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?

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty