Ireland + the EU: 50 years after Ireland voted to join, how is the relationship between the two?

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50 YEARS AGO, Ireland voted to join the EEC, or so the EU was called at the time. 

After facing more challenges in recent years than at any other time in its history, the EU seems to have a united front in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

In this post-Brexit union, it seems that Ireland is stepping up to the challenge in contributions and deepening its relationship with Europe, despite fears that the UK’s withdrawal would lead to a distancing of the State from the union.

So it seemed appropriate that for this anniversary, The Journal is turning its attention to the relationship between Ireland and the EU for this month’s topic on The Good Information Project. 

The 1972 referendum which proposed the joining of Ireland to the then-European Economic Community (EEC) resulted in the highest turnout for any referendum in Ireland to date. A record 70.88% of the electorate turned out to vote with Ireland joining on 1 January 1973. 83% voted in favour of joining.

In recent years, Ireland has turned from a net recipient to a net contributor. Up until 2013, Ireland had been receiving more funding than it was contributing to the EU. Since 2013, however, Ireland has come to be one of the highest contributors on a per capita basis. In 2018, Ireland’s contribution was the second-highest of all member states per head of population. 

In general, Irish people seem to be happier than most other member states in terms of optimism about the EU’s future. 

A 2022 Eurobarometer Report for Ireland showed that 88% of respondents were optimistic about the future of the EU. 71% said that they had a positive image of the EU, which was the highest among the member states, well above the EU average of 44%. 

81% of Irish participants said they were satisfied with how democracy works in the EU compared to the EU average of 56%.

However, Ireland seems to be an outlier more often than not in terms of its attitude towards the EU. For example, in a more general standard Eurobarometer survey just 32% of respondents in France said that they trust the EU compared to 63% of Irish respondents. 

This same report showed that more Irish participants trusted the EU (63%) than they trusted the Irish government (50%)

Since 1 January 2022, the Irish language has become an official and working language of the European Union meaning that all official documents must be translated into Irish. This also allows MEPs and other officials to address the parliament in Irish.

Laws and security 

Ireland has undergone immense changes, both socially and economically, over the past 50 years, many of which have been attributed to the state’s joining of the European Union.

Laws that have become the norm in Ireland such as those concerning employment and equality which protect workers’ rights began as EU directives. For example, the entitlement to at least four weeks of paid annual leave per year as well as maternity and parental leave protections are the result of EU laws.

Efforts to reduce emissions and become carbon neutral are also at the hands of the EU.

A standard Eurobarometer survey conducted between January and February showed that the most important issue facing the EU at that time was climate change (26%).

Because of its membership, Ireland has targets in place to reduce emissions.

In 2019, two of Ireland’s seats at the European Parliament were won by members of the Green Party, up from zero in 2014. This marked a shift from the general population and younger voters toward the importance of fighting climate change.

Despite being carried out before the invasion of Ukraine, the survey also showed that 77% of Europeans were in favour of a common defence and security policy among member states. 

Ireland has long retained its status as a neutral state; however, the debate has resurfaced in recent months with the invasion of Ukraine. In an unprecedented move, the EU announced that it would fund the purchase of weapons and other equipment for Ukraine. 

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said that Ireland’s contribution would go towards “non-lethal” elements of the package and would not finance weapons. Taoiseach Michael Martin said it would be unthinkable for the EU not to send arms to Ukraine.

This month, The Good Information Project is looking at the EU and its relationship with Ireland, how the EU works and exploring in what ways our membership is valuable to Irish people while bringing facts and information to help make the most out of being a part of a shared economic and cultural union.

What would an ideal European Union look like? And what would it take to make it a reality?

Over the coming weeks, we’ll be examining all of this to see how the EU is working for Ireland. 

We want to hear from you

The Journal launched The Good Information Project with the goal of enlisting readers to take a deep dive with us into key issues impacting Ireland right now.

You can keep up to date by signing up to The Good Information Project newsletter in the box below. If you want to join the discussion, ask questions or share your ideas on this or other topics, you can find our Facebook group here or contact us directly via WhatsApp.

This work is also co-funded by Journal Media and a grant programme from the European Parliament. Any opinions or conclusions expressed in this work are the author’s own. The European Parliament has no involvement in nor responsibility for the editorial content published by the project. For more information, see here 

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