Lisbon Essay (12): Three decades of building Irish independence inside the EU…

Today Conall is the first of our Yes essayists to tackle the question of what has happened to Irish sovereignty through its thirty six year membership of what began as the European Economic Community, then became the European Community, and is now known as the European Union. He notes that in 1973, Ireland went in in lock-step with – and on terms largely negotiated by – the UK, but that in the time that has elapsed since the Republic has slowly found a quite separate path from its closest neighbour. He argues that a no vote would be a denial of three decades of pursuing Irish independence inside the EU. And a futile attempt to turn the clock back.

By Conall McDevitt

Ireland is at a cross roads again. Dev’s comely maidens are gone but this referendum, campaign is exposing the limits of Ireland’s own sense of independence and sovereignty.

Voting yes is the most patriotic thing an Irish person can on Referendum Day. There will be no greater assertion of Irish sovereignty then a resounding yes. Anything else is a betrayal of our potential as a nation and a denial of the changing context within which independence and sovereignty are defined in the 21st century.

Like most other things we inherited our sense of sovereignty from the British. Yes we adopted a French republican model of government but everything else was done the way the old masters did it. Our civil service is based on the British one, we adopted their legal system and pegged our currency against theirs.

To assert our independence we declared ourselves neutral in all matters of global affairs. Neutral, that was, unless the Royal Navy needed a fill up of diesel in Skerries and because we could not bring ourselves to side with the old enemy, no matter what.

Our relationship with Britain has seriously affected our ability to explore our sovereignty, and with good reason. Until the 10th April 1998 we still existed in a state of permanent dispute with the UK over Northern Ireland. There was no way we could look at a New Ireland when the original one was not even complete!

This is not the case today. Ireland is at peace and the old enemy is not the glorious old power she once was. She may have determined when and how we both entered the EEC back in the early seventies but as soon as we got settled in Europe we began to grow.

Over time the currency link was broken, the tax regimes diverged and our economy slowly became a European one. Many of our public servants went on to become Eurocrats in the most positive sense of the word.

In Brussels and Strasbourg Ireland has a new role, putting its talent to work inside the Commission and helping to fulfil its statehood. Such was our success that after the fall of the Berlin wall the small states of the old soviet block queued up to join the growing European Union, citing Ireland as their new benchmark for success.

The definition of freedom at last meant more than simply independence from Britain. And Europe was good to us in return.

So, having got this far, why would we want to put the brakes on our nation’s march?

– Is it that we are nervous that we can no longer hold our own in the European corridors of power?

– That we are too small to matter and unable to defend ourselves?

– Is Lisbon such a threat to our sovereignty that we need now to fall back under Britannia’s protection against the creeping Europeanization of our island?

A yes vote can lead to a better Ireland, a proud nation newly committed to playing a strong role in the building of a multilateral Europe in which human rights are the bedrock of a new dispensation.

A social Europe where life is valued and difference in cherished, built on quality foreign investment to bring in a new generation of jobs in green collar manufacturing.

It’s a Europe that will bring great public services but also the courage and the wherewithal to stand up to genocide and famine. A powerful trading block working in partnership with the United States and China or Ireland.

A no vote to Lisbon is a vote for the way things were back in the sixties, a step back in time to a place that both Britain and Ireland have consigned to the history books.

It’s a vote for a European Parliament where the Conservatives, UKIP and the BNP will be wearing the green and patting Sinn Fein MEPs on the back like they did last year.

We have spent three decades building and positively pursuing Irish independence inside the EU. Three decades which has revolutionised Ireland’s relationship with the UK; for the better and to the benefit of both nations.

Why would we want to turn the clock back now?

, , ,

  • steve

    There is NO such thing as “Independence inside the EU”, is that how people from pathetic little Regions such as Ireland (EURIE & NI Region) “pacify” themselves into pretending they are still “Independent” when in fact their “Independence” has long been signed away?.

    How utterly pathetic.

    Heres what the word “Independence” means, i dont think it registers with the average irish, Scotch and Welsh mind though, hilarious.



    1. Also, independency. the state or quality of being independent.
    2. freedom from the control, influence, support, aid, or the like, of others.

