Greater debate needs to take place nationally about Ireland’s priorities for the future of Europe Fine Gael MEP Brian Hayes said.
His comments were made at a public meeting in Dublin tonight (Thursday) to debate ‘The Future of Europe’. Mr. Hayes was joined by the Minister for European Affairs, Helen McEntee TD and Professor John O’Brennan of Maynooth University, who specialises in European Integration and the EU institutions.
“Debate on the future of Europe has been intensified by the impending first-ever withdrawal of a Member State. Whilst Brexit is regrettable, it has also presented an opportunity for the European Union to be rebuilt on stronger ground,” Mr Hayes stated.
“European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker has proposed options for the EU in the future in a White Paper launched earlier this year. The paper sets out five possible scenarios of how Europe could evolve by 2025.
“The debate is ongoing. March 2019 has been set as the time when fundamental change will be decided upon, just in advance of the European Parliament elections. This gives us about 18 months to debate and consider what we want from our membership of the European Union and what our priorities are for this debate.
“Increased Dáil debate and a national conversation across the country needs to happen. It is crucial that people feel part of this debate.”
“To often Ireland, a longstanding and committed Member of the EU, is seen by some as a country that is against further common action across the EU. Too often, we are seen as the country that keeps saying NO. It is not in our interest to be painted into that corner.
“We need a broad national debate on where stands Ireland’s membership of the EU post Brexit. Irish people need to be fully aware of the debate taking place and what is on the table for consideration. There is also a huge responsibility on the media to report what this debate is about and what is at stake for Ireland.
“I very much welcome the fact that Minister Helen McEntee will be launching a series of public meetings to be held nationwide on this very important topic.
“Part of our response to Brexit must be to pivot to Europe. This does not mean neglecting the British market – geography dictates that Ireland and Britain will always have the extremely close trading links. Brexit does mean however, that Ireland must deepen our trade links and increase our exports to the EU. We need to make our voice heard – before fundamental decisions are taken.
“The Ireland of 2017 continues to transform. We are an open and progressive country, with a lot of talent. Our continued development and success will depend on our capacity to respond to change, be flexible and to identify opportunities. It’s imperative we feed into the future of Europe debate, positioning ourselves as drivers and not bystanders.”