Enda Kenny says Ireland will back 'reasonable' EU reform demands by UK
Ireland is prepared to support some of Britain's demands for reform of the European Union, Taoiseach Enda Kenny has said.
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.
"I have always been clear that Ireland will be open and pragmatic when it comes to sensible proposals to improve the EU," the Taoiseach said.
"In general, where the UK seeks reasonable and achievable adjustments, we will be sympathetic and supportive."
Mr Kenny's 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 a year.
The Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI), which informs policy-making in Dublin, warned energy costs would spike and b usiness in Northern Ireland and along the border would be worst hit by a so-called Brexit.
The Taoiseach's invitation to the CBI also comes on the eve of the British Prime Minister setting out his case for EU reform.
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 t he 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".
"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."
Mr Kenny holds talks with Mr Cameron in Downing Street later.
On Northern Ireland issues the Taoiseach said it was extremely worrying that it could be worst hit by 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 euro of funding from the EU in the six years to 2013 to help the region as it recovered from conflict.
And on the prospect of a deal being reached this week to revive power-sharing in the Stormont Assembly, the Taoiseach said he was optimistic.
During a question and answer session after his speech, Mr Kenny declined to say which countries would be most likely to object to any reforms being sought by Mr Cameron.
But he maintained that most European countries would support a reform agenda which led to the EU working more effectively.
Everyone supported the elimination of red tape, a single market and moves to boost jobs, growth and prosperity said Mr Kenny, but there were other issues such as closer union, welfare reform and migrants, which he assumed Mr Cameron will cover in his letter on Tuesday.
Mr Kenny also spoke out in support of the trade deal being negotiated between the EU and the United States, saying it could create new jobs and boost business.
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.
"To further our global ambitions, we need to be signing more trade deals like TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership), boosting investment in innovation and turbo-charging the EU's Single Market in services and digital.
"The Taoiseach's willingness to consider open and pragmatic EU reform proposals from the UK is welcome. When the Prime Minister comes back with his EU reform package, the CBI will consult its members again.
"We agree with the Taoiseach that the voice of business needs to be heard."
Speaking outside Number 10 after the talks with Mr Cameron, the Taioseach said Ireland "cannot support everything" but would play a "constructive and supportive role".
"I said that in respect of this matter that Ireland would be as constructive and supportive as we can, and I think the Prime Minister appreciates that very much," he said.
"We will participate constructively and appropriately in the discussion of the issues that he will set out in his letter tomorrow which are based on the manifesto he set out some time ago."
Asked if his warnings that Brexit posed a serious strategic risk meant that his only course could be to back Mr Cameron's negotiating stance 100% he told reporters: "Every country has got its national interests, of course. I laid out the overlapping interests that we have between ourselves and Britain.
"Obviously, this relationship has changed radically since the visit of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and the reciprocal visit by our president here to Great Britain.
"So, in terms of employment, trade, energy, hospitality, all of these areas we have a great deal in common.
"I would remind you that the Irish people voted in the midst of a recession for the fiscal stability treaty - 60/40 in favour, linking our future to the euro and the eurozone.
"But we are the only English-speaking country in the eurozone and therefore an important link for Britain with Europe.
"So, we cannot support everything but, in so far as we can, we will be constructive and supportive in respect of what the Prime Minister has been asking for.
"What has he been asking for? The single market, the single digital market, greater efficiency, elimination of red tape and useless administration. Everybody can support this.
"What is the European Union about? It's big countries helping small countries have continued peace, continued prosperity, opportunities for the 500 million people are the inhabitants of the EU.
"That's where we need to be".