Belfast Telegraph

Fairness must be at heart of any EU reform, says Joan Burton

Fairness must be at the heart of any European Union reform, Ireland's deputy prime minister has said.

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.

The Labour Party leader reiterated much of what Taoiseach Enda Kenny said in London, insisting that the UK's place in Europe is hugely important to Ireland and the EU.

"From the outset, our position has been clear: we want the UK to remain in the EU," Ms Burton said.

"We'll be as constructive and helpful as possible in the negotiations."

Ms Burton criticised the EU's response to the financial crisis and said it was appalling that the decision makers in Brussels did not prioritise investment in job creation at an early stage in the years of economic turmoil.

But while she said Ireland was broadly supportive of pragmatic proposals to improve how the EU works on competitiveness, national sovereignty, equality and migration and welfare, she warned that she was uneasy about the British Government's approach to welfare.

"Let me be frank, without wishing to overstep the mark: I believe that the UK Government has worked diligently on the employment front, to help create more jobs and get people back to work," Ms Burton said.

"But some of the measures already taken to reduce the UK welfare bill, and some of the proposals now on the table, do not rest easily with me.

"Those decisions are ultimately a matter for the UK, of course.

"But in terms of reform proposals tabled at EU level, fairness must be front and centre."

Ms Burton also told the conference, organised by the European Movement International, that Europe's migration crisis needs to be seen as distinct from the question of the rights and entitlements of existing EU citizens.

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