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Should we leave the EU?

NEWRY, Mourne and Down District Council together with the Chamber of Trade and Commerce have come in for high praise for the hosting of a debate on whether the UK should leave the European Union.

The event, held in the Canal Court hotel was entitled ‘Brexit’ The Big Debate and was the first such debate in the North to examine the implications of EU withdrawal.

A 2017 referendum has been proposed by the Tory Government.

It featured the impressive debating skills of Daithai O’Ceallaigh, Chair of the Press Council of Ireland, Pat McFadden MP, Shadow Minister for Europe, former Irish Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, columnist and political commentator, Alex Kane, Irwin Armstrong, Conservative party and Chairman of CIGA Healthcare and Colette Fitzgerald, Head of European Commission Office, Northern Ireland.

In a wide ranging and lively debate some 200 delegates heard about the potential effect on the Newry and border area of withdrawal from the 28 state Union.

Conor McGinn MP for St Helen’s North and Bessbrook native held a short question session with Daithi O’Ceallaigh

He asked the keynote speaker: ‘The reason we’re having the conference today is because this is a particularly relevant issue to a border area like Newry and south Armagh … if there is a Brexit, how do you think that will manifest itself on the border and it’s impact on an area like this?’

Mr O’Ceallaigh responded: ‘The European Institutions are always very well disposed towards initiatives in which you have two countries. If the initiative is cross-border – there is always a little bit of a positive spin on it in Brussels or Strasbourg. So that’s a way in which the Union can help.”

“Immigration is a major issue in the United Kingdom. Were the United Kingdom to introduce border controls, they’ve only got one land border – that land border is a couple of miles up the road here. Would there be controls again on the land border?’

In his substantive address, Mr O’Ceallaigh also noted that there was a ‘striking’ absence of debate on the issue of possible withdrawal following a proposed 2017 referendum.

He contrasted this to the Republic Ireland where there has been a lot of debate and noted further: ‘The peace in Northern Ireland, however fragile, was brought about within the EU. Common British and Irish membership helped the two countries set aside ancient differences.’

Several speakers also noted that between the Republic of Ireland and the UK there is a billion Euros worth of trade every week and that this is more than is traded between the UK and China and Brazil combined over the same period. The effects of withdrawal on that trading relationship are uncertain.

Mr Ahern, speaking passionately for the UK to remain within the Union said: ‘It’s important that there’s a very open and intense debate’ and contended that the Republic of Ireland should ‘be as helpful as possible’ to the UK as it seeks concessions from the EU before the poll.

Mr Kane argued for a withdrawal from the Union and said that he had voted ‘no’ in 1975 and had not changed his mind in the interim period.

Noting that the nature of EU membership and the extent of it’s influence had altered radically over that 40-year period, he said: ‘What those 67 per cent of people in the United Kingdom signed up to in 1975 is not what they have now.”

“The biggest thing in all of this … is perception. It’s how the European Union is perceived by ordinary people, not by business men. When most people vote, at root in their decision to go to that ballot box and make that decision – it’s about their identity. It’s about how they see themselves, it’s about how they see their country.’

He went on to say that he agreed with the analysis of the late Tony Benn when he said: ‘A common market becomes a community, a community becomes a union, a union requires its own parliamentary and executive powers and those powers will take precedence over the powers of individual member states.”

“A nation cannot be sovereign, cannot be individual within a union of European states. I believed that then and I believe it now.”


Newry Democrat

3rd November 2015