Irish attitudes to neutrality 'narcissistic'

Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore shakes hands yesterday with former German minister Peer Steinbrück of the Social Democratic Party outside Iveagh House on St Stephen's Green, Dublin. A report by Notre Europe - Institut Delors, to mark the 40th anniversary of Ireland's EU accession, concludes the debt crisis has shifted Irish attitudes to European integration. photograph: brenda fitzsimons

Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore shakes hands yesterday with former German minister Peer Steinbrück of the Social Democratic Party outside Iveagh House on St Stephen's Green, Dublin. A report by Notre Europe - Institut Delors, to mark the 40th anniversary of Ireland's EU accession, concludes the debt crisis has shifted Irish attitudes to European integration. photograph: brenda fitzsimons

Mon, Feb 4, 2013, 00:00

Minister for European Affairs Lucinda Creighton has described Ireland’s position on military neutrality as “narcissistic” but conceded it would be difficult for Fine Gael to win public support for a major shift in defence policy.

A report on Ireland by one of France’s main EU think tanks, due to be published today, quotes Ms Creighton saying she is “very supportive” of Ireland joining common European defence but doesn’t believe her party could gain “political traction for that in the short term”.

“We have developed this perception of ourselves that to be neutral and to not engage in any sort of common defence is a badge of honour,” she said.

“That position on neutrality is quite narcissistic: we do not have to worry about its consequences, and we can parade it around the world, go to the United Nations and tell everyone how wonderful we are. But that has become part of Irish identity and it will be very hard to change.”

The report by Notre Europe – Institut Delors, published to mark the 40th anniversary of Ireland’s EU accession, concludes the debt crisis has shifted Irish attitudes to European integration, rekindling anxieties about the balance of power. The notion of EU membership giving Ireland a louder voice played a role in shaping pro-European attitudes, the report argues, but this feeling was “somewhat shattered” by the events leading to the EU-International Monetary Fund bailout.

Supervision vs sovereignty

“The tight supervision of domestic policies by outsiders has breathed new life into ‘sovereignty’ as a category of the Irish political debate,” it notes, with Germany and the European Central Bank common targets of Irish criticism.

There is a “widespread feeling”, including among Government officials, the ECB has applied double standards, treating Ireland more harshly than Spain or Italy.

In an overview of how Irish politics have evolved during the crisis, the report detects a failure by political parties to build a compelling narrative of the country’s future. “In Ireland, political leaders have yet to articulate a discourse that can convey a sense of cohesion and collective progress, now that the powerful narrative of the Celtic Tiger has deflated.

“Portrayals of Ireland as the ‘best-performing programme country’ are not of a nature to sway popular enthusiasm and faith in the future.”

Drawing on interviews with Ms Creighton, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, former MEP Pat Cox and former attorney general Peter Sutherland, the report finds staunch opposition to a single European corporate tax rate. It argues “there may well be a contradiction between Ireland’s integrationist stance on some of the euro area’s dossiers – eg, on banking union – and its reluctance to revise its position on corporate taxation.”

The study stresses the pragmatic rather than ideological character of Irish support for the EU. While there is no “deep-seated hatred of Europe in Ireland” as there is among certain parts of the British population, it argues, the penetration of Eurosceptic British media plays a role in shaping a segment of Irish public opinion on Europe.

In their own words

“If we were to allow the Élysée or somewhere else to rewrite Ireland’s tax contract, the risk of capital flight from Ireland would be very high.”  - Pat Cox

“It is quite disturbing how negative the views about Germany are. There is a sense that those of us who are in a bailout programme or in a precarious situation . . . are being harangued and almost beaten up by Germany. That is the perception propagated by our media on a daily basis, therefore it is really worrying.” - Lucinda Creighton

“There is no point in denying that societal views towards abortion are changing.” - Micheál Martin

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