Taoiseach Enda Kenny yesterday travelled to Belfast to warn against the UK leaving the EU, something he claimed would create instability and uncertainty, along with the likely return of border checkpoints.
Mr Kenny described the EU referendum as the biggest decision for Northern Ireland’s voters since the Good Friday Agreement and said it was not credible to suggest nothing would change at the Irish border if the UK left the EU.
“The re-establishment of customs checks on the border, or indeed of any customs arrangements, would be a regrettable and backward step for north-south trade and cooperation,” he said.
In a speech at Ulster University’s Belfast campus, he said: “My address today is about what I firmly believe is the biggest challenge and the greatest risk - the forthcoming referendum on UK membership of the European Union,” he said.
Mr Kenny added: “Later this month the people of Belfast, of Northern Ireland, of the UK as a whole, are being asked to make a momentous decision.
“That decision is as important for the future of this island as when we all voted for the Good Friday Agreement (in 1998).”
Mr Kenny said there is “no doubt” that leaving the EU will involve changes to the trading rules between Britain and Ireland.
He said such a change would deliver “bad news” for the Northern Ireland economy.
“We are standing here today less than 50 miles from the United Kingdom’s only land border,” he told the audience.
“Can anyone credibly suggest that nothing would change if that became the western border of the European Union?
“We remember when it was a hard border. We remember the delays, the cost and the division.
“One of the most beneficial effects of the peace process and our common membership of the EU has been the virtual elimination of that border.”
Mr Kenny said the decision on the future arrangements at the border would be up to the remaining 27 EU member states.
He said he would do his utmost to preserve the common travel area that allows people to move freely.
But, in terms of trade, he said: “It is difficult to imagine a situation where there would be no controls or checks on the movement of goods if the UK left the EU.
“Those who advocate for Leave simply cannot guarantee otherwise.”