Mary Robinson: Brexit could have domino effect

Former president appeals to EU to remember its core values

Former president Mary Robinson has said that young people in the UK must feel "very let down" by the outcome of the Brexit referendum, and she appealed to the EU to "remember its own core values".

The outcome of the British vote last week reflected a “lot of anger and frustration”, with no good arguments made in favour of the European project, she said, and she expressed fears about a “domino effect” with other EU member states withdrawing.

She was critical of the Remain campaign’s concentration on a “fear factor about the economic implications”.

The campaign to retain EU membership virtually ignored "what Europe is really about", she said in Ballina, Co Mayo, at the weekend.


Fundamental rights, including the right to gender equality which had "accelerated" in Ireland after EU accession, were at the heart of the community's core values, she said, and she appealed to European member states to remember this.

Negative values

The result would serve to “boost the far-right parties who are anti-immigrant, xenophobic and [associated with] negative values”, she noted.

"It's very depressing because the impact is going to be largely negative, and for this country it is of no help to our peace process in Northern Ireland, " she said. "So I think it is about absorbing the impact at this stage."

"We do need to speak up for the value of the other and the value in our societies of diversity,"she said, and she paid tribute to the stance taken in support of refugees and migrants by UN special representative for international migration Peter Sutherland. "Yes, we have to manage migration because it reduces the fear factor . . . but there aren't enough people speaking up for people on the move, migrants and refugees."

EU agency

Mrs Robinson said she was “glad that that an Irish man was now head of the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights in Vienna”, referring to former

NUI Galway

Irish Centre for Human Rights director Prof Michael O’Flaherty.

Mrs Robinson said she was devastated by the violent death of British MP Jo Cox, and said she knew her very well through her policy planner-campaigner role in Oxfam. Mrs Robinson recalled how Ms Cox had asked her as president of Oxfam to lead a delegation of women to eastern Chad on the border of Darfur, and had also organised visits with key European politicians as a follow-up.

"We were only visible voices for her and she was strategising behind the scenes. And when she got her own voice – and became an MP – she was a champion of migrants from Syria, " Mrs Robinson said.

Mrs Robinson paid tribute to Pakistan human rights lawyer and women's rights advocate Hina Jilani, who delivered the third annual international human rights lecture hosted by the Mary Robinson Centre in Ballina on Saturday.

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins is the former western and marine correspondent of The Irish Times