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EU referendum: Brexit would be bad news for Ireland north and south, warns Taoiseach in Belfast address

By John Mulgrew

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has warned a Brexit vote is the "biggest challenge" for Northern Ireland since the Good Friday Agreement.

He warned about a severe impact to cross-border trade, and the return of customs controls, which he said would be a "regrettable and backward step" for relations between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

Speaking during a visit to Ulster University yesterday, he said that, just when Northern Ireland's peace process is "showing signs of maturity", Ireland "has to take into account the risk and the challenges that we as a people face to the future".

Mr Kenny said a Brexit is the "greatest risk" facing Ireland.

He said the forthcoming poll was a "truly momentous decision". "That decision is as important for the future of this island as when we voted on the Good Friday Agreement," he said.

"The Government I lead very clearly wants the UK to stay as a member of the EU, and work with us, and us with them, to make that future better. The prospect of Northern Ireland being outside the EU is one that we would very much wish to avoid."

He warned of the uncertainty surrounding the leave vote, and said "continued membership of the European Union offers that stability and certainty. The alternative, by definition, cannot, does not and will not."

Mr Kenny is due to meet Prime Minister David Cameron amid growing Irish concerns about the outcome of the June 23 referendum. He said a Brexit vote would mean he would be the only voice from the UK and Ireland at the European Council.

He said the Republic is not wavering in support of the EU and added it would "continue to be a "committed member. My view for Northern Ireland, continued stability depends on the continued success of the peace process, and access to the support and the markets which have been an intrinsic part of EU membership for Northern Ireland."

Mr Kenny said a Brexit vote could have a "very direct impact on Irish economic growth".

"Life could not be the same the day after as the day before, because something has changed. And the change... is uncertainty.

"I think that would be bad news for Northern Ireland."

The Taoiseach warned about the difficulties facing cross-border trade in the event of a Brexit.

"The re-establishment of customs checks at the border, or indeed of any customs arrangements, will be a regrettable and backward step for north-south trade and north-south co-operation.

"There is no doubt that leaving the EU would involve changes in the trading rules in Britain and Ireland, and between north and south."

Later, he told staff and guests at recruitment firm CPL that the Brexit debate is the biggest public decision here in 50 years.

Belfast Telegraph