Respecting the will of the people
It’s not often our society bridges the chasm between orange and green but that’s what happened on Thursday when a majority here voted to remain within the European Union.
A failure to respect that firm mandate would subvert the democratic process and set back the peace process gains of the past 20 years.
That’s why we must defend our right to be at the heart of Europe – as we’ve been at least since the sixth century when St Columbanus set out from Bangor Monastery to bring Christianity to the Continent.
It would be a brave person indeed who would suggest we now turn on our back on Europe for the splendid isolation promised by a squabbling band of Tories in London.
Two groups in particular should rest assured that we will defend their views: young people who fear they are now being cut off from the bounty of Europe and immigrants from the EU who have made their home here and are contributing greatly to our society.
Both groups should rest assured that we will not let our drive towards an outward-looking, diverse and inclusive society be thwarted.
In all of this work of course, we will be looking towards the Irish Government to defend our interests and safeguard our right to remain in the European Union.
In the negotiations now looming, the Northern Executive must have a central role but equally we must be on the EU side of the negotiating table as well in the form of the Irish Government.
As Finance Minister, I have taken steps to ensure we find a way through this crisis while putting the interests of the people of the we serve first. Contingency papers were presented to me at my request before the referendum — notwithstanding the fact that there is real difficulty in planning for a crisis on the scale of Brexit. But my departmental directors met again on Friday afternoon to take stock and to begin work on preparing papers for the Executive to advise on the steps needed to minimise the scale of this calamity. Already, I have spoken with business and trade union heads, with the Special EU Programmes Body CEO, with the VP of the European Investment Bank and with fellow ministers to assure them that we are focused on the job at hand.
Simultaneously, I have stepped up discussions with the Finance Minister of Scotland Derek Mackay and our allies in the US to assure them that we will resist efforts to drag us out of Europe.
I have no doubt all our friends to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with us in respecting the will of the people.
In a week dominated by Brexit, I got to Dublin for a first meeting with Irish Finance Minister Michael Noonan and ran the runway at Belfast City Airport (in the dark).
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