  • Mack

    Article in the Telegraph today disagrees Steve

    EU: is Britain still a sovereign state?

    to quote –

    “EU membership has led to deep constitutional changes in the UK. But it would be wrong to say that we have been robbed of our sovereignty”

  • Dave

    This is the same propaganda line that Fianna Fail has been pushing, i.e. that surrender of Irish sovereignty is actually a defence of it.

    Fianna Fail MEP Brian Crowley made an utter fool of himself proffering this line to Czech President, Vaclav Klaus, at a meeting to mark the beginning of the Czech Presidency of the EU:

    “I am from Ireland and I am a member of a party in government. All his life my father fought against the British domination. Many of my relatives lost their lives. That is why I dare to say that the Irish wish for the Lisbon Treaty. It was an insult, Mr. President, to me and to the Irish people what you said during your state visit to Ireland. It was an insult that you met Declan Ganley, a man with no elected mandate. This man has not proven the sources from which his campaign was funded. I just want to inform you what the Irish felt. I wish you that you get the programme of your Presidency through and you will get through what European citizens want to see.”

    Of course, the fact that Brian Crowley’s father wasn’t even born during the War of Independence and therefore in no position to have “fought against the British domination” shouldn’t distract from this muppet’s purpose of pretending that surrendering sovereignty is a defence of it and that Brian Crowley, ergo, has impeccable Irish nationalist credentials (e.g. his father’s imaginary anti-British fighting) which should prove to all and sundry that such a true Irishman would never collude in the surrender of Irish sovereignty to a federal state just because he earns one million per term with a pension that equals the same.

  • Jim McConalogue

    Ireland is losing its independence and Lisbon marks a substantial handing over of sovereignty, across a vast range of powers. Under Lisbon, the characteristics of Ireland’s new European statehood will develop as follows:

    1. Lisbon would give the European Union full legal personality, superior to the power of its Member States, so that it could act as a state in the global community. It would sign Treaties with other states in all areas of its powers. It would have its own political President and Foreign Minister and produce over 75% of Ireland’s laws.

    2. Lisbon would effectively abolish the European Community, as the common market organisation which Ireland opted to join in 1973, and replace it with the new European Union (as specified under Article 1 TEU).

    3. Lisbon would give the new Union a fully developed constitutional structure so that all areas of government fall within its remit.

    4. Lisbon would make the Irish people real EU citizens in this new European Union, rather than Irish citizens with EU obligations, as at present. However, there can be no European demos, nor could the Irish people have loyalty to it, or identify with the creation of a European-wide demos. It is what makes Ireland a free, democratic state and to have given it up is to give up its essential feature of Irish national democracy.

    The only real difference between Ireland and the other Member States is that Ireland’s great Constitution allows her people to have a say. Bearing in mind the principles the Irish people are reaffirming in this treaty – in moving from a democratic association of European nation-states to the joining of a European federal superstate – the choice in this referendum to a European outsider, with no opportunity for a vote, is obvious.

  • Jim, your points:

    1. 75% of laws? Where does this figure come from?

    2. The European Community has been subsumed into the European Union since Maastricht. You’re nearly two decades too late with this argument.

    3. The EU’s remit is barely changed by Lisbon – it is expanded in a small number of areas.

    4. Irish people have been “EU citizens” since Maastricht. See point 2 above.

  • Mack

    Andrew see the article (above and below) in today’s Telegraph about British soveignty and the EU for the history of different estimates of the proportion of law originating from the EU in different countries.

    Eurosceptics tend to come up with high estimates for the proportion, Europhiles low.

  • europass

    I’d rather have real freedom as an individual than any spurious pretend freedom as a “nation”. As an EU citizen I have a right of residence and employment across Europe. I’ve had great fun and a decent career using this in a way that would have been unthinkable a generation ago. An independent Ireland without the freedoms provided by the EU and without the get out of emigration to America and rest of the English speaking world would be a prison.

    United States of Europe asap please.

  • John East Belfast

    I think the EU Model works best for

    1. Large prosperous nations at any point in their cycle – UK, France,Germany etc

    2. Other nations – possibly recently admitted to the EU – who need a leg up.

    I think the ROI is no longer any of the above and I think for it to get itself out of the current financial mess it needs full felxibility with its Monetary Policy, Fiscal Rates and Border control (immigration). It also needs to be able to discriminate bewteen the types of industry and enterprise it wants via Fiscal incentives and Govt support.

