaty, on the other an even more complex challenge to negotiate a new relationship between the UK and the EU. But the EU and its Member States have overcome great challenges in the past and I know that we can meet the challenges that lie ahead.

Ireland’s priorities

So where does Ireland stand as this process gets underway? The Irish Government is clear on a number of key points.

First, as I’ve made clear, Ireland remains wholeheartedly committed to our membership both of the European Union and of the Eurozone. While we deeply regret the UK decision to leave the EU, Ireland intends to remain very much at the heart of the European Union. We have made it clear to all partners – and to the UK – that we will be negotiating as one of 27.

Our focus for the negotiations will be on:
-Northern Ireland and protecting the peace process;
-retaining the open border with Northern Ireland and preserving the Common Travel Area between Ireland and the UK;
-the economy and trade;
-and protecting the future of the European Union itself.

Northern Ireland

While the peace settlement in Northern Ireland is by now well-established, we can never afford to be complacent. The peace process is just that – a process – that requires ongoing work to protect and preserve what has been achieved since the Good Friday Agreement of 1998.

The Good Friday Agreement provides the framework for our engagement in Northern Ireland and we have worked alongside the UK government and Northern Ireland’s political leaders to stabilise the devolved institutions in Belfast and deliver important initiatives.

Into this environment, Brexit now presents a new and substantial challenge for Northern Ireland. Across the UK as a whole, 52% of voters opted to leave the EU. However, in Northern Ireland, 56% voted to remain in the European Union. The people of Northern Ireland are in a unique position both in the UK and in the EU, entitled as they are to define themselves as British, Irish, or both. This is an important aspect of the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 and it will have to be accommodated in the final settlement between the EU and the UK. Both the Irish and British Governments agreed that the principles and institutions of this solemn international agreement will be fully respected and protected.

When the UK leaves the EU, Northern Ireland will be the only region in the United Kingdom which shares a land-border with another EU member state. The fact that Ireland and the UK are currently both in the EU provides an important stabilising context in which we all live and work together and, naturally, many people in Northern Ireland are understandably concerned that leaving the EU would have implications for political stability, reconciliation and prosperity.

One of our key concerns raised by Brexit, is the possibility of a return to a hard or fortified border on the island of Ireland, dividing North and South. The First Minister and Deputy First Minister of the Northern Ireland Executive, Prime Minister May and Taoiseach Enda Kenny have been unanimous in their view that we must maintain the openness of the border which is enjoyed today. The re-instating of a hard border would have obvious negative consequences for cross-border trade and economic activity as well as adding complication and hardship to people’s lives. But the more serious effect would be the symbolic one of resurrecting one of the most potent symbols of our divided history. The Common Travel Area where citizens of Ireland and the United Kingdom have enjoyed free movement since the foundation of the Irish State, and pre-dating our membership of the EU, is highly valued, and maintaining it will be a key priority for the Irish government.

The peace process in Northern Ireland is also a European success. Over many years, the EU has provided political and financial support for the political process in the North. Funding under the various PEACE programmes has benefitted communities on both sides of the border, building links and fostering cooperation and reconciliation. Peoples in situations of conflict elsewhere in the world look to the peace process for inspiration. It is in all our interests to avoid outcomes which could undermine this progress.

We must be in the business of solutions as we face these challenges and thus the dialogue is firmly underway – between the north and south, between Dublin and London, and with our EU partners. We must all work together to ensure that the benefits of the peace process are protected and safeguarded for future generations under the ultimate shape of the settlement between the UK and the EU to be worked out in negotiations between the EU of 27 and the UK.

Economy and Trade

It is clear, therefore, that current challenges are not just economic. However our economies remain a core concern. We will certainly make economic and trade issues a priority in the upcoming negotiations around the UK’s exit from the EU.

Trade between the UK and Ireland is significant: each week over €1.2 billion of goods and services is exchanged between the two islands. I know the UK is also an important trading partner for Poland.

