Assess the impact of Europeanisation on politics in the Republic of Ireland

Since the accession of the Irish Republic to the European Economic Community in 1973 there has been a continuous process of Europeanisation occurring throughout the Irish polity. The extent of Europeanisation has been governed in some cases by the need to extend or create new political structures and institutions in order to accommodate the expansion of the powers and consequent bureaucracy which these developments inevitably create. In some respects this has enabled the E. U. ethos (or elements of it) to reach deep into sections of Irish society.

The overt devotion to European unity exhibited by the sections of the population Desmond Fennell refers to as the Dublin oriented ‘nice people’ and the endorsement for more straightforward economic reasons by the rural traditionalist ‘rednecks’ 1 of what has latterly become the European Union (E. U. ), has culminated in the enthusiastic acceptance by the Irish electorate in general of the single European Act and the far reaching provisions of the Maastricht Treaty.

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Beneath the imperatives of economics and the dictates of fashion Terry Stewart believes that there lurks ‘… desire among Irish people to be part of the movement towards European integration. ‘ 2 The extra tiers of government and judiciary which the E. U. (and the European Court of Human Rights) has provided and the shared sovereignty that now exists between Europe and the Irish Republic has opened up whole new avenues for change and modernisation by pressure groups in such areas as cultural development, the status of women in Irish society and social change. The preoccupation of Irish governments with Europe has been of a predominantly economic nature since Ireland’s first application for E. E. C. membership in 1962. Richard Kearney asserts that the ‘… almost exclusive emphasis on the economic dimension… ‘ 3 has dogged Irish perceptions of the E. U. right up to the present day. The corollary implicit in the abandonment of autarkic nationalism: that political independence would also be compromised was ignored by most Irish politicians at the time.

Aodogan O’Rahilly, a contemporary autarkic nationalist of the Lemass era put it succinctly from his own republican perspective: ‘Our application to join the E. E. C. can be aptly compared with the proposal to pass the Act of Union. 4 To a great degree the exclusive ideology of New Nationalism (now largely archaic and redundant) has been replaced by an inclusive European identity untainted by the old slur of West Britonism and fostered assiduously by those classes in Irish society once tagged as the residual rump of Redmondite Ireland. Even the Irish Labour Party, though the only major Irish political group initially opposed to membership of the E. U. – due mainly to loss of sovereignty affecting neutrality etc. , has latterly become an enthusiastic supporter of further integration into Europe.

The paradigm view of representative politicians in the Republic is that Ireland cannot survive alone in what is fast becoming a highly integrated global economic system. During the Dail debate on The Single European Act (S. E. A. ), the Labour leader Dick Spring admitted as much when he spoke of unemployment rates reaching 20% and 50,000 people emigrating each year – figures which resonate with the earlier crisis of Fianna Fail’s autarkic hegemony in the early nineteen fifties. Spring, in R. Kearney’s words, argued that: ‘… our nation does not at present have the wealth, markets or opportunities to survive on its own. 5 He did not allude however, to a time when these negative criteria might be reversed.

On the contrary, it is the accepted paradigm in Irish political circles that the E. U. is the economic saviour of a country otherwise doomed to virtual extinction on the periphery. Another more pragmatic attraction for Labour is the dominant position of the socialist grouping in the European Parliament of which it is a member. As more power accrues to the centre, Labour hopes to use this connection to influence legislation regarding Ireland. Conversely, right-wing and conservative elements in Irish society have begun to mobilise opposition to E. U. engendered liberal legislation as the full implications of membership slowly dawn on pressure groups. From a constitutional perspective Europeanisation has radically shifted the paramount position of de Valera’s 1937 Bunreacht na hEireann.

Basil Chubb believes that the series of E. U. treaties culminating in Maastricht have in effect become the second Irish constitution; or an ‘external constitution’ as Brigid Laffan would have it. 6 This has led inevitably to the challenging of indigenous laws and basic tenets of the Irish Constitution in the European Court of Human Rights and through direct E. U. legislation which contravenes indigenous law. The adoption of S. E. A. itself resulted in a referendum as it required an amendment to the Irish Constitution following a successful Supreme Court challenge by a private citizen. The Court decided that part of the S. E. A. ‘… represented a surrender of sovereignty and exceeded the normal power of governments. ‘ 7 The amendment was passed by a large majority of the electorate in 1987, so dispensing with one of the basic tenets and shibboleths of Irish nationalism – the innate sovereignty of the Irish people.

