By Martin McGuinness
On Wednesday, in Dublin, political parties, economic and social organisations and other interested groups from across Ireland met at a conference convened by the Taoiseach to discuss the implications of the EU referendum and approaches to the up-coming negotiations.
This is a hugely important event which represents an opportunity to have an island-wide discussion on an issue which has implications for the whole of Ireland.
Such a forum is crucial because the Irish Government will have a central role in the multi-layered negotiations on Brexit; directly with the British Government and between the EU and Britain when Article 50 is triggered.
In all of these negotiations it is crucial that the Irish Government represents the national interest of all our people, of our interdependent and interlinked economies North and South, and safeguards the advances of the Good Friday and other Agreements.
Brexit presents enormous and unprecedented challenges to jobs and investment, to public services and to the progress and co-operation we now take for granted. It demands that we put the needs of our people and economy to the fore.
That means ensuring that the benefits of EU membership are protected for the people of the north and that the border remains open.
We are in a situation without precedent and without a clear outcome. Everything is on the table in a negotiation that will be multi-layered and multi-faceted, involving not just London and Belfast but between the devolved governments, the Irish Government and the EU.
It is also clear that the Tory Government is struggling to develop a coherent approach. This is no surprise given the nature of the leave campaign much of which played to base racist sentiments and offered no credible alternative to EU membership.
This is the same Tory party that has been rejected in every election in the north, yet believes they can impose their cuts and their ideology on the people here.
Before the British government has triggered Article 50, we are already seeing the potentially disastrous consequences of Brexit.
While there has been a devaluation of sterling and an increase in exports since the referendum this is also driving up inflation and the cost of living. It is the people who are paying this cost.
The north is heavily dependent on imports and will be severely affected by fluctuations in exchange rates.
The south and the EU are crucial export markets and yet these may effectively be closed off or made more difficult to access in two years’ time.
Our Foreign Direct Investment strategy presented the north as a bridge into the EU and again this may be closed down.
And what of public services, will people living in the north be able to avail freely of health care when travelling south or across the EU.
Will workers’ rights, hard won in Europe be left at the mercy of a future government in London.
And, of course, the success of the Good Friday Agreement is based on the interlinked sets of relationships, in the north, between the north and south and between the island of Ireland and Britain. Brexit with the imposition of an EU border, has the potential to damage this architecture.
All of these challenges must be addressed and overcome in the difficult negotiations ahead. The people in the north voted and voted to remain.
That needs to be recognised and respected. The debate is now beginning as we enter into the upcoming talks.
The Tory Government has no mandate to negotiate for the people in the north. That is why we are demanding access to the negotiations at the highest level. That is why we need to engage fully and directly with the Irish government.
I do not believe that we should leave our future in the hands of the Tory party. A party without a mandate in Ireland. A party that views Ireland, North and South, as incidental to their England-centred politics.
I do trust the views of the majority of the people in the north who voted to remain. It is the job of political leadership to make good on that vote and to deliver for all our people.
Yes, the referendum is over, but the debate and the negotiations are only beginning. That is why this week’s all-Ireland conference is important.
I take my responsibilities as deputy First Minister very seriously and my strong view is that the best way to protect the interests of all the people on the island is to have a very strong relationship between our administration in the north and the government in Dublin.
That is why I and Sinn Fein will be attending and making the case that the vote in the north is recognised and respected.
That is why I will be in London next week making that same case and ensuring that the interests of our people are represented directly and robustly in every forum and at every level in the long and difficult negotiations ahead.