Brian Hayes said it is “very important” that Ireland is given a senior role as part of the EU negotiation team.
Northern Ireland could be given a special “Associate membership” of the EU after Brexit according to a senior Fine Gael MEP.
Brian Hayes said the special arrangement could see the Irish State paying Northern Ireland’s annual funding contribution which would allow the North the right to trade on full or limited terms into the EU.
Mr Hayes said a creative solution to what is “a real Irish problem” should be central to the negotiation.
Speaking to the Institute of International and European Affairs in Brussels, Mr Hayes said the special arrangement could be similar to the current relationship between the EU and Gibraltar, or to Norway’s relationship with the Union.
“Negotiations on Brexit matter greatly. Of all the 27 remaining Members in the EU, we have most to lose if negotiations go sour. There is €1.2 billion of trade between Ireland and the UK every week,” he said.
“Are not the arguments for Northern Ireland similar to the arguments for Gibraltar? Both land borders represent a major disruption to trade and the single market in a circumstance where the UK is leaving the EU.”
The common travel area that exists between Ireland and Britain pre-dates the entry of both countries into the EEC and Mr Hayes told the institute it is “very important” that Ireland is given a senior role as part of the EU negotiation team.
“Brexit is the greatest foreign policy challenge that Ireland has faced since joining the EEC in 1973. We could only join the EEC when the UK joined in the early 1970s. And the question will inevitably be asked now – can we in Ireland remain in the EU now that the British are leaving?” he said.
He said that while the Constitutional position of the North was settled and it would remain part of the United Kingdom, its trading relationship with the EU and with Ireland could be different.
“I believe that all options need to be on the table without questioning the fundamental and overarching reality that Northern Ireland is part of the UK and will be until a majority of its citizens decides otherwise,” he said.
“If Britain exited without agreement on a customs union – a possible outcome – then the border would become a de facto reality again in terms of customs posts dotted along the border,” he said.
“There are particular arguments about the need to provoke a genuine private sector economy in the case of Northern Ireland as it comes out of 40 years of conflict. These are European regional arguments that the EU fully understands.”
Mr Hayes welcomed the recent comments from DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson who also called for “a special deal for the island of Ireland which enables free movement of goods and people on the island of Ireland.”
"I regard this statement by Jeffery Donaldson as very significant in recognising the importance of the all Island economy," he said.
Speaking to Newstalk Breakfast this morning Mr Hayes said nothing should be ruled out for the moment: