Sinn Féin MEP Matt Carthy addressed a very well attended public meeting at the Kilmore Hotel, Cavan on 5th January.
The meeting entitled Ireland, Brexit and the Border, was also addressed by Cavan/Monaghan TD Caoimghín Ó Caoláin.
In the course of his address Carthy dealt with concerns in border counties such as Cavan, Monaghan, Donegal, Leitrim and Louth regarding the imposition of a hard border in the wake of Brexit.
The Midlands North West MEP also dealt with the issue of EU trade deals which pose a threat to Irish farmers and consumers, critical issues facing rural Ireland and the latest moves to undermine Irish sovereignty through Ireland’s participation in a new European military defence.
*See Matt Carthy’s remarks in full below:
Fáilte Romhaibh go léir.
I think it’s important for elected representatives to keep constituents informed and to hear at first hand the issues of importance to you.
This is even more important in the case of MEPs, who operate in European institutions which often appear very remote from the day-to-day lives of citizens.
That is why, among other initiatives, I have held regular public meetings, like tonight’s, across the 15 counties of my constituency since my election in 2014.
I also think it is important to take the opportunity to discuss with constituents, political developments taking place at a European level that affect our daily lives.
Currently, the greatest political and economic threat facing Ireland, and in particular border counties such as Cavan, is Brexit.
Last month the British Government finally put its signature to something which recognises that, in relation to Brexit, different arrangements need to be put in place for the North of Ireland.
However, since then, they have been trying to renege on that commitment.
In the time ahead, EU negotiators and the Irish Government need to ensure there is no going back on the December communique.
We must protect the social and economic interests of border counties such as Cavan, including trade and open borders, as well as defending and upholding the Good Friday Agreement in all its parts.
Insisting the North stays in the customs union, single market, and EU legal framework is essential to ensure no return to a hard border.
Despite what the Taoiseach says, ‘full alignment’ in sectors covered by the Good Friday Agreement such as health, education, energy and transport, is not enough to avoid a hard border.
If Britain decides to deviate from the EU tariff regime, legal protections to ensure that the North stays within it will be needed.
The danger now is that the issue of the border will slip off the agenda once Brexit talks move on and the economic and trade interests of the larger EU states come into play.
We need to ensure that the current ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ becomes a legal treaty, and that Designated Special Status for the North, within the EU, is achieved.
We see already that the British Home Office is recruiting 300 Border Force Officers, including an unknown number to be based in Belfast.
This contradicts the British Government’s stated aim of avoiding a hard border.
Their duties are to involve operating checkpoints and making decisions on the movement of people.
This raises the prospect of the British Government attempting to turn the North into one big border region in terms of immigration.
It is also concerning that, to meet the criteria for these posts, applicants will have had to have been a police officer, a former Border Force officer or have served in the British armed forces.
This underlines the importance of ensuring that the communique agreed between the British Government and the EU is legally enforced and fully implemented.
While Sinn Féin is firm in pushing for special status for the North within the EU, it does not mean we are uncritical of the EU’s present direction.
There is a democratic deficit at the heart of the EU.
The Union is domination by an austerity agenda which has caused much hardship to people across member states – not least in Ireland.
Certain EU leaders want to exploit Brexit to increase EU federalism and reduced democratic accountability.
This is what contributed to Brexit in the first place and has caused deep antagonism among citizens across the EU.
This EU neoliberal political agenda ensured the Irish people were forced to pay back billions in bank debt which was not ours.
It is now leading to the creation of an EU army, more dangerous trade deals, increased privatisation, less democratic oversight, and the domination of the EU by the larger Member States.
Sinn Féin strenuously opposes this and is working with others across Europe for a more democratic, social Europe where member states work together as equals.
We want an EU where the interests of citizens are at the heart of policy making.
Dangerous EU Trade Deals
Since my election I have been active on a range of new EU trade deals which pose severe threats to Irish farmers, Irish workers and Irish consumers.
Deals which allow cheap food imports or which have limited food traceability or do not meet the EU’s animal welfare standards would be a disaster for our agricultural industry.
The Canada-Europe Trade Agreement (CETA) will further distort trade and wealth in favour of large multinational corporations at the expense of indigenous Irish industry.
Small and medium Irish enterprises will be severely disadvantaged.
CETA will allow up to thousands of tonnes of beef and pork to be imported into the EU, tariff free.
This will be devastating for Irish agriculture, farming families and rural communities, yet it is supported by both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.
Last January, Fine Gael MEPs voted in favour of CETA in the European Parliament.
Fine Gael MEPs also recently supported the opening of negotiations with Australia and New Zealand on a trade deal which would open up the Irish dairy sector to competition from one of the biggest global traders in dairy.
The position of both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil on trade is one of support for foreign corporations against those of Irish agriculture.
Sinn Féin does not oppose free trade agreements. But deals such as CETA and the Trnsatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) are abour far more than removing tarriffs.
They include measures which give multinational corporations huge power over democratically elected governments.
