Farm Ireland

Monday 22 January 2018

EU membership has transformed our country

Brilliant comedian: John Cleese.
Brilliant comedian: John Cleese.
Joe Barry

Joe Barry

Asking the question "What the EU has ever done for us?" is a bit like that famous moment in the Monty Python film The Life of Brian when a group of Judean revolutionaries, led by that brilliant comedian John Cleese (pictured), belligerently asked: "What have the Romans ever done for us".

There then followed a discussion covering the obvious benefits such as the wonderful Roman roads, the viaducts, the improvements in education, law and order and on and on. It was a very funny moment in what was one of the funniest films I have ever seen and it has clear parallels with what the British were asking themselves in recent weeks prior to their voting to leave the EU.

Like the spoof paramilitaries in the film, the British people were clearly not thinking too deeply. Apparently many of them voted to leave as a protest against immigration, without considering that were it not for immigrants, their health service - along with many of their hotels, restaurants, building sites and offices - would have to close down.

They also forgot the requirements of the food industry and the thousands of immigrant agricultural workers who are needed on a seasonal basis.

The same reality applies here in Ireland. Our hard-pressed health service would collapse if all the doctors, nurses and other staff who came from abroad to work here were to leave. Were all our immigrant workers to return to their home countries, our economy would immediately sink in to deep recession.

We need them and they have contributed hugely to our overall national well-being as well as bringing a welcome opening of our society and great cultural diversity. The vast majority of immigrants come here to work, not to sponge on our welfare system as many would have us believe.

We do that bit quite well ourselves without any help from abroad.

It is hard to find any economic activity here that is not now dependent on foreign workers for its success. Walk in to any hotel or café or building site and chat to the workers there if you don't believe me. Look at all the foreign people who keep our meat and food processing factories in business and who help staff our stud farms and racing stables. To say that they are taking jobs from the Irish is nonsense.

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The jobs are there for anyone who needs them and employers are simply looking for people who are enthusiastic and actually want to work. Your first job is simply a step on the career ladder and the better you are at it, the more you will earn.

I always liked the advice I heard given by a careers guidance officer to young people seeking a job. She told them to set out from the first day to make themselves indispensable. Once they have achieved that, then and only then can they look for higher wages and a step up the promotion ladder.

We all had to start somewhere and good people will always be in demand, whether it's serving in a restaurant, laying concrete, managing an office or working in the technology industry.

So what has the EU done for us? Well, like the Romans in the first century AD, it has given us a magnificent network of motorways that have made driving around Ireland a pleasure and has in most cases, halved travel times.

Remember what it used to be like driving from Dublin to say Sligo and crawling through Longford and then on through places like Jamestown and Drumsna?

Or from somewhere like Kilcock to Wexford, a trip I used to have to make weekly on bumpy roads which involved going through umpteen little towns instead of the current cruise all the way to Enniscorthy.

Last week I drove to Kinvara which took me, for the greater part of the route along the now superb Dublin/Galway road. No more driving bumper to bumper through Kinnegad, Moate or Kilbeggan. It was a clear run the whole way and took less than two hours. Later on, driving through the lovely Burren landscape, I was struck by just how much rural Ireland owes to our membership of the EU. The REPS scheme alone transformed our countryside for the better and was followed by the EU funded Burren LIFE scheme.

Membership of the EU has of course brought us lots of annoying rules and regulations but they are a small price to pay for the advancement of both rural and urban prosperity.

A dismal past where inequality reigned

I am old enough to recall Ireland before the EU and it was a dismal place with most farmers and other business people struggling to survive. Jobs were scarce and wages were low.

Manufacturing industry was virtually non-existent and things we now take for granted like owning a car were for the lucky few as was third level education.

Go back a few centuries to when Europe was split in to warring principalities and famines were frequent as armies laid waste to the countryside and hunger, disease and poverty were commonplace.

More recently, the First World War, the cause of which historians still argue over, was partly initiated by rows between a few royal families and idiotic politicians. It left 17 million people dead and 20 million wounded.

Unity and peace are essential if we are to progress. Improvements in health, education and social welfare are impossible when nations battle with each other either through war or by imposing trade barriers.

Membership of the EU has enabled our co-ops to develop in to multinational businesses selling our agricultural produce throughout the world. Just one example of what the Romans (The EU) have done for us.

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