As we stand helplessly on the brink of calamity for our nearest neighbour and collateral damage for us, let’s face some home truths. We need the EU.
We need their support, their protection and their friendship. Countries need allies. Small countries need them even more than big countries.
We are a tiny country and the EU is the best ally on offer; better than a third country UK and better than the US.
We need a currency with which to trade with the rest of the world. The basic choice comes down to the euro or sterling. Which do you want now?
So we have to join some dots here, no matter how painful it is. We needed the bailout. We needed the euro to survive. We needed to stay in it. We needed to stay friends with Europe.
We were right to play by the EU’s rules at the time of the crash. As a small, open, trading economy, we never had the luxury of making enemies of the EU 27.
We are now nearly back to full employment and our population will reach pre-Famine levels within 30 years. In Brexit, we are facing a massive challenge to our economy, and according to the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, also to our sovereignty, but we are doing it with France, Germany and the rest of the EU behind us.
It is important to join these dots because misguided, left-wing rhetoric fed Brexit as well as toxic, right-wing rhetoric and we must counter them both. You only have to consider some of Jeremy Corbyn’s mouthings about the EU to understand this.
He told the New Statesman in 2015:
“Taken slightly historically, the turning point in the EU was actually the Single European Act, the Thatcher-Maastricht era stuff, which was turning the EU into very much a market system.
Setting up an independent European Central Bank which then promotes the euro, and I think the sheer brutality of the way they’ve treated Greece, makes me question an awful lot.
I abstained from voting, for the first and hopefully last time in my life, on the Maastricht Treaty which ushered in the euro, because no-one had explained its implications to us. There is a democratic deficit in Europe. The establishment of the euro was premature and ill-thought-out.
I’m glad we have it now, however, because it is an international currency with which we can trade with the world. I accept it means EU-wide governance of our banks and our economies and will ultimately require greater harmonisation between our states.
I don’t accept we need tax harmonisation. We do need strategies to compensate for our peripherality, just as US states set their own domestic taxes.
I do accept we need greater political integration and fundamentally, I am a federalist. I don’t accept it’s impossible to believe in EU integration from a left-wing position.
It was the European Commission who ordered Apple to repay €13bn in avoided corporation tax.
It is because of the best data protection regulations in the world, the EU’s GDPR, that our Data Protection Commission has the tools to investigate Facebook, Apple, Twitter and Linkedin for data protection violations.
The EU has the best environmental regulation in the world and greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets which are not ambitious enough but still the most ambitious there are.
Without EU regulation and the threat of its fines this environmentally delinquent country would have no chance of protecting its rivers, coasts, bogs and woodland or of ever committing seriously to emissions reduction.
Combating climate change is enough reason on its own to believe in a more integrated Europe. This planet needs strong, co-ordinated international co-operation or we will not survive on it.
Against these facts is pitched a left-wing narrative on the EU which is not grown-up.
At the time of the EU/IMF bailout deal for this country, the dominant left-wing narrative was that we were victims of wicked European “governing elites”.
The Irish Times journalist Fintan O’Toole, who was master of ceremonies at the ICTU march against the bailout in November 2010, wrote that the purpose of the deal was “not to help but to shore up the euro and to ensure that the European banks get their money back”.
He added: “The EU which prides itself on spreading democratic values throughout the world will have undermined them in one of its own members.”
He later made the argument that Ireland was, in fact, a net donor to the EU since it had been forced to save its own banks to spare rich Germans from losses:
A transfer from the citizens of an economically hard-pressed Ireland to the relatively wealthy European (in particular, German) taxpayers
This is the same Germany which is now standing by Ireland, to our general relief.
There’s no denying that euro membership has been incredibly difficult for some of its users, including ourselves, particularly as the measures to test and support euro economies were not in place until after the crash.
They are now, to some degree, and the programme countries have learned lessons and made reforms which are ultimately leading to greater EU integration.
Politically, governments in programme countries faced the additional problem of the fact that few of us had any understanding of what euro membership meant because it was not spelled out for us before we voted on it or in the 16 years between then and the crash. The UK stayed out of the euro and then watched the crisis from the gallery.
They do not understand the currency’s regulations or have any reason to understand its benefits. While right-wingers fomented fears of feckless “wops”, left-wingers saw Germany hammering “Little Greece”, a country which became the propaganda tool that “Little Belgium” was at the onset of the first world war.
The then finance minister of Greece, Yannis Varoufakis, revved around on his motorbike, the poster-child of an infantile vision of left-wing politics.
This was a narrative which wholly ignored the realities of euro membership which means that Greece’s problems are our problems; their banks are our banks.
Greece was not helped by the fact that its euro membership application contained falsified figures. However, even a Syriza government recognised eventually that the least-worst option was to meet EU conditions.
This policy can be said to have fully succeeded when, if ever, Greece’s standard of living approximates to the EU norm. Now that’s what I call a left-wing agenda.
Ireland will never persuade UK right-wingers of anything but by fighting for a socially and environmentally progressive EU from within perhaps we can show its left-wingers what it means to be citizens of Europe.