It is not often you see a Government intervening directly in a domestic political debate in another country, but the potential impact of Britain's EU referendum on Ireland has seen the usual protocols thrown out the window – no doubt with the discreet approval of the Cameron Government.
The Irish Government has made a strong effort to get its analysis of the dangers of Brexit across to the Irish community in Britain, through the media (including the Irish World and the Irish Post), as well as through public events. The most notable example of the latter was Enda Kenny's appearance alongside Irish4Europe campaigners at the London-Mayo Gaelic Football match in Ruislip, West London, a significant focal point for the Irish community.
On that occasion, some in the media noted that there was a significant constituency for Brexit among the match patrons. As someone who grew up in a North West London Irish community that was very much centered around the construction industry, conversations with the fathers of many of my contemporaries lead me to believe that this is driven by a very specific demographic, older Irishmen in skilled and semi-skilled manual trades; plumbers, carpenters, electricians, builders; who came to Britain in the 1960s and 1970s and at the end of their careers are facing significant competition from younger European immigrants.
The irony that this group were themselves beneficiaries of freedom of movement via the Common Travel Area (CTA) between Britain and Ireland has been widely remarked, even if it is unlikely to prove a persuasive counter-argument on its own. The future of the CTA itself however, is an issue that affects the Irish community across the board.
So I took the opportunity to ask a question on it last night at a referendum event in Haringey Irish Centre, organised by local Labour activists Owen Sloman and Katja Richer, which was addressed by the Irish European Affairs Minister Dara Murphy and Ambassador Dan Mulhall, alongside Deputy Mayor of London Joanne McCartney and Tottenham MP David Lammy.
Minister Murphy said that while EU countries would want the common travel area to continue, it would have to be negotiated between the EU and the UK, and 'it's inconceivable that there wouldn't be changes.' Ambassador Mulhall noted that while the Irish Government would still want to see open borders within the CTA 'it wouldn't be up to us.' Controlling Britain's borders, as the rhetoric of the Leave campaign has it, implicitly means controlling the Irish border. 'We simply don't know what would be the impact of the Irish border becoming an external border of the EU,' he said, adding that the there was no precedent for a situation where one member of the common travel area was in the EU and one was outside. One possible development he did point to, was the need for some kind of customs control on the Irish border (i.e. between Britain and Ireland and between the Republic and Northern Ireland), if the UK chose to leave the single market and its freedom of movement requirements.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny reiterated some of the same points in a speech on the issue today:
We are standing here today less than fifty miles from the United Kingdom's only land border. Can anyone credibly suggest that nothing would change if that became the western border of the European Union ? We remember when it was a hard border. We remember the delays, the cost and the division. One of the most beneficial effects of the peace process and our common membership of the EU has been the virtual elimination of that border.
The bottom line, it seems to me, is that nobody in the Irish community should vote for a change in the UK's relationship with Europe without realising that means a major change in the UK's relationship with Ireland.