DUBLIN (Reuters) - Irish citizens should use their influence with friends and family in Britain to help make the case for continued membership of the European Union, Prime Minister Enda Kenny said on Thursday.
Brexit would damage Ireland's exporters, undermine the European Union and deal a blow to Northern Ireland, Kenny told parliament ahead of Britain's June 23 referendum on whether to remain in the bloc or leave.
Kenny stopped short of calling on British voters to vote to stay, saying the referendum is "entirely a matter for the UK electorate."
But he called on the Irish people to use their influence.
"I urge all other members of the House to use their connections and influence to reinforce the case," Kenny said. "This is a matter on which we should be united.
"I also hope that people in Ireland will also reach out to family, friends and business colleagues in Britain."
In addition to the 1.2 million eligible voters in Northern Ireland, there were 120,000 UK voters living in Ireland, Kenny said. Irish "In" campaigners in Britain are also targeting over 600,000 Irish-born voters who live there.
Kenny dismissed suggestions that Ireland might be forced to follow the UK out of the European Union, saying the country would remain a committed EU member whatever the result.
But he said the beneficial economic relationship between the UK and Ireland, which trade 1.2 billion euros of goods and services each week, would be at risk ,with trade in food and energy particular areas for concern.
The common travel area between the United Kingdom and Ireland which has existed for almost a century "cannot be guaranteed" either if the UK leaves, Kenny also said.
That warning contradicted recent comments by Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Theresa Villiers, who is campaigning for the United Kingdom to leave.
Deutsche Bank this week described Brexit as "the single biggest source of uncertainty facing the Irish economy in the near-term" beyond the formation of a new government.
The parliamentary debate on Brexit was one of the first since an inconclusive Feb. 26 election left the country without a government.
Finance Minister Michael Noonan on Thursday said parties were edging toward agreement on forming one.
editing by John Stonestreet