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Taoiseach Enda Kenny: The onus is on all of us to recognise the reality of Brexit and work together

By Enda Kenny, Taoiseach

Yesterday, in Dublin, I convened an All-Island Civic Dialogue to discuss the implications of Brexit for Ireland, both North and South.

The meeting was held in the historic Royal Hospital in Kilmainham, a place where so many of the strands of Irish history are entwined.

This was an inclusive and open event, which heard a wide range of views from people from all walks of life and from both sides of the border. Everybody is concerned about what Brexit might mean - for themselves, for their families, for their future economic prospects, and for their communities.

In my opening address, I expressed my own view that Brexit presents the most significant economic and social challenge of the past 50 years. It has the potential to impact everybody on this island - North and South. It has implications for so many aspects of our relationship.

Today, I will be in Newry and Dundalk, where I will listen to the concerns of people in border communities. I will offer them my reassurance that the Irish Government understands their concerns and will work hard to address them in the negotiations that lie ahead.

I will also visit Stormont, where I will begin what will be a series of bilateral meetings with all of the Northern Ireland party leaders over the coming weeks.

Later this month Armagh will host a crucial meeting of the North South Ministerial Council - perhaps the most important meeting since the NSMC was created under the Good Friday Agreement. Brexit will dominate the agenda for the meeting. I look forward to a very honest, open and constructive engagement with the First and Deputy First Minister and their colleagues in the Northern Ireland Executive in Armagh.

I know that some people regard Brexit as an opportunity for Northern Ireland. I respect that position, though I do not agree with it. I made that clear before the referendum and it remains my view.

However, while I do not regard Brexit as an opportunity, I do regard it as a reality.

Whatever our views, the onus is now on all of us to work together to address that reality.

The priorities of the Irish Government are clear: the economy and trade; Northern Ireland and the peace process; the border and the Common Travel Area, and developing Ireland's continued role as a committed member of the European Union.

In particular, we remain fully committed to our responsibilities as co-guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement, and to the subsequent agreements that have helped transform our island. As we embark on the Brexit negotiations, Northern Ireland and the peace process remain front and centre of our priorities.

Immediately following the Brexit referendum I took steps to ensure that all of our EU partners understand the unique circumstances of this island.

I have raised the specific situation of Northern Ireland in meetings with Chancellor Angela Merkel, with President Francois Hollande, with EU Council President Tusk and with European Commission representative Michel Barnier. I know that they understand the importance of addressing the specific issues that Brexit throws up for Ireland, North and South.

I have also had a very good engagement with the new Prime Minister, Theresa May. The relationship between Britain and Ireland is stronger than at any time in our history, and we are committed to building on that transformed relationship.

We agreed that we will work together to ensure that there is no return to the borders of the past, an objective that is shared by all parties and traditions on this island.

The Prime Minister has said that she intends to send the formal notification to the EU of the UK's intention to leave before the end of March of next year. That is less than five months from now.

Once that happens, we will all have a very short period of time - just two years - to conclude an agreement between the UK and the remaining 27 EU member states, which of course includes Ireland.

We must therefore prepare for those negotiations quickly, creatively and thoughtfully. This must be a common effort. To succeed we will need the closest possible co-operation between political leaders in Dublin, Brussels, London and Belfast.

That is why I welcome the continuing commitment of the Executive parties to working through the issues in the context of the North South Ministerial Council.

The Brexit negotiations will be as important to the future of Northern Ireland as any of the peace process talks of recent decades. However, the difference this time is that the outcome is not in the hands of the local parties.

I will be at the European Council table as one of the 27 EU heads of government, as we collectively negotiate an exit agreement with the UK.

I will play my part to ensure that the hopes and concerns of everyone on this island, North and South, are fully reflected in that historic conversation.

Belfast Telegraph

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