"Ireland: A Place Among the Nations": Speech by Minister Roche to the Emmet Summer School
We live in cynical times, when words are distrusted. Historians now debate whether Robert Emmet's Speech from the Dock is an accurate and true reflection of what Emmet actually said, or whether over time and retelling it has gained in grandeur and force. Yet even to our ears now, the passionate intensity of the voice and person that was Emmet is unmistakable and inspirational. It speaks to us across the ages. I have always thought that his closing line
“when my country takes her place among the nations of the earth, then and not till then, let my epitaph be written”
is one of the great lines of political oratory of any age. It was an inspired and calculated challenge which has echoed down the two hundred years since its delivery through succeeding generations. It invites us to look to our country and its place in the world, as a matter of conscience and of responsibility. We have fulfilled Emmet's goal of independence and sovereignty now for over seventy years, yet each generation has to vindicate our place in the world in the conditions and context in which it finds itself.
In the short time available, I want to provide a quick snapshot of how we are currently living up to Emmet's challenge – how Ireland is playing its part on the world stage, with confidence, conviction and no mean success.
I have just come from Brussels where I, as the Government's representative, together with the Oireachtas representatives to the Convention on the Future of Europe, have been engaged in what is now the end game of this phase of work on a new Constitutional Treaty. The Government has sought to contribute positively and constructively to the work of the Convention at all times. And we are recognised as having done so and as having had not inconsiderable influence on the work of the Convention to date. We work very closely with different groups of like-minded current and future Member States on a wide range of issues to protect Ireland's interests and to try to ensure that the European Union works as effectively and efficiently as possible.
As Irish Government representative, I work closely with two groups in particular at the Convention. Ireland is playing a leading role in the group known as the Friends of the Community Method. Comprised of sixteen or more representatives of current and future member states, we meet at every Convention session and sometimes more frequently. We are working together to ensure that the new Constitutional Treaty respects fundamental principles on institutional reform such as equality between the Member States and the balances between the Union's institutions. The Group produced a paper setting out these principles earlier this year that was, in essence, drafted by Ireland. These are the principles that the Group continues to hold to as the Convention moves into its final phase.
I am also a member of a group of seven large and small Member States that meets at every plenary session. While not like-minded on every issue, it gives us an opportunity to exchange views on Convention issues and tease out problems.
Ireland has never subscribed to the view that the Convention is a battle between the large and the smaller Member States. We work with all of our partners in the Union, current and future, large and small. I work very closely with Peter Hain, the British Convention representative on many issues, including on key matters such as taxation. We and the UK produced a paper setting out very strong arguments against tax harmonisation that was supported by a number of other government and national parliament representatives. We have also worked closely with the British to clarify the scope and application of the Charter of Fundamental Rights. We have close ties with France, particularly on issues relating to the Common Agricultural Policy.
The Government has made a significant number of written contributions, either singly or in cooperation with other representatives, that have helped to shape the Convention's work. In addition to the paper of the Friends of the Community Method, we have produced a paper with the Swedish and Finnish government representatives on good administration in the Union and I have produced a very well-received proposal to elect the President of the European Commission by means of an electoral college composed of national parliaments and the European Parliament.
Throughout, I have tried to pursue Ireland's interests not just as an end in itself, but as part of a genuine effort to produce the best outcome for the European Union as a whole.
Of course, in developing our unique place and identity among the nations, Ireland's relationship with our closest neighbour has undergone the kind of revolution which would have astonished Robert Emmet and his contemporaries. The exact occasions on which these changes were first articulated may be hard to identify with precision, but with the benefit of hindsight a number of landmarks are apparent.
Our accession to the then European Economic Community in 1973 allowed us for the first time to engage in a partnership of full equality with Britain. The Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985 was a formal recognition by the British Government of the Irish Government's legitimate interest in the affairs of Northern Ireland and created an institutional framework in which our views and proposals could be expressed.
The evolving level of partnership and maturity which was developing in the relationship was further demonstrated in the Downing Street Declaration of 1993, in which the two Governments together acknowledged the need to remove the causes of conflict and to overcome the legacy of history. This development was explicitly placed in the European context, recognising the need for “new approaches to serve interests common to both parts of the island of Ireland, and to Ireland and the United Kingdom as partners in the European Union”.
In 1998, the year which saw the signing of the Good Friday Agreement and its endorsement by an overwhelming majority of the people of the island of Ireland, this partnership was brought to a new level of development and sophistication. As co-guarantors of the Agreement, both Governments were now effectively joint-managers of the peace process in Northern Ireland. Moreover, the Agreement created new institutional architecture that reflected the dynamic relationships that existed within and between these islands, including the North-South Ministerial Council and the wider British-Irish Council. The latter included not only the two sovereign Governments, but the new devolved administrations in Belfast, Cardiff and Edinburgh.