UK exit from EU could hit Northern Ireland worst of all, says Kenny
Northern Ireland could be hit worst if the UK leaves the European Union, Taoiseach Enda Kenny has said.
And his deputy also warned that a 'Brexit' could even put the peace process at risk.
In an address to business leaders in London, Mr Kenny catalogued a list of economic and political reasons the UK should stay in Europe and offered to look carefully and constructively at David Cameron's proposals.
He said that while Ireland is prepared to support some of Britain's demands for reform of the EU, he suggested that Northern Ireland would suffer badly by the so-called 'Brexit'.
"I believe that Northern Ireland can leave the past behind and become a dynamic economy that will benefit not only the UK but the island of Ireland," he said.
"There must also be cooperation to build the island economy through overseas investment, trade, tourism, and utilising a competitive, common corporation tax rate.
"Now is not the time to weaken the cohesive, stabilising influence and outward focus that shared EU membership brings to Northern Ireland."
Mr Kenny noted €2.4 billion (£1.7bn) of funding from the EU in the six years to 2013 to help the region as it recovered from conflict.
His speech follows a report from an influential think-tank in Ireland last week which warned British withdrawal from the EU would see Irish exports fall by three billion euro (£2.12 billion) a year.
The Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI), which informs policy-making in Dublin, warned energy costs would spike and business in Northern Ireland and along the border would be worst hit by a so-called Brexit.
On the close ties between Britain and Ireland, Mr Kenny pointed to the one billion euro of trade between the two countries every week, with the UK exporting more to Ireland than it does to China, India and Brazil combined.
Ireland is the UK's 5th largest market with an estimated 200,000 jobs linked to the exports.
The British market is now the biggest for Irish tourism accounting for almost 50% of all overseas visitors and around one-third of all overseas tourism revenue in the Republic.
Offering a qualified support for the UK position on Europe, Mr Kenny said: "Given the breadth and depth of these overlapping interests, it is perhaps not surprising that Ireland regards the prospect of the UK leaving the EU as a major strategic risk."
He said Brexit is not something the Irish Government wants to "see materialise at all".
He continued: "The Irish Government's strong view, backed up by independent economic research published last week, is that a Brexit is not in Ireland's economic interest.
"The research showed adverse impacts across a range of headings including Trade, Energy and the Labour Market. It also debunked the myth that there would be some FDI bonanza for Ireland if Britain left the Union."
Meanwhile, Tanaiste Joan Burton joined the deepening Brexit debate at a conference in Dublin where she said EU support for the Northern Ireland peace process should not be underestimated.
"When such hard-won progress has been made, the last thing we want is to see that put at risk," she said.
Paul Drechsler, CBI President, said: "The links that bind Ireland and the United Kingdom are stronger than ever before. The booming trade partnership that our two islands enjoy drives growth, creates jobs and increases prosperity and competitiveness across our countries."