State's role on world stage depends on Yes to Lisbon


People should vote Yes if they want Ireland to continue to have international standing and influence, writes BRIAN COWEN

A NUMBER of important events took place recently that show how Irish interests are increasingly bound up in the international, indeed global, environment.

Last Thursday, G20 countries met in Pittsburg, USA, to discuss the global economy and financial markets. Ireland contributes to this gathering through our membership of the European Union, which has adopted a common stance on the key issues. Indeed, just one week before the Pittsburg summit, I and my fellow European heads of state and government met to agree a coherent, united position.

Earlier last week, I attended the United Nations summit in New York, which UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon had convened in pursuit of global political momentum ahead of the crucial Copenhagen summit on tackling climate change, in December. Ensuring a global response to climate change is perhaps the greatest challenge of the 21st century and one where the EU, including Ireland, is taking the lead.

The previous weekend, we held the Global Irish Economic Forum at Farmleigh, when 180 members of the Irish diaspora gathered to give their views and advice on how to improve Ireland’s economic performance.

Taken together, these events illustrate just how globalised our interests have become. On the one hand, more than ever the events and decisions that affect our wellbeing and our future are being taken in arenas beyond our own shores.

If we wish to continue to influence our economic and social environment we must increasingly engage internationally. That can be a challenge for a small nation but, fortunately, we have a strong track record: a record that I believe we should build upon.

At the same time, our own people are an increasingly globalised race. While there are barely six million people on this island, the numbers around the globe who claim Irish ancestry or association may count anything up to 100 million. The event at Farmleigh sought to harness the experience and advice of just a tiny fraction of them.

In my view, seeking to exert influence on international and global policy making, while making greater use of the goodwill and expertise of the wider Irish diaspora, will be complementary elements of Ireland’s future strategy for economic, social and environmental development.

The event at Farmleigh demonstrated many of the great qualities of the Irish people – a love of their country or ancestral home, willingness to share experiences and to explore new ideas, and sensitivity to the needs and concerns of others.

These qualities have served us well both at home and internationally where the Irish, rightly, are seen as effective negotiators, be that in pursuit of business, political and diplomatic matters or broader civil affairs. We are determined but fair, persuasive but not threatening. We are seen as honest brokers, who do not ignore the needs of others in seeking to have our own met.

Our demeanour is particularly relevant to our sense of place in the European Union. Some of the arguments advanced in the debate on the Lisbon Treaty might lead one to think that Ireland had somehow, by accident, become a member of someone else’s club, having to abide by someone else’s rules. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Ireland planned carefully for membership of what we now know as the European Union. We joined 36 years ago and have been a fully fledged and equal member ever since, participating fully in the development and implementation of EU policy and periodic adjustment of the EU’s decision-making and administrative rules. The union is not some distant entity with which we have a semi-detached “relationship”. It is our club, its policies are our policies, and its rules are our rules as much as they belong to any other member states.

Nowhere is this more evident than with the package of adjustments to the EU’s rules put forward in the Lisbon Treaty. The original package was negotiated, on Ireland’s watch, during our EU presidency in 2004. The text of the treaty, finalised in 2007, was negotiated by all member states, including Ireland. And the package of additional guarantees agreed by the European Council this year responds exclusively to Irish concerns.

The adjustments in the treaty are considered necessary in order to make the EU function more effectively, including internationally. They take account of Irish priorities and concerns. We now need them to be implemented, so that we can get on with the shaping of policies and decisions that will impact on the lives and wellbeing of our present and future generations. It is worth recalling that, at the Farmleigh event, participants repeatedly stressed the need to ratify the treaty.

In this modern era important decisions can seem to be far removed from the citizen. But our referendum on the treaty is one opportunity for the people to have a direct say.

It is an opportunity to secure valuable improvements to the EU rulebook, but also to give a clear signal about how Ireland conducts itself in the increasingly crucial international arena.

Above all, it is an opportunity to show that we want to advance our position, to build alliances and to influence outcomes on the major international issues of the day.

I believe that the Irish people should, and will, maximise this opportunity by voting Yes tomorrow to the Lisbon Treaty.

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