    Within the ROI it no longer has this – Monetary Policy is with the ECB and will ultimately reflect the Euro nations within 1 above. As for fiscal there will be a continued drift towards uniformity and certainly there will be no wide spread freedom to do what they want with tax rates.
    There is no control over Borders because whoever is allowed to live anywhere in Europe can come and live and look for work and, possibly, benefits in the European country of their choice.

    If the ROI tries to discriminate and support the industry it wants it could fall foul to EU competition Law.

    Meanwhile there are plenty of other begging bowls being passed around by new Eastern European countries and the ROI will be way down the priority list.

    The former ROI model of attracting FDI with lower corporate tax breaks and cheaper educated labour will crumble under competition from the likes of Poland and even attempts by the US to tax all US Earning at US Rates.

    The Celtic Tiger of cheap credit and a construction/property boom has gone off the rails.

    Some serious new thinking needs to occur with the ROI Economy and the EU straightjacket will only be a hindrance to the same.

    If I was an ROI citisen I would be seriously thinking of repositioning my country outside of the EU and starting to think of how I could exploit the strengths of Ireland in whatever way I choose.

  • Mack

    The former ROI model of attracting FDI with lower corporate tax breaks and cheaper educated labour will crumble under competition from the likes of Poland and even attempts by the US to tax all US Earning at US Rates.

    Unlikely. For a number of reasons – the cultural similarities between Ireland and the USA are important – they facilitate teams working efficiently together across the atlantic. The higher wages in Ireland accompanied with free movement of people (and the fact that we’re an English speaking country) make it much easier for Ireland to attract talented workers here than it is for the Eastern Europeans to attract talent there. No doubt some companies will follow Dell abroad, but there have been several announcements this year alone (with Facebook recently leasing large offices in Dublin).

    The Celtic Tiger of cheap credit and a construction/property boom has gone off the rails.

    Certainly – but the phrase ‘The Celtic Tiger’ was coined to refer to a booming export led economy. We export about 1/4 of what the UK does with 1/10th of the population – and despite the global downturn which has decimated other exporting nations (Germany, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore) – Irish exports are up!

  • Mack

    JEB –

    It’s normally not US earnings that are taxed in Ireland at 12.5%, but European / EMEA earnings.

  • otto


    Given that you’re pro-european and pro-business do you have a party political preference? I’m still struggling to work out the difference between Fianna Fail and Fine Gael. Is it still all about the civil war or is there a reliable policy distinction in others areas (if there even is one still on constitutional matters) between the “liberal” and “christian democratic” parties?

  • Mack

    I think / percieve FF to be slightly more to the centre / less to the right than FG, but as FG need to partner with Labour or another left leaning party I don’t think that makes much difference in practice (and we had the PDs pulling FF in the other direction in the past – Libertas might fulfil that role in the future). Certainly there are differences in the policies proposed by FG in opposition and FF in government (e.g. FG banking solution seems more market driven, and they are more gung-ho on public sector reform), whether they’d get their way in a coalition is another matter..

    I guess the biggest difference is FF have been in power for almost 20 years (with only a short break in the middle) and their connections to the construction industry are obvious. I tend to lean towards either FF or FG – depending on their manifesto, state of the economy etc. A lot of people I know seem to vote along family lines – but then a lot of others also make choices based on policies running up to elections too.

  • otto

    Thanks Mack,

    That’s kind of how I saw it.

    It’s one think to write policies and another obviously to implement them.

    Is the real difference one of organisational culture? I read a memoir by a junior department of foreign affairs guy who remembered the FF ministers as more businesslike, ambitious and perhaps formal whereas the FG ministers and perhaps governments were more relaxed and collegiate.

    If socio-economic positions are generally the same then the FF approach might be better for fair weather and FG for adaptation in changing times.

    I get the impression the typical FG’er is just a bit less wedded to to abstract or even romantic ideals or absolutes and a bit more willing to update positions in the light of changed circumstance.

  • bk

    We’ve done Isolationism and self sufficiency down here in the 1950’s.

  • foreign correspondent

    I agree with Europass´s sentiments.
    The United States of Europe is the way to go.
    What exactly are the Eurosceptics so afraid of?
    What´s so great about Little Britain or Isolationist Ireland, I´d like to know.

