A fine example to our neighbours (Part 1)


IB: What has the European experience meant for Ireland and what could it mean for Scotland?

MM: I think one of the most cathartic things in Irish history has been our joining of the European Union. In Europe we are a small country, one of the smaller players. Not only are we small in size, but when we went into Europe we went in as one of the poorer countries, hoping that joining this new collegial club would help kick-start our economy. Twenty-five years down the line we punch above our weight. We are the European success story.

Yes, we took substantial transfers, financial transfers, and used them well. But we didn't just use the transfers. I think that what marks Ireland out is the way in which the people got behind the notion of Europe. We all knew it was never just a matter of sitting back and taking transfers. You really had to engage with this process.

The cultural confidence of the country is extraordinary. I don't think it would have been possible 25 years ago to argue convincingly that when you opened up this economic market you also opened up a cultural showcase for your small country. But with hindsight we know that's exactly what did happen.

Psychologically, 25 years ago we were still fairly inward-looking but we had begun the process of looking outward, of disengagement from the sense of victimhood and martyrdom that had characterised so much of our thinking about ourselves and about the past. We'd invested well in education and that was about to come right for us. But the membership of the Union, the collegial nature of the relationships as they started to develop, we started to grow in confidence.

I suppose the best example has to be our relationship with Great Britain. Historically, that's just been so fraught. Historically, that's just been so complicated. All the issues to do with independence, with colonialism, with the small feeling oppressed by the larger and on the other side of that so many of our people only being able to find jobs, only able to find a way in life, by going to Great Britain. So with all those complexities, plus the on-going scourge of Northern Ireland, we began to see through Europe the emergence of a new set of relationships with the United Kingdom.

IB: Why is Britain more hesitant about the EU than Ireland?

MM: We were a small and, in some ways, rather sad country. We had had the cathartic experience, again, of the civil war, of the War of Independence. We had the long drain of emigration. I think when the EU came our way a critical mass of the Irish people realised intuitively that this was the way opportunity lay. Maybe that's the difference. We saw it as an opportunity to get out of the strait-jacket. The timing was right, the alliance of opportunity was right. We also worked it out for ourselves. To close yourself off from the world, to try and do things entirely on your own - it wasn't taking us on the journey we wanted.

IB: The Scottish view of the EU is not necessarily the British view. Could the things you say about a small country also apply to Scot- land?

MM: What was on offer to us in Europe was the opportunity to be an equal at the table. You were not being dragged to a table, you were not being pushed to a table, you were not being bullied to it. And when you got to the table you were not subject to the normal relationships that history, unfortunately, had dictated in the past: that big was better only because it was big. So there was the nature of the relationships around the table in Europe, the collegial nature of them - if you like, the vision Europe had. Frankly, I think maybe our history of imperialism, of colonisation, allowed us very quickly to embrace those values. PG: If I could ask you about changing relations within Britain and their relationship to changing attitudes between Ireland and Scotland.

How do you think those changes are affecting Irish-Scottish relations and perceptions?

MM: Something new is happening with devolution. In the past relationships between Ireland and the UK existed along what I call an Anglo-Irish axis, as opposed to a Scottish-Irish axis and a Welsh-Irish axis. With so much of our focus on the Anglo side, I think we probably did ignore, and probably to our cost, the development of relationships along those other axes. Now things are changing, the axes are changing, the perceptions are changing. There were things we could have done to keep freshening and refreshening those relationships which we probably, all of us, did not do because of the absorption with the Anglo-Irish axis.

Now things are changing, the axes are changing, the perceptions are changing. We have been given a remarkable opportunity to develop those axes now. I think it's a tremendous adventure for all of us. In a way I'm possibly more conscious of the pre-existence of the Scottish axis in particular. Growing up in Northern Ireland, it was actually hard to avoid it. I was very surprised when I came to work in Dublin first of the lack of consciousness here. A parallel: in Dublin you could meet loads of people who had never been to Donegal in their lives. But you can't go to Donegal without being aware of the axis with Scotland because it is and always has been part of the warp and weft of Donegal life. You can't go anywhere in Donegal without tripping over something to do with Scotland. Over the years the over-focusedness on relations with Westminster, that whole Anglo axis, has obscured the fleshing out of the shared cultural and historical experiences between Scotland and Ireland. I just think there's a marvellous opportunity to unpack all of that now.

PG: Hasn't there been a great historical amnesia about those experiences?

MM: Isn't it quite remarkable how there can be amnesia about huge pieces of history, and also how we can fail to know things about ourselves and about our own landscape. Growing up in Belfast, many of my neighbours routinely went to Scotland on holidays, they would visit relations on holidays. I myself visited Scotland. It's ironic that I'm going to open up the institute in Aberdeen because my very first holiday ever in Scotland was when I spent a hogmanay in Aberdeen. But when I was working in Belfast in the Institute of Professional Legal Studies at Queen's and we were rolling out our courses and looking for ideas, almost spontaneously we went to our colleagues in Scotland. One of the reasons for doing that, of course, was that it was the quickest way to get a very different perspective. Our friends in England shared our common law tradition; our friends in the republic shared our common law tradition. So we were going to hear things that were very familiar, but in Scotland we were going to hear something different because they had a civil law system which they guarded very, very jealously. And it's also a mainstream European tradition.