IMPACT conference 2016: Trade unions urge support for Britain’s continued EU membership

Gerry McCormack of Siptu addressed delegates at IMPACT's conference in Killarney on the risk to Irish jobs if Britain votes to leave EU.
Gerry McCormack of Siptu addressed delegates at IMPACT’s conference in Killarney on the risk to Irish jobs if Britain votes to leave EU.

“Irish in Britain, and British in Ireland, can have decisive impact on referendum outcome”

Leading trade unionists today (Thursday) urged Irish citizens living in the UK, and eligible British citizens resident in Ireland, to use their vote to back Britain’s continued EU membership in next month’s UK referendum. Speaking at the IMPACT biennial delegate conference in Killarney, SIPTU’s lead negotiator for the manufacturing sector, Gerry McCormack, said tens of thousands of Irish jobs would be at risk if Britain left the European Union.

Mr McCormack said the agri-food sector, which supports 170,000 Irish jobs, was at most risk because 40% of its output – worth over €4 billion – is exported to the UK. He predicted that a ‘Brexit’ would disrupt Irish exports to all UK markets, including trade with Northern Ireland worth €1.6 billion a year to businesses in the Republic.

He said both sides in the referendum debate agreed that a ‘Brexit’ would see the re-imposition of border controls on the island of Ireland, and he predicted that a UK withdrawal from Europe would lead to an erosion of workers’ rights in Northern Ireland, restrictions on travel between the two jurisdictions, and questions over benefit eligibility for Irish citizens resident in the UK.

Mr McCormack said: “This is a bread and butter issue about thousands of Irish jobs and the families they support. And, with half a million Irish citizens living in the UK, and an estimated 300,000 UK citizens living in Ireland, it is also about free movement between our two counties. The Irish in Britain and the British in Ireland can have a decisive impact on the outcome of this referendum and I urge all of them – together with workers in the North of Ireland – to use their vote to say ‘No’ to Brexit.”

IMPACT general secretary Shay Cody added: “The EU isn’t perfect, but it has delivered equal pay for women and other equality laws, workplace safety regulations, and a host of other protections for workers, consumers and citizens. Europe also made an extremely positive contribution to the Irish peace process. A ‘Brexit’ would put these achievements – and tens of thousands of jobs – at risk in Ireland, the UK and ultimately across Europe. IMPACT joins with all progressive voices in urging all those eligible to vote for continued UK membership of the EU.”

Delegates at the IMPACT conference are tomorrow (Friday) expected to back a motion from the union’s Fingal Branch, which urges trade unions to ensure that all Irish and EU nationals with referendum voting rights “are made aware of the benefits of EU membership for workers’ rights and in-work benefits, and also of the significant negative economic impact that ‘Brexit’ would have on all citizens in both north and south of this island.”