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Snippet Contents:

On that point I will answer the Deputy's other question by describing the sense I have of the position taken by our colleagues in other member states regarding the unique position that we have in Ireland. There are many areas where we and other member states have significant areas of common concern. It goes to the point made by Deputy Eamon Ryan that it is vital to acknowledge Ireland will continue to be a strong and enthusiastic member of the European Union and we will be part of the 27 member state and the negotiations that will take place with the United Kingdom. Many countries share significant concerns that we already have around trade, a reduction in activity through the Single Market and the effects in other countries for their SME sectors, exporters, businesses, the jobs that are created and their people. It is true that Ireland will be more affected by that given the €1.2 billion worth of trade crossing the Irish Sea every year and the 400,000 jobs on either side of that trade.
While travelling recently in north-eastern Europe it struck me that the United Kingdom is the second biggest market for many other countries. We therefore have many areas where we can work with other countries. Spain for example, and its land border with Gibraltar, has similar issues to be addressed as Ireland has with the North, but not as complex as Ireland's. It is fair to say that Ireland has unique difficulties and while we will not be seeking to have a side deal, as was asked, within the deal that the European Union has with the United Kingdom, there will have to be a specific part of that process that deals with this island's unique circumstances. These unique circumstances are the common travel area that has existed for so long now, the deep and significant progress made in the peace process, the legally binding international agreements that exist, through the Good Friday Agreement, between the United Kingdom, Ireland and the parties of Northern Ireland around governance, and the substantial support of the EU’s PEACE and INTERREG programmes and other financial supports that have come to Northern Ireland and the Border areas. There is a strong acceptance about these aspects.
The Taoiseach has met with Chancellor Merkel, President Hollande, President Tusk and Michel Barnier, who will be negotiating on behalf of the Commission. Our concerns are being expressed but the reason for the very brief intervention by Prime Minister Theresa May at the Council meeting last week was because, unfortunately, until the British come forward with their proposals there cannot be a reaction from the European Council or EU leaders as we do not know what the UK's ask will be. Earlier in this discussion today reference was made to a scenario where the UK gets what it wants and Ireland's needs will come afterwards. That is not the case. The United Kingdom will present its suggestion after it triggers Article 50. Ireland has no advance knowledge as to what that might be. At that point, negotiations can commence properly and the Opposition will have a very important role, not least through the influence of its own party political groups. I know, as Chairman of the European affairs committee, that many Deputies are active members of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe group, ALDE, which, along with our group, the Green group and the other groups, can make sure Ireland's voice is heard at the EU Parliament, not just by Ministers, but also by other key politicians in the EU political institutions.