A Fine Gael TD has said that if the UK votes to leave the EU in the looming 2017 referendum it will create a “serious difficulty” for the Republic.
Donegal North East TD Joe McHugh, who is co-chair of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, made the comments as he led a delegation of 15 Fine Gael TDs and senators to Belfast for meetings.
Mr McHugh, who was invited to the Province by NI21’s Basil McCrea and John McCallister, said that he was “very conscious of 2017” and the referendum on EU membership.
He said: “If the citizens of the UK decide to leave the EU in 2017, where does that leave a county like Donegal; where does it leave the 26 counties?”
He told the News Letter that it was “in the long-shot territory” but a UK outside the EU would create “extreme difficulty because you would have the tangible border back again”, ending free movement of people and goods.
He added: “It would provide a serious difficulty for the 26 counties.”
When asked if he believed the Republic should rejoin the Commonwealth, he said that the Queen’s visit to Dublin was “a changing moment in the relationship between the UK and Ireland” when many negative perceptions about Irishness and Englishness had been “broken down”.
But he said the Republic needed “to get our own house in order” before thinking about the Commonwealth, stressing that in Dublin the economy was the central issue: “Our job in the 26 counties in the last three years was to try to get our economy sorted; we were on the abyss....now as the economy is starting to move in the right direction I think we’ve more room to do more creative stuff, be it on a north-south basis or looking at our [UK] relationship.”
Mr McCallister, who will bring the delegation to inner east Belfast today, said that as a small island it is “vitally important” to build north-south links on economic issues.
Some TDs never in Belfast before
Joe McHugh said that he was familiar with the Province but that some of the delegation had never before been to Belfast.
“For an island this small, people take for granted that they’ve been all over the island but there’s an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ dimension, both north and south. While the public and business people are sometimes a step ahead of the politicians, politicians need to play a bit of catch-up.”