Taoiseach Enda Kenny speaking at the Brexit forum in Dublin today. RollingNews.ie photo.
By Evan Short and Anthony Neeson
An All-Island Civic Dialogue is taking place in Dublin today with those in attendance considering issues arising out of Britain’s decision to leave the European Union.
And the meeting heard from Taoiseach Enda Kenny that the British government could trigger the Brexit process as early as next month.
The meeting is being hosted Mr. Kenny and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Charlie Flanagan.
It is the first in a series of gatherings bringing together a broad range of civic society groups, trade unions, business groups and non-government organizations, as well as the main political parties.
Unionist parties in Northern Ireland declined an invitation.
Speaking ahead of the meeting, Sinn Féin MLA, John O’Dowd, said the dialogue forum was the “best opportunity for the people of this island including unionists to have their voices heard.”
He said there would be many different groups from Northern Ireland at the forum including business people, community leaders, farmers and citizens “who have genuine concerns about the future.”
He said: “Sinn Féin will be entering a phase of talks with the Irish government, with Scotland and Wales, and the British government and European level to ensure that the vote to remain (in the EU) in the North is respected and given effect.
“While the British government have ignored the impact of Brexit on the North, the Irish government will have a central role on the European side standing up for what is best for all of Ireland.
“That is why we called for an all-Ireland approach and that is why we will be attending and contributing to the forum discussion.”
Meanwhile, Irish Finance Minister, Michael Noonan, has offered Dublin as a possible location for the European Bank Authority in the wake of the Brexit vote.
Brexit will make it necessary for the EBA to relocate from London to another EU member state.
“While the UK continues to be a full member of the EU until negotiations for their exit have been completed, preparations must be made for eventualities such as the relocation of certain European agencies such as the European Banking Authority,” said Minister Noonan.
“Ireland has a significant financial services sector, efficient transport links to other European capitals and the capacity to absorb the European Banking Authority’s re-location to Ireland.”
Noonan added: “As a country with experience in providing links to banks and companies in the UK market, Ireland provides an ideal new home for the staff of the EBA.”
Meanwhile, and against the backdrop of the Dublin gathering, Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster has accused the Irish government of talking down the North’s economy and poaching “our investors.”
Foster was speaking at the DUP’s annual conference on Saturday. She told delegates that Brexit presented the biggest economic opportunity for the UK in decades.
However, it was her criticism of the Irish government that garnered most headlines.
“While they [Irish government] seek to take the views of people in Northern Ireland on the issue of Brexit at home, their representatives are sent out around the world to talk down our economy and attempt to poach our investors.”
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, whose Sinn Féin party is in government with Mrs. Foster’s DUP, told RTÉ that he had recently met with a Chinese investor with Mrs. Foster but the DUP leader did not mention her concerns.
Meanwhile, the former U.S. senator who brokered the Good Friday Agreement has said that border controls between the north and south of Ireland would be a “step backwards” in the peace process.
Senator George Mitchell told the BBC’s “The World This Weekend” that free movement over the border contributed to “the stability that’s developed over the past two decades.”
There are fears that border controls could be re-established following Britain’s decision to leave the European Union.
“I believe that the restoration of a militarized border with strict controls, limited traffic back and forth would have an adverse effect on relations within the island of Ireland,” Mitchell said.
“The ability to move back and forward across the border that has existed for the past several years has been very helpful in increasing commerce and also in reducing stereotypes on both sides.
“I believe that would be a step backward for that to occur.”
The senator added that Ireland and Britain’s membership of the European Union had helped create the conditions for the Northern Ireland peace process.
Separately, Northern Ireland Finance Minister Máirtín Ó Muilleoir is in the U.S. this week for a series of engagements that include efforts to boost U.S. investment in the North.
Mr. Ó Muilleoir said he would be in the U.S. showcasing the progress made by the Executive since the Fresh Start Agreement ushered in a new era of cross-party co-operation.
He said in a statement: “I will urge Irish America to initiate its own Fresh Start in transatlantic relations in order to cement the peace with jobs and investment.
“Irish American support has been key to the success of the peace process but now is the perfect time to move our famed partnership up a gear.
“It remains my firm view that with just 6.8 million people on the island of Ireland, but 40 million in the Irish and Scots-Irish diaspora in the U.S., the power of our global family remains our ace card.
Mr. Ó Muilleoir began his visit in California where he met, among others, Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, Co-Chair of the Irish Caucus in the Californian State Legislature, Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates and State Senator Loni Hancock.
“Berkeley, of course, takes its name from an Irish bishop George Berkeley, but the city’s links with Ireland were deepened even further following last year’s tragic death of five Irish students and an Irish American friend. Mayor Bates showed tremendous leadership at that time and I am looking forward to thanking him in person for all his efforts,” said Ó Muilleoir.
And he continued: “I am also excited at the chance to address a high-powered audience of tech entrepreneurs and investors in the Airbnb headquarters in San Francisco and, courtesy of the hardworking folks at the NI Bureau, meeting with the Irish American community at a reception downtown.
“In both San Francisco and, later in the week, in New York, I will be meeting with comptrollers and treasurers, most notably Controller Betty Yee of California and Comptroller Tom DiNapoli of New York State who were staunch supporters of the MacBride Principles on Fair Employment and who now can play a key role in driving investment to the North.
“Such investment is more important now than ever given the ‘turbulence’ which the British Chancellor of the Exchequer admits lies ahead due to the threat of Brexit.
“Putting together a successful U.S. visit is the work of many hands but I want to pay a special tribute to expats Seamus McAteer, founder of Datasnap.io, Robbie Hunter, President of the Californian Construction Trades Council, and Ryushin Paul Haller of the San Francisco Zen Center for rolling out the red carpet for our delegation.”
In New York, Ó Muilleoir will take a break from investment and finance matters and will be reading a poem at the New York Irish Art Center’s PoetryFest on Friday, Nov. 4.
On Sunday, he will be running in the New York Marathon and raising funds for the New York homeless charity, WIN (www.winnyc.org).