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President Higgins and Europe’s leading policy-makers speak on the Future of Europe at launch of DCU Brexit Institute

President Higgins and Europe’s leading policy-makers speak on the Future of Europe at launch of DCU Brexit Institute

Dublin City University welcomed President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins, and Europe’s leading experts and policy-makers today to discuss Brexit, Ireland and the future of Europe.

The one-day conference also marked the official launch of the DCU Brexit Institute, the first institute of its kind in Europe, which has been carrying out and facilitating analysis of the major legal, political and economic challenges raised by Brexit for the past six months.

President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins

Delivering an address on Brexit, Ireland and the Future of Europe, President Higgins spoke about the past, present and potential future of European integration:

“We are entering a time when, for the first time in many years, the future shape of the European Union has become a matter of contestation and everyday debate. This conference today reflects that realisation. In the shadow of the UK referendum result, and of those social forces which have given rise to so much doubt across Europe, we are invited to imagine and define, through deliberation, and with regard to the necessary courtesies of discourse, the outlines of the European Union that we seek.

He noted that we are at a moment when “we must recognise that the Union cannot, as in the past, be reconstructed from above, but can only, if it is to survive in this new century, be renewed and rebuilt from below.”

In conclusion President Higgins highlighted that “our best aspirations, our sustainable future, can only be met by restoring social cohesion and promoting social justice within our institutions here at home, within the institutions of the European Union, and within our global institutions. Our horizons must be limitless, for we, all of us, owe to each other an imprescriptible moral duty.

We need a new mind for our times, a mind informed by hope rather than fear, not only for Europe but for humanity itself on our shared and vulnerable planet.”

Hilary Benn, Chairman of the UK House of Commons Committee on Exiting the EU

As part of his opening speech, Hilary Benn told the audience that he believed

“no deal is not better than a bad deal - I do not believe that there is a majority in the House of Commons who would support no deal post Brexit.”

He spoke about how “we all have a responsibility to ensure that [the border] remains a piece of tarmac with no barriers and no checkpoints.”

“I want us to find a way of continuing to cooperate on dealing with all of the challenges we together face. Not just trade and economics, but foreign policy, defence, security and the fight against global poverty. And I also want to see our relationship – the relationship between our two countries – prosper also, as we do all in our power to maintain these close bonds, that thread, despite the referendum result. You are our closest friend and neighbour. And you will remain our closest friend and neighbour.”

“We must strive to ensure that nothing gets in the way of our shared economic interests, the free movement of our peoples between our two countries and the bond that has been forged in a shared history which, despite the pain of the past, has brought us closer together now, and I am sure will continue to do so in the many years that lie ahead.”

When asked about the possibility of another referendum on Brexit, Benn responded:

“I don’t think that will happen, for lots of reasons including the fact that I met many people who knew what they voted for. I’m not sure if there would be a different result if there was another poll anyway.”

Helen McEntee TD, Minister of State for EU Affairs

In delivering a presentation on ‘Citizens’ Dialogue on the Future of Europe’ Minister McEntee commented:

“I want to encourage as many citizens as possible to participate in this Citizens’ Dialogue exercise. We have seen in recent years a worrying disconnect in many EU countries between leaders and people. Many EU citizens have felt that their concerns were either not being heard, or not being taken seriously. Active citizens’ dialogues, adapted to suit the national characteristics of individual member states, engage people and give them back their voice.”

Simon Coveney TD, Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade

Minister Coveney delivered the final keynote speech of the day on Brexit and the Future of Europe:

 “We have seen important commitments made in Phase 1 on EU citizens’ rights and on the financial settlement that must be agreed between the EU and the UK on the UK’s departure. And while Phase 1 discussions on the Irish-specific issues were at times difficult, they were ultimately very successful - the Government achieved the goals that we set out to achieve. We have secured concrete commitments on the maintenance of the Common Travel Area, and on the protection of the Good Friday Agreement in all its parts and the gains of the peace process.”

“Whatever shape the final agreement with the UK takes, we must ensure that the integrity of the Single Market is protected, because a strong and well-functioning EU Single Market is essential to Ireland’s continued economic development.”

“What is absolutely clear is that, irrespective of Brexit, we need to work now on the Europe we want in five, 10 or 20 years’ time.  The world is changing fast and Europe’s place in the world is evolving too.” 

Herman Van Rompuy, President emeritus of the European Council also delivered a keynote speech, followed by a lively Q&A session. Discussions continued with a dynamic panel chaired by Dearbhail McDonald (Irish Independent) between Noelle O’Connell (European Movement Ireland), Daniel Keleman (Rutgers University) and Etain Tannam (Trinity College Dublin).

Over 450 invited guests attended the launch, which was organised in collaboration with the European Movement Ireland and with sponsorship from Arthur Cox. 

For further information about the DCU Brexit Institute or to keep informed about upcoming events and research, visit

26th January, 2018