This includes the power to block any legislation that could impact on their profits.
All of this is clearly wrong and not in the interests of ordinary people.
The European Court of Justice has recently stated that new Free Trade Agreements can only be concluded by the EU and Member States acting together.
This has reinforced legal opinion, which I commissioned, that a constitutional referendum is required before any Irish Government can sign up to CETA.
Our Government should not have to be brought to court in order for such a referendum to be held.
Meanwhile the EU Commission is now prepared to sacrifice the needs of Irish agriculture in order to gain improved access to South American countries for the German car and pharmaceutical industries through the proposed Mercusor trade agreement.
Mercusor will depress beef and poultry prices, reduce quality and drive small farmers out of the market.
Irish Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan has betrayed the concerns of Irish farmers on this issue.
Any agreement with Mercosur that includes offers for sensitive products such as beef and poultry cannot be tolerated.
The position of the Fine Gael Government, and their partners in Fianna Fáil, on CETA shows that farmers cannot depend on those parties to protect their interests in Europe.
Therefore, it is more imperative than ever that farmers and their representative organisations mobilise against dangerous EU trade deals. In this they will have my full support and that of my party.
Threats to neutrality
Another area of major concern right now at a European level is the Irish Government’s involvement in moves to establish an EU military union.
The Irish people, just like people in other European countries, want an EU that delivers for them, for their families, for their communities, for their countries.
There is no evidence that they want EU military expansion and I believe the Irish people deeply value our neutrality and do not want that compromised.
In this regard, the recent decision of Fine Gael, supported by Independent Alliance TDs and Fianna Fáil, for Ireland to join the EU’s Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO), flagrantly disregards Irish neutrality.
This move to sign Ireland up to participation in a military organisation aligned to NATO was done with almost zero public debate.
Despite what Leo Varadkar says the Irish people did not sign up for PESCO when they voted for the Lisbon treaty.
In fact, as part of the Irish ratification of the Lisbon treaty the Irish Constitution was amended to explicitly prohibit Irish participation in PESCO.
The Constitution clearly states that Ireland cannot participate in a European common defence as outlined in article 42 of the Lisbon treaty.
But the EU’s ‘External Action Service’ makes clear that PESCO is indeed the creation of such a military defence.
This Fine Gael government is disregarding the constitution and attempting to mislead people as to the true nature of PESCO.
So, while thousands of Irish people are forced to wait on trolleys and thousands more have to wait months for appointments, Fine Gael has decided to commit Ireland to contributing to a €5 billion EU military research budget and a series of military projects.
Since my election, I have been active in relation to issues affecting people living in rural Ireland.
I have raised at EU level the issue of regional imbalances in Ireland and highlighted the lack of key infrastructure here.
I have also raised the issue of the economic and social problems created by the border.
I have been working with others to find ways of using the European institutions to support further North-South integration. With the advent of Brexit this has become extremely critical.
I have sought to reduce overly burdensome regulations imposed on small and medium businesses, on farmers and on local authorities.
But the truth is that while we can champion these issues at EU level, we really need a fundamental rethink of Irish Government policy.
That means that rural based MEPs, TDs and Councillors, from Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael in particular, must join with Sinn Féin in demanding significant investment in rural counties.
As a first step, the attacks on rural communities – as seen in the closure of rural Garda stations, schhold and post offices – must end.
But, crucially, it means thinking big for rural Ireland.
There is no reason why Cavan and Monaghan have no rail line, or even adequate road infrastructure.
There is no reason why many parts of these counties haven’t got broadband or why we can’t access international investment or why so many of our young people, even now, continue to emigrate in order to get a job.
There is no reason other than the fact that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael Governments have not and will not invest adequately in the infrastructure and services we need.
Brexit, the prospect of the North of Ireland being removed from the European Union against the will of the people, and the idea of the re-imposition of a hard border have, over the past year in particular, served to accelerate discussion on Irish Unity.
Many people, North and a South, accept the need to look now at the creation of new constitutional and political structures which can better serve the interests of all of our people, North and South.
There is urgent need for an inclusive debate on future constitutional options including what a United Ireland might look like.
The provision for a referendum on Irish reunification is enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement.
I believe that such a referendum would be a historic opportunity for all the people of Ireland, to forge a better, more prosperous future.
My party has put forward a number of constructive and imaginative ideas as a contribution to the discussion of this issue.
All parties who claim to support a united Ireland, should bring forward their proposals on how best to move this objective forward.
It is now time that the Government began to encourage and lead an informed public dialogue on the issue.
It also time the Government prepared a realistic plan for Irish reunification.
In conclusion I want to assure all of you that Sinn Féin will continue to fight for Ireland’s interests in Europe and for the interests of ordinary citizens at home and abroad.
As your MEP, I will continue to work alongside our Sinn Féin team in Ireland, including here in Cavan, our TDs and our great team of local councillors to deliver a better, fairer and United Ireland.
Go raibh maith agaibh.