We may have stepped off, but the bus to Europe won’t stop

AS the ‘No-No’ tribes disperse to their hugely diverse comfort zones after the nine-day booze-up to which they were electorally entitled, those of us who are committed to the literally essential strategy of Ireland in Europe must regroup.

The best place for this is in European Movement Ireland which for the past half century provided a non-partisan, cross-sectoral forum for strategic debate.

There is no soother. No pick-me-up. We need to analyse clearly the choices and scenarios from which we may or may not be able to choose.

And make sure we have got our basic data accurate, not later than the resumption of the political year in September.

There is no serious doubting the understandable confusion and nervousness which led a significant number of Irish people (and an unambiguous majority of those who voted) to vote no.

However, the calm and courteous unanimity with which our other European partners have reacted shows in the most clinical (and frightening) way that the real ‘disconnect’ is not between a tiny, mysterious, unaccountable Brussels elite and the alienated European masses, but between the variegated Irish (and broader European) No-Nos and the real world.

The specific document known as the Lisbon Treaty is now almost certainly a ‘dead treaty walking’.

However, the proposals for reform of the EU which it contained have not only survived seven years of intense and determined dissection and sheer battering in public. They are alive and kicking, and will simply reappear under a new name.

They are supported (and no longer seriously debated) by 20-plus member governments which have either emerged from very recent elections — or will face elections in the near future.

And this without more than a few squeaks of protest with the, for us, hugely important exception of Britain.

From the very start — in the days of the Council of Europe, the European Coal and Steel Community, NATO and the Warsaw Pact — the European project has been multi-speed and multi-tiered. As it is today and will be after the tiny glitch of the Irish Friday 13th. The European project has always been ‘federal’.

Not in the British Tory perversion of the word (which even our Irish yes people tamely adopted). But as federal is understood in North America, mainland Europe and even the British Commonwealth, recognising the validity of national or regional entities — no matter how numerically small.

Which is why, with brutal irony, a margin of 56,000 Irish voters has been able to throw us off the bus.

Anybody who has followed the current proposals from their inception knows that the requirement for the unanimity of 27 diverse member states has meant there was almost a betting certainty that such unanimity might not be reached.

The only mild shock was that it was the Irish who flung in the spanner.

The boys and girls in ‘Brussels’ read their gentle reactions from prepared ‘no’ scenario scripts. Drafted not days ago but months — if not years — ago. Why was ‘enhanced co-operation’ on the table as far back as Nice?

The bus will be leaving on schedule. Not in a few lazy or meditative years’ time. Next year.

Can we clamber back on? Or will we have to wait in the wind and the rain for the next bus while the traffic of world history roars by. And while the anonymous accountants who control inward investment and ‘strategic relocations’ far, far away, do their sums.

During the Irish EU presidency of 2004, no matter what the domestic antics of our Government, I felt that in circumstances that the most visionary of our patriot dead could not have possibly envisaged (almost an apotheosis), the moment had come to write Robert Emmet’s epitaph.

What we have done now is to collapse 50 years of a national strategy for Irish sovereignty in the real world of the 21st century.

Does the leadership exist to pick ourselves up and get back into the game?

Or is the epitaph now to be written that of Ireland?

Maurice O’Connell



Co Kerry

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Wednesday, September 15, 2021

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