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Speech by the Taoiseach, Mr. Enda Kenny T.D. at the First Meeting of the All-Island Civic Dialogue on Brexit


Thank you all and welcome to the Royal Hospital Kilmainham for this initial meeting of the All-island Civic Dialogue on Brexit.
Today's event is a response to the unique situation that has been created on this island by the UK's vote to leave the European Union.

Brexit is an issue that has the potential to impact everybody on this Island - North and South. It has implications for so many aspects of our relationship. It presents the most significant economic and social challenge of the past 50 years.
That is why it is so important for us to have a conversation on what this means to all of us. That is why we have sought to have the broadest possible attendance at today's event, from across the Island.
It is an opportunity to consider how best to deal with the challenges that lie ahead and ensure the best possible outcome for Ireland and for Northern Ireland.

This situation is not of our making. It is not the outcome that we, the Irish Government, and many others, wanted.
But we must, and do, respect the outcome of the democratic process in the UK.

I also acknowledge that the electorate in Northern Ireland did not vote to leave the EU.

While many uncertainties remain, the UK is now on a course that will fundamentally change its relationship with the European Union.

And for the first time, when the negotiations are complete, Ireland will be an EU member and the UK will not.
The priorities for my Government are well set out - the economy and trade; Northern Ireland and the peace process; the border and the Common Travel Area as well as the future of the EU itself.

In that context, we need to understand clearly that business in the Republic is not exempt from the consequences of Brexit.

We have ensured that all of our EU partners understand our unique circumstances. I have emphasised these in my meetings with Chancellor Merkel, President Hollande, Prime Minister May, and the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk and more recently with Michel Barnier, head of the EU Commission's Brexit Taskforce.

We now have clarity on a number of issues:
1. Prime Minister Theresa May will trigger Article 50 by end of March 2017;
2. I have agreed with the Prime Minister that there will be no return to the borders of the past. Therefore the retention of an open border is critical;
3. Neither I, nor the Prime Minister, desire to limit the freedom of people on both sides of the Irish sea to trade, live, work and travel freely across these islands. Therefore we have agreed that the benefits of the Common Travel Area be preserved.
4. Access to the E.U. Single Market requires acceptance of the freedom of movement of people.
5. The Irish government remains fully committed to the Good Friday Agreement, as Co-Guarantors of the Agreement.
We have now put structures and resources in place to ensure a whole-of-Government response to the Brexit vote. A newly established Brexit Cabinet Committee which I chair is co-ordinating this work. All Ministers will participate in this.

The European Council which I attend will have political charge of the Brexit negotiations at EU level - so it is vital that this work continues to be managed strongly from my Department, because the EU Council will make the political decisions that matter.

We are acutely aware of the potential economic impacts of Brexit for this country and we will seek to maximise any opportunities that arise.

I am very conscious that for some sectors, Brexit is not a distant prospect but a present reality as the sterling depreciation creates many challenges for Irish exporters. We have introduced measures in our Budget to help mitigate this - particularly for agri-food.

Our ultimate objective is to ensure that the upcoming negotiations lead to the closest possible trading relationship between the UK and the EU - something that would be of advantage to us all.

In all of this – Northern Ireland and the peace process is front and centre of our priorities. We are working closely with the Northern Ireland Executive and with the UK Government to prepare to meet the challenges ahead.

I will be in Northern Ireland tomorrow to meet with political leaders to discuss how best we can work together.
I am delighted to see such a broad range of representatives of civic society here today and I welcome the engagement of most political parties throughout this island.

Sectoral engagement is a core part of our work. This all Island Dialogue is part of a series of consultations by the Government and added to this will be a further series of sectoral discussions both north and south.

Today we want to hear about the challenges and opportunities of Brexit from your perspective.

I ask you to be constructive in your contributions, and to concentrate on how we can grasp the potential of the future beyond Brexit and when the UK has left the EU.

This is an opportunity for all of you to influence and contribute to our thinking on how we deal with Brexit. We have no time to waste.

As well as this morning’s plenary session, you will have the opportunity to participate in break-out discussions this afternoon.

We are live streaming this event and we have note takers on hand who will record your contributions. A report of the dialogue will be compiled and published.

This is the first instalment and we will have more plenary engagements in the coming weeks and months. Both I and the Minister for Foreign Affairs are also committed to further more focused events on the all island impacts of Brexit. We are keen to hear your views on the shape and format of these.

There will be plenty of opportunities for people to speak here today and we want to hear from you. I would ask you all to be respectful of each other but also to be as succinct as possible in getting your points across.

As I have said previously, once the negotiations between the UK and the EU commence, I will be one of the 27 Heads of Government on one side of the table, with the UK on the other.

In that context it is important that I hear what you have to say. I am here to listen to your contributions and proposals.

I want to thank Tom Arnold for moderating for us today and all of the panellists and contributors.

I will now hand back to Tom to kick off the first plenary session.

Many thanks.