Saturday 20 July 2019

Editorial: 'Ireland counts on Europe on Brexit'

Jean-Claude Juncker. Picture: PA
Jean-Claude Juncker. Picture: PA


In an article published last week, 30 of Europe's leading intellectuals, including the Irish author Colm Toibin, issued a rallying cry against the "false prophets" of populism which have placed Europe in peril. While these philosophers, writers and historians properly acknowledged Europe's 'mistakes, lapses, and occasional acts of cowardice', the publication served as a powerful reminder of Europe's liberal values often taken for granted but now under greatest threat since the 1930s. Although not referred to in the specific, the article alluded to Brexit with regret, starting that Europe has been "abandoned from across the Channel". We must fight for the "idea of Europe" the authors exhorted.

In an address to Dail Eireann last June, the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, also spoke in powerful terms about the European ideal, of how relations between Ireland and the United Kingdom "started to thaw" when both countries joined the then European Economic Community in 1973. "This is the European Union at its best, building bridges and working for peace and it shows what it means to be a member of our Union. It means agreeing to settle conflicts around a table rather than with arms. It means designing and abiding by rules to build trust and confidence between us. It means voluntarily pooling our sovereignty to make ourselves stronger. It means speaking with one voice in an increasingly volatile and unstable world and it means having the weight of 26 other partners united behind you when you need it the most. This is what Ireland can rely on, both today and in the future," he said.

Relations between Ireland and the UK have been greatly strained by the Brexit process. As both countries adopted positions to their own advantage, it was, perhaps, inevitable that such difficulties would begin to emerge. Such is the human way, and politics is nothing if not human. It will take great political leadership to manage these difficulties, particularly as the UK departure deadline comes into sharper focus, and forge a future in the interest of the peoples on these islands. We would urge political leaders in the UK and on both parts of the island of Ireland to redouble their efforts with a compatible outcome in mind. The interests of both islands, on their chosen paths, must be elevated above the political and personal grievances which have emerged. Political leaders come and go, but such constituent neighbours go on forever.

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In that spirit, it is also worth reminding the European Commission president of his other words when he was awarded the honour of addressing Dail Eireann last summer. As the clock ticks down to Brexit, we must prepare for every eventuality, including no deal, he said back then. But he also wanted to be clear: "Ireland will come first." There were those, he said, who thought the other 26 countries of the European Union would abandon Ireland at the last minute for a separate deal that suits them. "Those people have not understood what being part of our Union means," he said. "I count on you to ensure Europe will stay at the heart of Ireland and you can count on me that Ireland will stay at the heart of Europe." For the good of Ireland, and Europe, Jean-Claude Juncker will be held to those sentiments and words.

Sunday Independent

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