Patrick MacGill Summer School and Arts Week Opening Address by Dick Roche TD, Part 1
I am delighted to be have been invited to open this year’s Patrick MacGill Summer School and Arts Week.
Looking at the programme of the week’s events, I am struck by the ambitious range of topics you are scheduled to discuss and the number of authoritative - and challenging - speakers who have been lined up.
I am particularly glad to see that the arts have not been neglected - our common cultural heritage is one of the cornerstones of our shared European identity and way of life.
The theme of the summer school - “Ireland and Europe 1972-2002: Where Do We Go From Here?” - is one which, as you will appreciate, has taken on a particular immediacy for me in the past two months!
But before I say a little about the future, I hope you will allow me look very briefly to the past. No future of any value can be built without a full appreciation of the past.
Last Tuesday - 23 July 2002 - was not without some significance in the history of Europe. It was the day on which, fifty years after it first entered into force, the Treaty establishing the European Coal and Steel Community expired. While it is true that the ECSC had long since for all practical purposes lost any distinct identity of its own, it was, of course, the seed from which the current Union has grown. And we could do worse than remember the intentions of its founders – Schumann, Monnet, Adenauer, DiGasperi, Spaak- as set out in the preamble to the Treaty.
They were “convinced that the contribution which an organized and vital Europe can make to civilization is indispensable.” They recognized that “Europe can be built only through practical achievements which will first of all create real solidarity.” And they were determined to create the basis “for a broader and deeper community among peoples long divided by bloody conflicts.”
The Coal and Steel Community was created in 1952 in the shadow of a terrible war. To put it in perspective, the gap between the end of World War Two and the signature of the ECSC Treaty was less than that between the IRA ceasefire of August 1994 and today. A mere decade earlier, the unparalleled evil of the Holocaust was acting itself out across Europe - of the millions of people it destroyed, the majority were citizens of what are now the applicant countries, above all Poland.
The creators of the Treaty were profoundly aware of the catastrophic consequences of the failure of normal politics and of the previous system of international relations on our continent. They had first hand experience of the extremes of nationalism. They brought to the task of refashioning Europe the same energy and creativity, the same hunger for a new beginning, which characterised the drafting of the United Nations Charter and the other building blocks of the post-war world.
The stability and prosperity of Western Europe today is a monument to the vision of Schuman and his co-signatories. Today, not only is conflict absent, it is also unimaginable. The ECSC created the situation in which war between Europeans was not only unthinkable materially impossible.
As John Hume, in whose honour tonight’s lecture is to be given, has consistently pointed out, we Irish should be able, from our own experience, to understand the power of the concept underpinning the Union: the achievement of peace and reconciliation through working together for the common good. John Hume is right in his suggestion that the European Union has been the most successful peace process in history.
Patrick MacGill himself, in The Great Push, his memoir of his experiences on the Western Front in 1916, commented that
“The justice of the cause which endeavours to achieve its object by the murdering and maiming of Mankind is apt to be doubted by a man who has come through a bayonet charge.”
The shared experience of the horror of war was the most powerful motivating factor underlying the foundation of the European Union.
Even among those who may query how the European Union has developed, I would hope that there are none who would call into question the nobility of purpose which animated its founders, who sought to ensure that Europe would no longer be disgraced by “the murdering and maiming of mankind”.
In the context in which we are speaking, however, I must say that the sheer ignorance, frivolity and tastelessness of the recent British anti-Euro advertisement, which featured Adolf Hitler for comic effect, marked a particular low even for pronounced Eurosceptics.
Europe has travelled a long way since the creation of the Coal and Steel Community. We in Ireland have travelled a long way since 1972 and our referendum on EEC membership.
There is an overwhelming consensus in Ireland on the benefits to us of EU membership. We consistently rank highest in the Eurobarometer polls on this particular index of enthusiasm for the Union.
The hugely positive economic, social, cultural and psychological effects of our participation in the Union are everywhere to be seen.
We have done well in Europe, and we have done well from the Union. Indeed, I am struck by the fact that those opposed to the Treaty of Nice continuously ignore the benefits that we have gained from our membership and even more studiously avoid enumerating any advantage that will flow from voting No. Many – not all - of those who opposed membership back in 1972 have opposed every Treaty since. They have consistently failed to identify any national advantage which would derive from the Euroscepticism they espouse and equally they have been wrong on each and every one of the dire warnings that they have put forward in support of their views.
As the Minister for Foreign Affairs said last week, our relationship with Europe has grown more complex. There is no doubt that those who either did not vote on the Treaty of Nice last year, or who voted No, were sending a powerful message.
It is important to respond to that message. The government has responded and has done so to the point that there has been a radical change in the context in which the question of Nice is to again be put to the people.
We must be clear that it is to our continuing economic and social advantage as a people to remain at the heart of the Union. Very few people would advocate otherwise.
Perhaps some people feel that the EU was vitally important in the past but less so now. Perhaps they allow irritation over this or that piece of seemingly unnecessary bureaucracy to obscure the big picture. It is my view that do so would be profoundly wrong. Not only do we continue to receive very significant transfers from the Union, but our participation in the Single Market and in the euro are both essential planks in our competitiveness and in our capacity to attract inward investment.
In a globalised world, there can be no question of ‘ourselves alone’. Any suggestion that we were moving away from the mainstream would damage international and domestic confidence and would be ruthlessly exploited by our competitors.
Enlargement is the next great step forward in the European adventure. It is a deeply exciting challenge. In the spirit of those who began the process of integration, enlargement will represent the further healing of divisions and the creation of new partnerships.
Enlargement will be good for the candidate countries. It will be good for the continent as a whole. It will also be good for Ireland.
As has been made clear in detailed research by Forfás and in papers by IBEC and others – enlargement is to Ireland’s economic advantage, creating new markets and investment opportunities.
Over the past weeks, there have been attempts to whip up fears about a possible influx of large numbers of migrants to Ireland from the new Member States. These attempts are not only mischievous and regrettable, but have no reasonable basis.
Having claimed to support enlargement in the first referendum some No advocates have now resorted to these crude tactics. By doing so they diminish themselves and the case they put forward.
The argument is of course not new. In the 1972 debate Anthony Coughlan suggested “Ireland would lose the power to control the influx of skilled foreign workers to Ireland. Skilled English, German and Dutch workers could come here if there were jobs for them and it would be unlawful for the Irish Government to seek to reserve employment in the interests of Irish Trade Unionists.”
The dangers predicted in 1972 of course never came to pass. That did not stand in the way of their being repeated again at the time of Spanish and the Portuguese accession in 1986.
Shamefully, Mr Coughlan, while denying that he is in any way xenophobic, has re-iterated this threadbare argument in the current debate, cautioning on the prospects of 76 million citizens from East and Central European states flooding onto our shores.
Mr Coughlan’s fellow campaigner Justin Barrett makes no attempt to disavow the use of raw xenophobia as a device to frighten the Irish people into another No vote. In a press statement issued on 24 July 2002 he warns expressly of his intention of so doing.
Most if not all of the arguments put forward by the NO side are not new. Most if not all are simply wrong. I dwell on the issue of xenophobia because we are meeting in Donegal, a county which knows something of the burden carried by the emigrant – including the burden of raw prejudice.
This incipient xenophobia has, oddly, been met with silence by many on the No side – perhaps because it is convenient to do so. Their silence however also diminishes them. It is still not too late for them to redeem themselves.