Shared sovereignty is better than exclusive national sovereignty which has little basis in political reality. The E. U. can now enact laws that apply directly to Irish citizens without any recourse to the Oireachtas. Though the argument can be posited that Ireland constitutes 1% of the E. U. population – yet it is generously afforded 3% of the seats in the European Parliament and a 1/12 share of the Council of Ministers 8 – Bridgit Laffan asserts that up to the late 1980’s ‘… the E. C. was largely irrelevant… ‘ 9 to the mass of the population.

Little consideration is given to the growing alienation felt by many in the Irish electorate to Europe and exemplified by the extremely low turnout in the recent elections to the European Parliament. Already belaboured by an extremely centralised government and bureaucracy in Dublin, perceived by many as distant and uncaring; and a weak local government apparatus which ‘… is less powerful and provides less services… than in most other European countries. ‘ 10; the Irish polity has not warmed appreciably to a remote new tier of government in Brussels.

The popular perception in Ireland is that a new link has been added to the political gravy train. The willingness of Irish politicians to embrace the European ideal could be traced to the post-colonialist theories propounded by Frantz Fanon and Ashis Nandi. Though, since independence the new ruling elite have mimicked the political institutions and procedures of the British polity to a great extent; it is only since Ireland’s accession to the European stage that the paucity of Irish nationalism’s socio-political vision and development has been exposed and accepted by mainstream politicians.

Richard Kearney believes that following the abandonment of autarkic nationalism ‘Ireland is… now devoid of any guiding ideology. ‘ 11 Perhaps Paddy Kavanagh’s dictum that: ‘Money talks everywhere but only money seems to talk in Ireland. ‘ 12 is as close to a replacement ideology as the Europeanised Irish ruling elite have managed so far. Subsidiarity offers a route to developing a genuine political role for peripheral communities in the E. C. Michael D. Higgins T. D. stated in a 1987 speech that: ‘A true regional policy could be one instrument for releasing the great human potential that socialist society promises. 13 But the likelihood of this strategy for empowerment being adopted by one of the most centralised and conservative governments in Europe is remote at present, especially while the pure economic imperative reigns supreme in Leinster House.

T. J. Barrington argues that Irish political leaders ‘… have much to learn from our European partners in how to give the people the opportunities to make their own decisions, to exercise responsibility, and, to an increasing extent, to run their own affairs. 14 The exclusive nature of the ruling elite in the Republic of Ireland precludes any voluntary movement towards subsidiarity and there has been a marked reluctance to implement E. U. perogatives on regional funding – not least because suitable regional political structures do not exist as yet.

Europeanisation has found a warm welcome in the achieving and upwardly mobile sections of Irish society who are no longer stymied by the provincialism and narrow horizons which characterised the pre-E. E. C. commercial, industrial, bureaucratic and political sectors. The E. U. ffers a range of expanded and enhanced opportunities to these elite sectors of the Irish polity who have consequently ‘… made a substantial impact on all the Community institutions. ‘ 15 The Republic has at last found a substitute for the British Empire and the lost opportunities for advancement it ditched seventy years ago. Its gifted and privileged scions can display their talents with neither the threat of nationalist recrimination for deserting the Old Country – nor the stigma of collaborating with the Old Enemy.

Tom Garvin has recently claimed that global links – especially those with the E. U. – ‘… have cosmopolitanised Ireland to an extraordinary extent… ‘ 16 This is undoubtedly true for the more sophisticated, wealthy and urbanised tiers of society. Yet the dominant culture in Ireland is anglo-american – something which membership of the E. U. was supposed to ameliorate. But how Europeanised are the thousands of immigrants who have followed the familiar trails to Britain or the United States (often illegally)? The Irish government’s efforts to increase proficiency in European languages has been paltry to say the least.

A huge jobs market with a dwindling working population exists on the European Continent: one to which the Irish have unrestricted access if the linguistic barriers were tackled successfully. This sort of two-way population movement and social interaction on a grand scale would do more for real Europeanisation in Ireland than the opportunities largely confined to the elite that now passes for integration. What the E. U. offers the bulk of the Irish polity is the promise of improved economic status through increased investment, agricultural subsidy and infrastructural development.

