Minister for Foreign Affairs, Charlie Flanagan has said that it is vital that a well-informed debate on the possible consequences associated with a UK exit from the European Union takes place in Northern Ireland, given its unique and special circumstances.
“The question of the UK leaving the EU is a serious one for all those with a vote in the referendum to consider, but due to the unique and special circumstances in Northern Ireland, it is particularly important that voters are well informed about the potential consequences of a Brexit.
“The EU has brought so many benefits to this entire island and we have enjoyed the special rights afforded to EU citizens for so long that perhaps, we sometimes can take these rights for granted, or forget about what life was like before Ireland and the UK joined the then EEC.
“The prospect of the North-South border reappearing as a hard border between the EU and a non-EU Member State has consequences that are not just economic but would also constitute a setback to reconciliation on this island and greatly inconvenience people living in the region. There are also possible consequences for cooperation on policing matters which would be particularly serious in the context of the new Cross Border Task Force on crime, an outcome of the recent Fresh Start Agreement in Belfast.
“Shared EU citizenship by all of the people on this island also has a political value for many nationalists in Northern Ireland.
“The EU has been a strong supporter of the Peace Process and has pumped huge funds into programmes supporting the Peace Process.
“As we know from our own experience of referendums, it is really important that voters are well informed. Representative organisations and civic society groups have a critical role to play in the coming weeks and months, particularly in this period before the campaigns for Assembly elections get underway.
“The Taoiseach played a leading role in helping achieve agreement at the European Council meeting last week. The strong leadership shown by Ireland at EU level will be continued by Fine Gael. The Taoiseach and I have already been active in speaking on this issue in London and Belfast and we will use all appropriate avenues to stimulate an informed debate on EU membership in the weeks and months ahead, particularly in Northern Ireland.”