  • john

    a) this vote isn’t about being in or out of the EU
    b) this vote is about extending the EU to a federal superstate
    c) a NO would simply result in the continuance of the status quo
    d) the EU-constitution, now the Lisbon treaty, rejeted by french and dutch electorates, was draw up by d’Estaing and a bunch of buddies in a totally opaque process, people with specific idealogical axes to grind and favors to return.
    e) The treaty was made deliberately as hard to understand as possible; no debate on substantive issues has occurred in the media (or on lampost posters)
    f) saying “just accept it’s for your own good” is to speak down to someone, to belittle thier intelligence, to treat them as a child. Not impressed.
    g) I am not against an EU superstate in theory.
    h) I am *for* a policy which guarantees the right to collective bargaining, and the provision of quality public services to all (education, health, energy, transport, communications), not based on amount of money owned, not run for maximum profit.
    i) such a state of affairs (h) could be achieved without a superstate, but a superstate probably makes it easier
    j) many EU countries have such a ‘socialist-lite’ setup (as in H) but find themselves needing to partially dismantle thier systems as thier populations age and the tax-paying adult population shrinks, even as the burden of the numbers of retired workers grows.
    k) the New EU superstate will help these countries dismantle these systems by following the Nice treaty recommendations of privatising services (health system run on a for-profit basis, including old folks homes). This is why the french and dutch voters rejected it, though if you look in the mainstream press archives en francais or in nederlands you’ll find predictable nonsensical hysteria about immigration etc
    l) though the lisbon treaty creates a superstate, it’s clear that d’Estaing et al see this as copper-fastening the weakening of workers bargaining rights and the beginning of the end for not-for-profit national services.
    m) many readers will be fans of milton friedman, the ‘washington consensus’, neo-liberal economics, market capitalism cheerleaders. But consider the mess we’re in right now: our grandchildren will be in debt to unnamed parties because of crazy bets made by a golden circle in a fit of frenzied unregulated free market activity. This new EU state continues in this very same vein of handing temporal power and control to the wealthy elites who have dragged us all into recession and are looking to lumber us with debts for generations.
    n) I would vote for an EU superstate that was oriented towards universal services, progressive taxation, social responsibility, inclusiveness.
    o) But this is not what’s on offer.

  • Greenflag

    ‘We’ve done Isolationism and self sufficiency down here in the 1950’s. ‘

    Indeed .Somebody needs to tell Sinn Fein and at the same time tell them it did’nt work then and won’t work now . Our place is inside the EU lookin out and not outside looking in.

    Clinging to the past has’nt done NI any good . Why would we want to do similar ?

  • Wilde Rover


    Well put.

    Many people who are concerned about Lisbon and the direction Europe is taking are not “Eurosceptics” but merely skeptical of the motivations of some of those involved and their distain towards the plebs.

    It is unfortunate that many of those who follow blindly do so out of personal short term gain and try to project their lack of principles and foresight onto others.

  • “The definition of freedom at last meant more than simply independence from Britain.”

    Someone should tell you and the yes campaign that. You’re the ones obsessed with Britain. To my recollection we were fighting for our independence per se. Not merely independence from Britain but independence from any country. This notion that a small sovereign nation cannot survive economically in a globalised world is one the elites are pushing on us in the global recession, but Switzerland disproves it.

    What I find most disturbing, as a no voter, is that we are never told where all this is leading. Since 1987 (Single European Act), we are confronted with another constitutional EU treaty every 5 years. Yet the elites insist in this campaign that the institutional reforms are needed to allow an EU of 27 to function. That is bunkum. Professor Helen Wallace of the London School of Economics carried out a study revealing that since 2004, the Nice Treaty arrangments have worked smoothly. There is no evidence of gridlock in the institutional mechanisms of the EU.