The abiding interest for all sections of Irish society is the size of the E. U. subvention negotiated by the government and elements of a dependency culture have already manifested itself in the disputes following the last subvention debacle. From the beginning of moves toward European integration economic considerations were paramount to Irish governments of either hue and Terry Stewart asserts that this approach gave the Irish public ‘… a limited view of what the Community is about. 17 The primacy given to agriculture and the benefits of the Common Agricultural Policy have dominated the economic debate in Ireland to the extent that the nations second largest natural resource was bartered and wasted for the sake of the strong agricultural lobby.

This obsession with economic benefits has been compounded by the attitude of the Irish media who have generally given a localist and provincial perspective to their coverage of E. U. affairs. Richard Kearney is more forthright in his condemnation of the dependency culture being fostered in all sections of Irish society by a negative acquisitive attitude to the E. U. nculcated principally by the Irish government that portrays it as ‘… a supermarket for free give-aways… ‘ 18 There seems to be a direct correlation between Ireland’s predominant economic interests in Europe and its assimilation of a spurious European identity over the others on offer. As Liam O’Dowd states of the Irish Republic: ‘… it remains among the thirty wealthiest countries in the world. ‘ 19 The pragmatic response of the Irish government has been to tie itself as closely as possible to a power block it presumes can maintain or enhance that position primarily, without serious recourse to the socio-political fall-out.

Brigid Laffan points towards the disinterest shown by political representatives who are content once the money rolls in: ‘… the standard of debate on E. C. issues is poor; very few deputies specialise in a policy area unless they have responsibility as spokesmen. ‘ 20 Central tenets of autarkic nationalism such as the policy of neutrality are eschewed as ‘… an increasing number of the decisions that matter have come to be taken at E. C. level. ‘ 21 The recent referenda on divorce and abortion in the Republic has demonstrated that large sections of the Irish polity have a distinct ‘… isregard for minority rights… ‘

European institutions, both E. U. and otherwise have been utilised by individuals and Irish pressure groups in attempts to modernise and liberalise elements of the Constitution. Neil Collins et al maintain that: ‘ Values in Ireland are frequently different from those elsewhere in Europe. ‘ 23 Decisions by the European Court of Human Rights have resulted in forcing the Dail to legislate for the provision of legal aid in civil cases. In 1988 David Norris appealed to the same court claiming his rights were infringed by Irish criminal law regarding homosexuality.

This has recently resulted in the Dail passing one of the most liberal homosexuality laws now extant in Europe. The protracted divorce debate is leading to another referendum, though there is evidence to show the possibility of a conservative backlash occurring in this case, the probability is that some form of limited divorce procedure will be agreed. The X Case has led to further amendments to the Irish constitution regarding the right to seek an abortion and in the opinion of Dennis Kennedy has seriously questioned the efficacy of the 1937 constitution due to the nature of its ‘… etailed prohibitions and regulations… ‘ 24 Continued challenges to Irish law will undoubtedly Europeanise Irish social attitudes over a long period of time, but in the short term the rights and interests of controversial minorities and women’s issues such as abortion are beginning to be addressed by recourse to European institutions: this could polarise Irish opinion in the short term regarding the benefits of Europeanisation given the conservative nature of Irish society.

The 44. 2 % turn-out for the recent European Parliament elections in the Republic, ‘… he lowest in the history of the European elections… ‘ 25 points conversely to a great deal of apathy and disinterest among the electorate regarding the efficacy and relevance of the European Parliament; or more appropriately, the minuscule Irish representation in Strasbourg. Tom Kitt, the Irish Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, alluding to the effort to sell Europe to the electorate, commented on its inevitable failure: ‘… if the European message is not a worthwhile one which addresses key contemporary concerns.

Many politicians and bureaucrats have realised that the supranationalism of the E. U. will lead inevitably to economic, political and monetary union – processes inherent to the Europeanisation of the Republic of Ireland – by voting with their feet and decamping to the European centres of power: there they can strut their hour upon a greater stage. If the economic bubble bursts and the E. U. subvention diminishes appreciably the Irish people, or those who purport to represent it, could opt again for exclusive nationalism.

The way to ensure popular Europeanisation, especially in the peripheral regions, is through localised participation and empowerment through the principle of subsidiarity. Robin Wilson defines subsidiarity as: ‘… the literal principle that power should be devolved to the lowest level, including from the state to the region. ‘ He goes on to assert that subsidiarity is the only way to Europeanise the whole Irish polity: ‘ It is surely only thus that the grassroots alienation which the Germans call Politikverderossenheit (frustration with all politics) can be addressed. ‘