Next week sees a major political debate taking place in Newry with a host of high profile speakers including former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and Dáithí O’Ceallaigh Former Ambassador to the UK, UN and WTO on the podium on Thursday 29 October from 9am-1pm in the Canal Court Hotel.

Newry, Mourne and Down District Council in association with the local business community is taking the ‘Brexit Debate’ (Britain’s potential exit from the European Union) to the national stage by hosting the first major political debate to be held in Northern Ireland on the economic implications of the UK leaving the EU.

Newry, Mourne and Down District Council Chairperson, Councillor Naomi Bailie (left) and Deborah Loughran (right), President of the Newry Chamber of Commerce and Trade announce the date and line up of speakers at the Big Brexit Debate which will take place on Thursday 29 October 2015 in the Canal Court Hotel, Newry.
Newry, Mourne and Down District Council Chairperson, Councillor Naomi Bailie (left) and Deborah Loughran (right), President of the Newry Chamber of Commerce and Trade announce the date and line up of speakers at the Big Brexit Debate which will take place on Thursday 29 October 2015 in the Canal Court Hotel, Newry.

The potential impact on Northern Ireland of the UK exiting Europe following the proposed Referendum in 2017 cannot be underestimated.  With issues to be discussed including the impact on the Peace Process, the future economic prosperity of the region and border control with the Republic of Ireland, this event will look at the pros and cons and the arguments for and against an exit.

With a keynote address from Daithi O Ceallaigh, Former Ambassador to the UK, UN and WTO alongside panellists including Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and Labour’s Shadow Minister for Europe Pat McFadden MP featuring in the debate (hosted by Len O’Hagan, Chairman of NI Water) it promises to investigate all of the issues and the impact at a local and national level to assess if we can afford not to be a part of Europe.

Councillor Naomi Bailie, Chairperson of Newry, Mourne and Down District Council said, “We are delighted to be hosting a conference of this calibre in Newry to really kick start the discussion about the impact of a ‘Brexit’ decision on the north of Ireland and across these islands.  We believe there is a lack of understanding about how detrimental an exit would be particularly for the north of Ireland as we would be the only region with a land border with an EU member.  It would severely affect civic society, trade and free movement particularly in border regions where we have many cross border workers, cross border businesses and cooperation between organisations. 

“While we are opposed to an exit we welcome the opportunity to get a full understanding of the arguments for and against during a comprehensive debate with some of the best informed politicians and commentators in Britain and Ireland.”

Deborah Loughran, President of Newry Chamber of Commerce and Trade added, “It is essential when we have time on our side ahead of the proposed Referendum in 2017 for people to fully understand the impact an exit from Europe would have on them.  We in the business community are delighted to be working with Newry, Mourne and Down District Council to bring this debate to Newry.  The calibre of speakers we have attracted is testament to seriousness of this issue.”

“This debate is essential for business and civic leaders, politicians, students, educationalists, economists and anyone who has a general interest in the future growth and prosperity of Northern Ireland. We are delighted to say that it is free of charge but that numbers are limited so we would encourage people to register their interest at their earliest convenience.”

‘Brexit- The Big Debate’ will take place in the Canal Court Hotel, Newry from 9am-1pm on Thursday 29 October. To book your free place please contact

The Speakers

Dáithí O’Ceallaigh

Dáithí O’Ceallaigh is the former Director General of the Institute of International and European Affairs where he now sits as a trustee.  Mr O’Ceallaigh recently co-wrote ‘Britain and Europe: The Endgame — An Irish Perspective’ which offers a comprehensive assessment of the prospect of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, drawing on his knowledge and experience having served as the Irish Ambassador to the United Kingdom from 2001 to 2007. Dáithí O’Ceallaigh currently chairs the Press Council of Ireland.

Bertie Ahern

Bertie Ahern served as Taoiseach of Ireland between 1997 and 2008. In 2004 he held the office of President of the European Council during which European leaders agreed a new European Constitution and appointment of Commissioners. The agreement on the constitution was hailed as a huge success for the Irish Presidency but it is that same Constitution which the British Government now wants reformed if they are not to leave the EU. Mr Ahern also played a central role in the negotiations that led to power sharing arrangements in Northern Ireland through the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement and he continues to play a role as international peacekeeper.

Pat McFadden MP

Pat McFadden is the Labour Party’s Shadow Minister for Europe. In 2005 he was elected as MP for Wolverhampton South East. Prior to being elected to Westminster, Pat worked as a researcher for Donald Dewar MP, a speechwriter for John Smith MP and an adviser to Tony Blair, both in opposition and later in 10 Downing Street. He has held a number of Government posts including Parliamentary Under Secretary at the cabinet Office and Minister of State in the Department of Business Innovation and Skills.

Alex Kane is a weekly columnist for both the News Letter and the Irish News as well as a regular contributor to the Belfast Telegraph and a range of other publications.  He appears on political programmes for the BBC, UTV and RTE and is an acknowledged authority on NI politics generally and unionism in particular.  A former Director of Communications for the Ulster Unionist Party, he has also been a teacher and assistant to Enoch Powell.  Away from politics his great passions are films and Sherlock Holmes and he has written extensively on both subjects.  He lives in Belfast with his partner, their two daughters, a dog, a cat, a squirrel, a magpie, a family of hedgehogs and two bats named Holmes and Watson.  He is not known for his Pollyanna outlook on life! 

Dr Len O' Hagan CBE DL, Chairman of NI Water

Dr Len O'Hagan, Chairman of NI Water since April 2015 is responsible for overseeing Northern Ireland's water and sewerage operations.  Dr O'Hagan took the helm of Northern Ireland's most profitable economic asset back in 2006 - serving two terms as chair of Belfast Harbour Commissioners.  He previously held board positions with companies including Fitzwilton plc, is a former chair of the Mac board, and currently a non-executive director of Independent News & Media.  Dr O'Hagan was given an honorary degree by the University of Ulster in 2011, before being awarded a CBE in 2013.  

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