Taoiseach Enda Kenny issues warning over UK exit from EU
Taoiseach tells Belfast business group move would have 'profound' effect
Taoiseach Enda Kenny has said the "retrograde" step of a British exit from the EU would be "the most profound issue" Northern Ireland could face "in the coming years".
He said Northern Ireland had benefited hugely from its membership in regards to both the peace process and the economy.
Mr Kenny was addressing the CBI's 50th anniversary gala dinner at Belfast's Ramada Plaza Hotel last night.
He said "the implications of a British exit from the EU for Northern Ireland should not be forgotten".
"That's why disengaging from the EU would therefore be - in my view - a retrograde economic step for Northern Ireland.
"The 'workings of the EU' may not be perfect. It has its faults and its limitations. It frustrates all of us at one time or another, but the positive impact it has had on Northern Ireland, our economies, and the British-Irish relationship has been nothing less than transformative. The implications of a British exit from the EU for Northern Ireland would be the most profound issue that the north would have to deal with in the coming years."
Mr Kenny said developing the private sector to create new jobs remained "a considerable challenge".
"My government's commitment to north-south and all-island co-operation remains a priority."
Businesses in Northern Ireland were also urged to "stand up and be counted" by the head of the CBI in the UK.
John Cridland told the lobby group dinner that medium-sized businesses in the region were an important driver in the economy.
"We need to do more to harness the business nous and entrepreneurism found right here in this room and which exists all across Northern Ireland," he said.
"This means supporting our medium-sized businesses - creating a 'seed-bed' from which a rebalanced economy can grow - driven by private sector exports, investment and innovation."
He said the group's anniversary brought to mind a visit by Taoiseach Sean Lemass to Northern Ireland in 1965. "The landmark summit opened up a new period of economic co-operation between north and south, and it paved the way for joint initiatives in electricity, tourism and transport. Some of the very first steps towards the north-south relationship as we know it now," he said.
He also called on the political parties here to resolve their differences over welfare reform.