Irish Examiner view: Give and take in relationship with Europe

EU has transformed Ireland for the good but fishers remind us that membership of a club can bring burdens as well as benefits
Irish Examiner view: Give and take in relationship with Europe

A section of the 575km Celtic Interconnector on board one of the vessels laying it on the sea bed between Youghal in Co Cork and Brittany, France. File picture

It is widely received, and almost universally accepted, wisdom that Ireland’s relationship with Europe has been a great boon to the development of the Republic since we joined on January 1, 1973.

Much more will be heard of this 50th anniversary in the month to come but the songs of praise have started early. European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen made a comforting address to the Houses of the Oireachtas proclaiming that Ireland was “at the heart of Europe” and that “Irish stubbornness” was needed to support Ukraine and break the reliance on Russian energy. 

Micheál Martin, perhaps with one eye on his next job after stepping down as Taoiseach 10 days from now, said: “Our EU engagement has been transformative for the country and the decision to join was among the most important taken in the history of the State.” 

While the €1bn subsea Celtic Interconnector between Ireland and France is welcome, fishers have legitimate concerns about an EU deal above the sea-bed. File picture
While the €1bn subsea Celtic Interconnector between Ireland and France is welcome, fishers have legitimate concerns about an EU deal above the sea-bed. File picture

That transformation, and Ireland’s now unbreakable links to the continent, were symbolically reinforced by the signing of the agreements for the Celtic Interconnector, literally plugging our island into mainland Europe’s power network, watched over with obvious satisfaction by Mr Martin and President Emanuel Macron. 

The €1.6bn 575km bi-directional underseas cable will enable us to receive and share electricity with our neighbours. It is the largest bilateral project between Ireland and France.

But, as Walt Disney’s Merlin says, for every up, there is a down, and for every square there is a round. Even good neighbours want to strike hard bargains sometimes and the current European love-in is not shared by all. 

Principal among the current dissenters might be the fishing crews of Castletownbere and elsewhere. More than one third of the country’s offshore fleet of 180 vessels have applied to the Government’s decommissioning scheme. 

Of those, 19 are reportedly from Castletownbere in Co Cork, a town heavily reliant on the fishing industry. The €60m scheme was established because of the Brexit Trade and Co-operation Agreement (TCA) which saw cuts agreed between the Government and the EU to the number of fish that Irish fishers could catch. 

The deal has made it harder for Irish fishers to earn a living and inflation has added to the pressures.

While the fleets of Russia, China, and Japan roam to factory farm the oceans Irish fishing families echo the disillusion and disappointment which can be heard in other locations such as Brittany and the United Kingdom... that their national governments are unprepared to stand up to the EU and fight for local rights to take more catch.

There was a philosophy, current around the time that Ireland became a member, that Europe is “a community of the regions”. Traditional nation states were viewed as too small for global competition but too big and remote for cultural identification and active citizenship. 

States were eroded from above by the EU and from below by regionalism. That has subsided in the intervening years but is not entirely dormant. 

The dying of the light for Irish fishing, and the reduction of its contribution to coastal communities, is a tangible reminder membership of a club can bring burdens as well as benefits.

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