In a sign of the deep unease in Dublin at the prospect of a British exit, Kenny suggested that the success of the Northern Ireland peace process was in part linked to the UK and the Irish Republic’s joint membership of the EU.
“The guns are silent. This has taken a great deal of work from so many people over so many years,” Kenny said at a Downing Street press conference with David Cameron when asked whether a UK exit would damage the peace process.
Kenny spoke out as the EU negotiations intensify in the run-up to a European summit on 18-19 February. Donald Tusk, the European Council president, will next week set out what he described to the European parliament as a “concrete proposal for a deal with the UK”.
Cameron, who spoke to the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, on Monday evening, said he hopes to a secure an agreement with EU leaders next month. But he said that he would rather wait to secure the right deal than rush into the wrong deal. British officials believe that Tusk might call a second, special summit in late February if no deal is reached at the mid-February summit.
Speaking at his press conference with Kenny, Cameron said: “It is possible for it [an agreement] to happen in February. As I have said, if there is a good deal on the table I will take that deal. I’ll take it to the British people and explain why it is the best of both worlds. But it has got to be the right deal.
“If it is not there, we have got plenty of time. We don’t need a referendum until the end of 2017 … If all those [sensible and concrete proposals] get a proper and sensible response we can do this in February. But if it is not right – I would rather get it right than do it in a rush.”
Kenny suggested that the political settlement in Northern Ireland could be endangered if the UK votes to leave the EU. He said that economic development in Northern Ireland, which has helped underpin the peace process, is linked in large part to the EU.
Kenny said: “It is important to say that the road out of inequality, the path out of that unfairness, is employment and opportunity. That is why we have shared trade missions to a number of locations, there is a great deal of cooperation with respect of issues of economics in Europe.
“We should not put anything like that at risk. From our perspective it would be a serious difficulty for Northern Ireland. I don’t want to see that happen. We work on the positive end of this – future benefits and potential coming from a strong Britain being part of a strong Europe and Ireland associated with that north and south.”
The unease in Dublin at a possible UK exit from the EU was highlighted last year by a report by the Irish parliament’s joint committee on EU affairs that warned of instability in Northern Ireland. The committee warned that some cross-border bodies, established under the Good Friday agreement to build confidence among nationalists, could become redundant.
The UK and the Irish Republic joined the EEC at the same time in 1973. Membership of the EU has allowed the Irish Republic to forge its own European identity while ensuring that it is a member of the same single market as its largest trading partner.
A No 10 spokesman said: “The prime minister called Chancellor Merkel today to discuss the UK renegotiation, migration and the Syria conference that they will co-host in London next week.
“On the UK renegotiation, they agreed that there had been progress since December’s European Council and that there was genuine good will across the EU to address the British people’s concerns in all four areas. Both concluded that there was more work to do ahead of the February European Council to find the right solutions.
“They also discussed the migration crisis, agreeing that a strong external European border and close co-operation with Turkey are vital.
“Finally, they talked about preparations for next week’s Syria donors conference. They agreed that with senior representatives from around the world in attendance, the conference has the potential to deliver a substantial increase in both financial and practical support for refugees that would help them to stay in the region.”
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