Enda Kenny: Brexit bad for Britain, Ireland, Europe
"Brexit is a British policy, not an Irish policy or a policy of the European Union (EU)," Kenny said in a keynote address to the think-tank Institute of International and European Affairs in Dublin.
"But I respect the referendum result, and I recognize that Brexit is now going to happen," the Irish prime minister said.
"Unfortunately, its most severe impact could well be felt on this island," he said.
"That is why protecting the peace process and the Common Travel Area between Ireland and Britain are priority objectives for the government," he added.
For many people in Northern Ireland, there is deep concern at the prospect of being removed from the EU, Kenny said.
"It is not just that there was a strong "remain" majority of over 55 percent in the North. Fewer than 350,000 people voted for Brexit in Northern Ireland, out of a total population of over 1.8 million," he said.
"But every man, woman and child in Northern Ireland will be affected by the outcome. And the vast majority of those affected are entitled to be Irish, and therefore EU citizens," he added.
The Irish government will oppose a hard border, argue for free movement on this island, seek EU funding for cross-border projects and protect the rights of EU citizens, whether from North or South, Kenny said.
"But this requires the support of all strands of opinion if we are to succeed. We have no choice but to work together, North and South, all of us," he said.
"I am confident that the EU will not bring us back to a border of division," Kenny said.
He said Brexit is a serious, direct threat to Ireland's economic prosperity.
The potential impacts are profound, right across the economy, Kenny said.
Key sectors, such as agri-food and fishing, face particular risks and challenges, according to the prime minister. These sectors are among Ireland's priorities as the agri-food sector has traditionally been reliant on the British export market, while fishing depends enormously on access to the waters around Britain.
"Other areas, like tourism, and energy, also face significant challenges, as do many of our small and medium enterprises across the economy and across all parts of the country," he said.
"All these challenges require a hard-headed, radical and innovative response," the prime minister said.
Kenny said Ireland needs to negotiate hard for the best possible economic outcome from the Brexit negotiations.
"For us, that continues to mean the closest possible economic and trading relationship between the EU and the UK, even if it will not now involve UK membership of the Single Market.
"I believe that close relationship is in the interests of not just Ireland, but of all of our fellow EU member states," he said. ■