Ireland & Europe; Political leaders need to start thinking outside the box

As we are all consumed with the Adams/Cahill story, it is hard for some other pieces of news to gain traction. One big story that was missed in the media was the revelation that due to the revision in how the European Union calculates the contributions of member states to the coffers of the Union that Ireland will now be required to pay an additional €157 million.

Before you start coming at me with a “but Ireland, got huge amounts of money,” let me just stop you right there. What I want to take issue with is one, the premise of the argument that Ireland should pay more and two, the incredibly weak/silent response of the Irish political parties on this issue.

Let’s begin with some facts, why is Ireland being asked to pay more? Largely it is due to the increase in Irish economic growth which has steadily improved over the last year. The European Commission regularly changes its calculations and this time it has come against Ireland, Britain and Cyprus, who will have to pay more into the EU budget.

While the Irish economy is back in growth and is performing well, it is far from out of the woods and the recent failure of Permanent TSB to pass an EU banking stress test illustrates that the financial services sector is not in great shape and the domestic economy is still flat lining. As the country recovers from the economic crisis, it seems to have gone un-noticed in Brussels that Ireland responded to some of the harshest budget cuts and fallsiving standards without complaint (look at  low rates of industrial action and civil unrest for example). In addition to this, the fact that some of this was imposed from a European level, equally is now lost on the Commission.

Nope, those people in Brussels now want more money, despite the sacrifice and effort that the Irish people have made to keep what is essentially a political project (i.e the Euro) on the road. I accept that it has not been a one way street and Ireland does yield benefits from its membership of the European Union, hence why I stress that I am not coming at this from a UKIP perspective, far from it.

But, after all this sacrifice and all this hardship, you would imagine one of the figures in the Commission might think “should we not give these guys a bit of a break?” Obviously not, Brian Lenihan standing at what he called “the gates of hell” in 2010 as he flew off to Brussels to negotiate the EU/IMF bailout and the hardship that came with it was patently not enough.

What Ireland needs now, is a bit of breathing space to get its house in order. Things are trending in the right direction, but now is quite frankly an absurd time to pile more costs onto a country that is attempting to deal with a debt crisis.

This leads me onto my second point and that is the response of the Irish government. As I read through Enda Kenny’s response to the proposal for more money I could not get Tony Blair’s famous “weak, weak, weak’ repose to John Major out of my head. Kenny argued that;

We have always abided by the rules

This “good European” approach is all fine, but wasn’t that the argument use to pass the second Lisbon referendum? Where exactly did that get Ireland the following year? Would it be too much to ask the Taoiseach to stand up at the meeting and say the following;

Ireland is a committed member of the European Union. We have over the past number of years demonstrated through our actions and words how much we are willing to sacrifice as a nation to remain a part of this organisation. However, at a time when our economy is fragile and confidence is low, I cannot accept that my country is burdened with higher costs as a time of harsh austerity for the people of Ireland.

Apparently this is not able to happen on our side of the Irish Sea, as the protesting is left to the British government. Euro-fanatics in Ireland have become like Euro-sceptics in Britain, loyal to their cause without any critical thinking about the basic premise of why they hold these core beliefs.

Sometimes the European Union does not always act in the interest of Ireland and it’s ok to say so. The wider political system needs to develop a more realistic and critical attitude towards our relationship with this institution. Simply accepting without any comment, every direction and policy from Brussels is a ludicrous proposition and one that has gone on far too long.

The European elections proved that there is a considerable section of the Irish people who are willing to back parties that take a much harder look at how Europe operates and functions. They should take heed and drop the tin ear approach that they seem to have adopted over the last number of years.


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  • terence patrick hewett

    I do not want the un-audited EU to have control over me, not through ignorance but because in the grand abstract terms of the Enlightenment, the legitimacy of government derives from the consent of the governed, and therefore no government has the right to hand over its authority to some external body which is not democratically accountable to its own people. So when the framers of the EU arranged for the nations of Europe to do exactly that, they were repudiating two centuries of political struggle for the rights and liberties of ordinary citizens and of governance “of the people, by the people and for the people.”

    There is a fundamental difference in the constitutional history of the United States, United Kingdom and Ireland and the history of the great continental powers. France has a Bonapartist tradition and Germany has a Bismarckian one. The Anglo-US tradition is that of liberal democracy, hammered out in the United Kingdom after 1688 and the United States after 1776: the German philosopher is Hegel; the English is Locke. The British understand the American constitution, but we do not understand well the European constitutions. Nor do the Europeans want the Anglo-US concept of liberal democracy. The European Union does not pretend to have a liberal constitution; perhaps the Lisbon treaty can best be described as an authoritarian federal bureaucracy, seeking almost unlimited powers.

    The fundamental flaws of the EU federation: those of hegemony of one or two states and the lack of Fiscal Union cannot be kicked down the road forever. Sooner or later they will have to be faced, and faced with honesty not with sharp practice.

    The late Tony Benn said (correctly in my view) that the key questions are: who has power, who gave it to them, on whose behalf do they wield it, and are they accountable?

  • Dan

    ‘Euro-fanatics in Ireland have become like Euro-sceptics in Britain, loyal to their cause without any critical thinking about the basic premise of why they hold these core beliefs.’

    Don’t casually lump eurofanatic thinking with that of eurosceptics.
    Eurosceptics have thought very carefully about the damage the EU project has done to the country….much more so than the fools who haven’t had the courage to say no to more costly central unaccountable diktat. Those core beliefs of controlling one’s own destiny and governing one’s own country in a democratic way aren’t to be casually dismissed as meaningless.

  • John O’Brien

    There’s definitely room for more Euro critical parties and voices in Irish politics. In fact it’s inevitable as the EU gets more fiscal and regulatory control, and Ireland’s peripheral status becomes more acute. Plus the memory of the crisis will linger for some time.

    The huge amounts of money (42 billion) Ireland received in the past is a major reason why Irish euroscepticism is relatively muted and non-existent among the establishment. Every year for the past 40 years Ireland has been a net receiver in EU budgets (albeit the transfers were small for the past decade; was only 50 million in 2013). The revisions will probably mean Ireland will finally be a net contributor either in 2014 or 2015. This may well change attitudes.

    Sinn Fein would be well placed to fill the void, yet in order to stress their moderation they’re fairly soft on the EU these days. Some in Fianna Fail, like Dara Calleary, have been suggesting a more skeptical approach. Although then there has always been Eurosceptic opinions in FF, e.g. Sile de Valera and Charlie McCreevy. The PDs too – Mary Harney’s ‘Boston v Berlin’ speech would be considered Eurosceptic now. But that was only rhetoric, there was no change or hint of change in EU policy in that government.

    So unless the EU becomes self-evidently negative to Ireland (and Irish business), I don’t know if there’ll be any coherent movement against the EU in Ireland. OK, the leftist parties have one: the EU is imposing austerity & neoliberalism on the workers. Libertas kind of had one. But because of history, Irish parties tend to be averse towards following trends from the Tories or the British right. Much of the opposition is focused on single issue, like turf cutting. The gap in the market may remain open.

  • barnshee

    You are in the club pay your dues –or leave

  • terence patrick hewett

    The EU is not a club it is a federation who’s stated object is a European State: if you think that the hard won sovereignty of Ireland is worth so little then that is fine.