Ireland is the UK’s fifth largest export market and the UK has traditionally been Ireland’s largest trading partner for goods and services combined.

However, that situation is changing and the United States is overtaking the UK as Ireland’s largest trading partner. Meanwhile the Eurozone economies account for twice the goods trade we enjoy with the UK, while we continue to expand on a global scale, especially in Asia. This illustrates the very different trading profile that Ireland now enjoys compared to the early 1970s, when Ireland and the UK joined the EEC together. However, the UK remains the main market for exports from indigenous companies, especially in the food and drink sector.

The UK remains a very important partner and we will want to maintain the strong flow of goods and services, both North and South on the island of Ireland, and between Ireland and Britain. But it is important to point out that our economy is now more diverse, and much better positioned to meet the trade challenges around Brexit than at any time in the past.

It will be some time before the full consequences of Brexit on the UK economy emerge, but we are very much aware that a downturn in the UK could have negative impacts for Ireland also. However, the Irish Government is confident of the resilience of our economy. We have put in place the necessary policies to help us adjust to the economic side-effects of Brexit and will continue to do so in the time ahead.

We are well experienced now in dealing with economic challenges, having emerged from the severe economic crash that afflicted Ireland most adversely in 2008. We emerged from that crisis, and through significant hard work, rebuilt an open, attractive and competitive economy.

We will continue to promote Ireland as an attractive location for mobile international investment and for talented people, because those things continue to be true, regardless of the UK’s decision to leave the European Union.

There may be certain opportunities for Ireland arising from the UK’s decision to leave the EU, and we will naturally seek to maximise these opportunities. Nonetheless, from our perspective, it’s clear that the economic interests of Ireland and the UK alike are best served by the UK remaining strong and maintaining a close trading relationship with the European Union. That is why we so eagerly await to hear from the British Government what sort of relationship with the EU they envisage. We have made it absolutely clear, however, in all our contacts at Prime Ministerial and Ministerial level, that the Union’s four fundamental freedoms cannot be separated one from the other. That means that access to the Single Market for goods and services is paralleled by the right to freedom of movement.

We have also in our contacts reiterated the agreed principle that there can be no pre-negotiations until Article 50 is triggered. It is still not clear when this will be. There have been some suggestions that it might be early in the New Year. From our point of view, the sooner the better. At a minimum, greater clarity would be much appreciated.

In preparation for that triggering, the Irish Government continues to review key issues relating to contingency planning and preparation for negotiations on an ongoing basis. All Government Departments are deepening their analysis of the likely impacts of the UK’s decision and continue to develop risk analysis and contingency plans. Detailed contingency planning is challenging when it is not yet known what new trading and other arrangements between the EU and UK will be put in place.

Structural changes to the workings of Government are required to ensure an effective whole-of-Government response to the challenges ahead. Earlier this month, the Taoiseach chaired the first meeting of a new Cabinet Committee on Brexit, of which I am a member, that will oversee the overall Government response, including both the economic impact and the negotiations at EU level and with the administrations in London and Belfast.

Free Movement of People

There are more Polish and Irish people in the UK than from any European country. We have both benefited hugely from the free movement of people – even if in our case it dates back to well before EU membership. We both have a huge stake in ensuring that EU citizens already in the UK can, if they so choose, continue to live and work there unhindered. And at this point, let me say that the contribution of the Polish community to the UK has been huge – just as it has been in Ireland. I have been shocked and appalled to hear of xenophobic attacks on Polish people in Britain. This is wholly unacceptable. Irish people were in the past sometimes the victims of prejudice and hostility in Britain - though it was always a welcoming place for most of us and though this era has long passed. So we feel strongly for our Polish friends.

Looking to the future, we fully share the general consensus that freedom of movement of people is intrinsically connected to the other freedoms which form the basis of the Single Market and cannot be bargained away in negotiations.

