Ireland will face its own EU question

Across the water, David Cameron’s government is fighting on several fronts to maintain the control it thought it had won when it succeeded in winning enough seats to set up a single party government.

In winning that UK election with a very small majority, Mr Cameron made himself a hostage to fortune.

He was aware that there are many within his own party and many voters to boot who want rid of of the EU and the constant interference from unelected EU officials in what they see as British business.

In an effort to secure re-election, he unwisely committed to holding a referendum on EU membership.

As a major trading partner with the UK, we have considerable interest in what plays out in that country over the coming year as the UK prepares for this promised referendum.

Both the Liberal Democrats and the Labour party are against leaving the UK as possibly are a majority of Tory voters. But winning a referendum, and dividing the party, will be no good for Mr Cameron.

The big question is whether the Irish State can stay if this referendum leads to a Brexit. The jury is out on that question.

However, it is clear that it would hit us badly given not only the trading ties but the familial ties between Britain and Ireland. It would raise serious issues about how to deal with the border. Would we need emigration and customs controls again?

It would appear that those who are proponents of exiting the EU are convinced that the EU will roll over and give London a sweetheart deal that will allow it to run Britain its own way while retaining the benefits of EU membership. It could be the rock on which they perish.

Unfortunately, it could make the products Irish exporters sell into the UK more expensive, as tariffs are imposed.

One of the problems that exists is that we have been oversold the benefits we get from being in the EU. Sure, the State has gained enormously from a borderless EU and access to a market of close to 500m consumers.

The State had also gained — in the past — from financial supports and the structural funds which helped to improve our infrastructure.

Our membership has also allowed us to attract hundreds of companies allowing them access to the EU market.

But, yes, there have been downsides. Ireland has endured the imposition of sometimes asinine rules, regulations and laws and forced the State to enact laws that people may be morally or ethically opposed to. In Ireland, we’re a bit blasé about much of this. In the UK, they look at things differently.

Things such as the removal of roaming charges is to be welcomed but it should have happened a long time ago. The availability of mortgages between member states is something that is again being talked about, but should have happened a long time ago also.

And the European Central Bank’s role in Ireland’s economic crisis has never been properly addressed, notwithstanding Enda Kenny’s flight of fancies or trips down Walter Mitty Lane.

To many of us looking at the proposed free trade deal between the US and Europe, we appear to be compromising our own standards to play ball with the Americans.

Reducing car emissions standards to suit motoring companies is another case in point.

The fact that Germany, in particular, seems to believe that it is the leader of Europe, by taking upon itself to be the spokesperson for the entire EU on issues impacting on the rest, rather than speaking as an equal member, is also an issue concerning people.

Offering to change the access rules to secure support from Turkey is a clear case in point.

Over the coming months and years, we will have to keep our ears and eyes wide open to evaluate what’s good for Paddy. Change is definitely afoot.

Europe can mitigate that change, but only if it gets off its high horse, eliminates the largesse it bestows on its own acolytes and starts to listen to its member countries.

After all, bad and all as some of those member countries’ politicians may be, they were at least elected by their citizens.


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