Irish Minister Discusses Brexit, Trade, and St. Patrick’s Day

March 15, 2019

By Spencer Feingold

The Irish minister of health, Simon Harris, praised relations between Ireland, the European Union, and the U.S., saying transatlantic trade was strong despite the turmoil surrounding Brexit.

“There is no better structure to get global trade flowing than the EU and the U.S. relationship,” Harris told Cheddar on Friday.

Harris is in California as part of the Irish government’s “Global Ireland” initiative, which aims to boost Ireland’s international presence around St. Patrick's Day. Lawmakers and state officials will visit 58 countries to promote the island nation, according to a government statement.

On Thursday, Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar ー known the Taoiseach ー met with top U.S. officials in Washington, including President Trump, Vice President Pence, and Speaker of the House Pelosi, at the annual “Friends of Ireland Luncheon.”

The meeting is a “chance to take stock of the relationship and also to discuss some really big issues,” Harris said.

At the luncheon, Trump said the two leaders discussed Brexit, saying it was a “very, very tough situation” and "something that’s turning out to be a little more complex than they thought it would be."

Varadkar thanked the “Friends of Ireland” caucus in Congress for “their vital help at this critical time” and their efforts to ensure that “there is no return to a hard border on the island of Ireland, whatever happens with Brexit.”

The border between Ireland and the UK’s Northern Ireland has been a major obstacle in Brexit negotiations. Lawmakers on both sides have expressed concern about reinstating a controlled international border, particularly because of the historical tension in the area.

Just this week, UK lawmakers rejected yet another Brexit deal proposed by Prime Minister Theresa May and voted to delay the country’s departure from the EU.

Harris said that despite the UK's tumultuous efforts to leave the EU, transatlantic trade relations are “very strong,” however, there is “tension there in terms of what the next steps are.”

Harris said he supported the Brexit delay but added that “the extension can’t just be pushing something off into the future and hoping it will get easier. There has to be a rationale behind it.”

Harris also reiterated his government's commitment to the EU, saying “we very much see our future at the heart of the EU” ー the “Global Ireland” initiative sent government officials to all 27 European capitals.

Speaking to Cheddar in Los Angeles, Harris said that California and Ireland have an especially strong trade relationship. Nearly 10,000 jobs have been created in the state from more than Irish 200 companies and California based companies have created over 30,000 jobs in Ireland, according to Harris. The California companies include Twitter, Facebook, and Apple, which all have major operations in Dublin.

Harris also took the opportunity to wish a happy St. Patrick’s Day to the 35 million Americans of Irish descent. The holiday has long been celebrated in the U.S., with New York holding its first St. Patrick’s Day parade in 1762; Chicago first dyed its river green in 1961.

“Wherever you may be, and in whatever circumstance, you are part of Ireland’s global family joining together as we celebrate our shared Irishness ー its culture, heritage, and history,” Irish President Michael D. Higgins said in a video message on Thursday.

For full interview click here.