Ireland’s Taoiseach Enda Kenny visited the UK to urge the Irish community in Britain to vote to remain in the EU, citing St Helens’ Irish population in his speech.
The republic’s Prime Minister is campaigning to mobilise the estimated 600,000 Irish-born voters living in Britain and the millions more of Irish descent to stay in the EU, saying it would make things “a little easier” for Ireland if Vote Remain wins the referendum.
Mr Kenny’s two day visit to the UK to drum up Remain support among the Irish and Anglo-Irish, had planned to take in Liverpool, Glasgow and Manchester.
But his visit was overshadowed with the news of the suspension of the campaigns after the attack on MP Jo Cox.
The Fine Gael politician spoke at the start of his visit at St Michael’s Irish Centre in the Everton area of Liverpool shortly before news of the attack broke.
He said: “We think it’s important people of Irish connection and Irish decent should know how important the vote is next Thursday.
“I came here to say to the Irish community and Irish people, this is the most important vote you will make in 50 years.
“I didn’t come here to lecture the British people what they should do.
“I want to talk to the Irish people and those of Irish connections.
“If you are living in Wigan, or St Helens or Liverpool and you are Irish, when you go out to vote next week if your vote is to stay, remain a member of the EU, you are making things a little easier for our own country.”
Mr Kenny cited the common travel arrangements between the UK and Ireland making cross-border travel much easier, the 1.2 billion euro of trade done each week between the two countries and the 200,000 Irish jobs he said depended on exporting goods to the UK.
He said Ireland “lost thousands to the Atlantic” emigrating on ships from Liverpool to New York and Canada in the 1840s - and Irish Navy ships were now saving the lives of thousands of refugees from the waters of the Mediterranean.
And he said membership of the EU had helped transform Ireland over the last half a century, and despite the financial crash, the nation’s economy was now growing again.
Mr Kenny said members of his own family had come to work in the coalmines in Lancashire in the 1930s and 1940s and “paid their stamp” and received their state pensions.
He said new arrangements for work benefits would mean new immigrants could not take out without paying something in first.
He added: “It’s a big decision and it’s your decision. Think of the consequences of your vote. Think of your own people.”