Welsh minister sees huge potential for close links with Ireland

Fund of €2.6m to develop Rosslare, Dublin, Pembroke and Holyhead as tourist hubs

Eluned Morgan, the first holder of the Welsh international relations portfolio. Photograph: Matthew Horwood/Getty

Eluned Morgan, the first holder of the Welsh international relations portfolio. Photograph: Matthew Horwood/Getty

 

Eluned Morgan, the Welsh government’s first minister for international affairs, believes that the potential for Ireland and Wales to grow stronger economic, cultural and social links is enormous.

Ireland is currently Wales’s fourth-largest export market, there are 80 Irish companies with a presence in Wales and the number of Irish tourists has grown substantially in recent years, surpassing 200,000 for the first time last year.

Morgan, a Labour member of the Welsh Assembly, is the first holder of the international relations portfolio. She will visit Dublin on Thursday to meet Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney and will also participate in the announcement of an ambitious €2.6 million fund to develop Irish and Welsh ports such as Rosslare, Dublin, Pembroke and Holyhead into tourist hubs, where visitors can learn about their heritage.

The new international role was established in response to the forthcoming departure of the UK from the EU. The Welsh government wants to assert its own identity in a post-Brexit situation, showing it is an outward-looking country, with strong international links and close ties to European countries.

“Mark Drakeford [the Welsh first minister] was keen, as the result of Brexit, for people to understand that Wales was an outward-facing country committed to the EU an committed to internationalism,” she said. “The last thing we want to do is turn our back on the world.”

Welsh speaker

A native Welsh speaker from west Wales who is also a life peer in the House of Lord, she has also responsibility for the Welsh language – with half a million speakers it is in a much stronger position in 2019 than Irish is.

Morgan first sprang to prominence in 1994 when she was elected to the European Parliament at the age of 27. To underlie the links with Ireland, she used catch a ferry to Rosslare to begin her journey to Strasbourg, when the Parliament sat there once every month.

Speaking to The Irish Times ahead of her visit, she said: “Obviously we have the long historic links. We have close cultural links that will be reinforce.

She continued: “There is potential to grow our relationship economically. Since 2017 there has been a 50 per cent increase in number of exports to Ireland. Ireland is currently Wales’s fourth largest export market. We have 80 Irish companies with a presence in wales with about 5,000 people (employed).”

Morgan is a strong Remainer who was “bitterly disappointed” by the vote in the UK.

“I think as a government we are very keen to keep a close relationship with the EU.”

Second referendum

She accepts that a small majority of Welsh people voted for Brexit but says that, given the chaos in Westminster over the question, it might be time to “go back to the people to ask them [about leaving the EU] in the face of the knowledge they have now about the outcome, particularly in Wales, which we know would be more damaging.

“Our exports to the EU amount to 60 per cent of trade compared to 49 [per cent] in the rest of the UK. The damage to Wales would be greater. Wales a net beneficiary [receiving £600 million per annum].”

She says her government would like to see a referendum on the future relationship with the EU.

As the same time, the Welsh Labour party is “very much committed to remaining a part of the UK. I think that Brexit will test the coherence of the UK. As a political party we are committed to the UK. If Brexit does happen, there needs to be a fundamental review of internal relationships.”

She says that will require some form of mechanism to ensure Welsh voices have a strong say in future trade relationship negotiations.

With 500,000 speakers, Welsh is in a much stronger position than Ireland but it is also facing challenges and decline. Like here, there is a long-term strategy to increase the number of speakers to one million. This is through the provision of Welsh-speaking schools and education, as well as “softer” methods such as media platforms for sport and pop music to encourage people to speak Welsh.

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