    Noone wants to return to dependence on the UK, but there is zero evidence a no vote would result in such a situation. The status-qup is a perfectly reasonable option for the EU institutions, and despite the hysterical rhetoric to the contrary, there is absolutely nothing the other member states can do to change the Treaties without our consent. Within a year, a Tory govt will be in power in London, and the Treaty will be dead. That will not mean a return to a dependence on the UK, but rather, a defining moment when the European project was brought under democratic-control by the European citizenry. What Brussels and the member state governments are attempting is dangerously anti-democratic. Never before has an attempt been made to impose on 3 unwilling nations provisions rejected in referenda in those nations. The subterfuge and deceit involved in the years between the rejection of the EU Constitution and its reincarnation as the Lisbon Treaty will go down in history as the most shameful episode in the history of the European project. In the past, while treaties may have been pushed through after rejections in referenda, the rejecting member state had always changed their mind in a referendum. This time, if we vote for Lisbon, we will be doing so knowing that we are taking away the right to self-determination of the French and Dutch peoples. I genuinely fear for the future stability of the EU, and for the survival of democracy in Ireland and Europe if this succeeds. Already in this campaign we have seen sinister and anti-democratic developments, including a huge number of “no” campaign posters being mysteriously removed. Dublin city council admitted removing “Coir” posters ‘by mistake’. Furthermore, the constitutional protections for both sides in referenda campaign have been greatly undermined. Under the McKenna judgement, the State is forbidden from using taxpayers’ money to favour one side over another, whereas the Coughlan judgement required equality of airtime for both sides. The Broadcasting Commission of Ireland issued guidelines this year removing the obligation for equal allocation of airtime for the yes and no sides, replacing it with a requirement that party-political broadcasts for pro and anti-Lisbon parties during the campaign must have equality of time. The Coughlan judgement was in part based on Article 40(1), which states “All citizens shall, as human persons, be held equal before the law.This shall not be held to mean that the State shall not in its enactments have due regard to differences of capacity, physical and moral, and of social function”. I think whatever way this goes, another McKenna-style constitutional-challenge is inevitable after this referendum. It is certainly imperative that it come to pass, because our constitution is at stake. The Irish people depend on it to protect us from abuse of power by the political-elite.

  • Dave

    Actually, Mack, they rose by 2% in the first 5 months of the year due to a 17% rise in exports of pharmaceuticals. In all other areas they continued their downward trend. Pharmaceuticals are less price-sensitive than other manufacturing sectors (people need their medication no matter what it costs), so these exports (mainly to the US) could survive the handicap of Ireland integration into the Eurozone whereas other exports could not. In real terms, Ireland’s exports are less than half the level they were before Ireland derogated this sovereignty to the EU’s ECB.

    But you are correct that Ireland’s ‘Celtic Tiger’ was export led. Irish exports grew year-on-year from 1993 to 2001 to produce a fourfold increase during that period. After integration into the EU’s ECB, that growth came to an instant stop. There has been nothing except decline in exports since integration to the point where 8 years after integration exports are now half the level in real terms that they were pre-integration.

    There is no coming back from that decline while the factors that killed the Celtic Tiger remain in situ.

  • Dave

    Err, sorry, I meant that comment for the other europhile thread (too many windows pop up on Slugger).

  • bk

    Switzerland is not so dependent on the EU for trade as Ireland. It live of the proceeds of tax evasion, fraud accounting, theft, money laundering, racketeering. Switzerland has helped bleed trillions of dollars in illicitly generated money out of Africa and the rest of the developing world.The activities of Swiss banking institutions and real estate companies have plunged third world nations into debts, poverty, misery, malnutrition, diseases, economic meltdown, infrastructure decay and political instabilities through the help they give to corrupt politicians, civil servants, the business elite and corrupt multinational corporations who collude and connive with the corrupt entities to loot and hide the proceeds of their ill-gotton gains.

  • steve white

    your using our weak neutrality to attack the no side, when its actually there yes side that claim we’re neutral and no side that say we’re not(but want to be), and again you want europe as ‘good superpower’ when there no such thing

  • Greenflag

    BK ,

    What a lambastin that is for the poor Swiss 😉 Remember they’re neutral about everything bar thoselarge deposits from overseas gangsters and tax evaders. In grateful recognition of their services to Mammon the Pope has himself guarded by non other than you guessed it the Swiss Guards .

    But they did found the Red Cross and they also invented the cuckoo clock . So they can’t all be bad eh ?

  • Greenflag

    It’s over lads . Were voting for Lisbon . We are not Switzerland . We don’t have the banks the Swiss have nor their 500 year history of minding the loot of Europe’s degenerate aristocracies and latter day gangsters and overseas third world dictators and American tax evaders 🙁

  • Greenflag, it’s not over till the fat-lady sings.