Government in denial about Brexit, says Micheál Martin
Fianna Fáil leader urges special economic zone status for Northern Ireland
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin at the Chartered Accountants Ireland Leinster Society business lunch in Dublin. Photograph: Eric Luke
The Government is in denial about Brexit, even though it is the “defining challenge” for the current generation, according to Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin.
The leader of the Republic’s biggest Opposition party warned on Thursday that the State had to face the reality of a hard Brexit. “I do not think we are approaching it with the degree of urgency that is required,” he said. “We are in denial about it. Brexit remains the defining challenge for this generation.”
Speaking ahead of addressing the Chartered Accountants Ireland Leinster Society in Dublin, Mr Martin warned that the UK’s departure from the European Union threatened the Republic’s economic progress and strategy.
He stressed that the State would have to support small and medium-sized businesses in growing and finding new markets to replace those put at risk by the UK’s decision to leave the EU.
In his speech, he argued that Northern Ireland should get special status following Brexit as it would have the biggest concentration anywhere of EU citizens outside the bloc’s borders, as its residents are automatically entitled to Irish citizenship.
“I believe that some form of special economic zone status should be sought for Northern Ireland and those counties which involve the most North-South trade. However, this now appears unlikely,” he said.
“Because of the refusal of the British government to allow different arrangements for the devolved governments there will be a customs border and there will be regulatory issues which will grow over time.”
Securing all elements of the Common Travel Area should a first objective. He noted that this went further than visa-free travel and the right to work in each others’s jurisdictions, to include rights to such things as social protection as well as access to education and healthcare.
“Over the last five decades many of these rights have been underpinned by EU law. As these protections disappear we have to replace them or we risk long-term misunderstandings,” Mr Martin said.
He stressed that the Republic needed to be unequivocal in stating that it intended to stay in the EU.
“People investing in Ireland and using it as a European base must be assured that we will continue to have full and free access to what will remain one of the largest world markets and that we will be a pro-enterprise voice when it comes to regulation,” he said.
He pointed out that the Republic’s economy was an international rather than a regional one, and that breaking away from dependence on Britain helped secure growth and rising living standards.
Mr Martin said that as Brexit’s impact would vary from sector to sector so should the State’s approach to it.
“Due to the UK being outside of the single market we should be allowed flexibility in state aid targeted at the UK market,” he said.
However, he said the bigger need was for businesses to take an aggressive approach to finding new markets and products.
Alongside this, Mr Martin stressed that we would also need a new approach to our links with the UK, because it would remain a major trading partner.
He also advocated putting in place a structure that would allow both countries to tackle unforeseen problems.
“If we are to have real co-operation then it can’t be an afterthought and it can’t be optional,” he said.