Future of Europe

There will be major challenges ahead, but the Government is determined to meet those challenges. We are also determined not to focus solely on the negatives of the UK decision but also on the positives of EU membership.

Just ten days ago, the Taoiseach and Prime Minister Szyd³o, were in Bratislava, where Slovakia hosted a summit of 27 EU leaders. The summit focussed on the challenges and priorities for the EU. In his contributions, the Taoiseach made a strong and positive case for the future of the European Union.

While Brexit is a huge challenge, the reality is that it is just one of a number of issues which the European Union is currently grappling with, and it must be analysed in that context. The European Union is very much citizen-focussed and our commitment to providing jobs and prosperity, safety and security becomes more challenging in the context of mass migration via the Mediterranean basin, the appalling conflict on our borders in Syria, the wider instability across the Middle East and parts of Africa and, of course, the spectre of terrorism.

The simultaneous presence of these issues will add an additional layer of complexity to the upcoming Brexit negotiations, and means that they can never be viewed as a “purely economic” matter.

As the Bratislava Declaration states: “The EU is not perfect but it is the best instrument we have for addressing the new challenges we are facing”. Each Member State has a slightly different view of those challenges and places a slightly different priority on the actions we should be taking. What we need is a balanced approach.

Recent Irish economic history means that our focus is very much on delivering concrete results to support jobs, growth and investment. We fully acknowledge the concerns around migration and security, but we believe that economic issues also remain central to the Union and that, in addressing these, the lives of EU citizens can be transformed in a real and tangible way.

In our view, completing the Single Market, progressing the Digital Single Market and Capital Markets Union, creating employment, improving the flow of investment and completing trade agreements, will enable our citizens to feel more secure in their lives and their futures.

Happily these are also priorities for Poland, which is why we are eager to continue working with Poland as a like minded partner on many issues and to deepen that cooperation, particularly on the Digital Single Market, which is a particular priority for me.

The Bratislava Declaration also recognises the need to ensure the security of our people. The European Global Strategy presented before the summer by Vice President and High Representative Federica Mogherini recognises that instability in European neighbourhoods is a source of threats.

The conflict in eastern Ukraine is a concrete reminder that a departure from international legal norms can only lead to instability and an undermining of security in our neighbourhood. Russia’s annexation of Crimea and other infringements of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity are a clear violation of international law. This is why the EU had to take a stand and impose targeted economic sanctions against Russia.

The Minsk Agreements provide the basis for a peaceful resolution of the conflict in Ukraine. The EU has correctly linked the duration of the sanctions to the complete implementation of Minsk. The ongoing ceasefire violations, the continued use of heavy weapons and Russia’s failure to use its influence on the separatists to end the violence are clear breaches of the Minsk agreements and do not provide a basis for any easing of sanctions. Developments in recent weeks offer grounds for cautious optimism but it is premature to say if they will lead to the necessary improvements on the ground that we all wish to see.

Ireland also recognises the need for security and defence to be part of a comprehensive and coherent implementation of the European Global Strategy. We also recognise that this is a high priority for some partners and we would not wish to block progress within the limits of the Treaties. Ireland is an active and committed supporter of the Common Security and Defence Policy as it has evolved to date and we will continue to be active participants in its development, within the parameters of the EU Treaties.

Finally, the Bratislava Declaration also recognised the need to improve communication with each other –among Member States, with EU Institutions, but most importantly with our citizens. I very much hope that my address here today goes some way towards that objective also. It is something that all Governments must work on – to truly connect Europe to with its citizens.

The process of reflection and renewal that started in Bratislava will continue over the coming months and will culminate in Rome next March, on the 60th anniversary of the EU. Our vision is of an EU characterised by partnership, peace, and prosperity. An EU worth defending; an EU worth challenging; an EU worth strengthening.

There is an old expression in the Irish language – Ní neart go chur le chéile – working together we are stronger. Ladies and Gentlemen, we very much look forward to working together with our Polish friends to make our common EU future stronger.