PeopleIreland's 50 years in the EU

Frank McNally: What has the EU ever done for us?

Before cheap flights were ushered in by deregulation Paris and Prague were about as accessible for most Irish people as space is now

Frnak McNally montage for 50 years in EU

Ireland joined the EEC, as it then was, in January 1973. This is one of a series of articles exploring our evolving relationship with the European Union – and its past, present and future

Our own correspondent climbs every butter mountain and dredges every wine lake in search of 50 ways Ireland has benefited from half a century of European Community membership

1. The roads.

2. Metrication.


3. A taste for coffee.

4. Having Beethoven’s Ode to Joy for the EU anthem. No offence to Phil Coulter but as cross-border rallying songs go it’s a cut above Ireland’s Call.

5. The soft Border.

6. Cohesion funds.

7. Improving the lot of farmers through the Common Agricultural Policy.

8. Helping the same farmers sleep at night by mentally counting sheep for headage payments.

9. CAP-inspired psychic geography. Dreaming about the butter mountains, the milk and wine lakes, etc, inflamed our imaginations in the years before deregulated air travel allowed us to be actual tourists.

10. The Three Pillars.

11. The Four Freedoms.

12. The eight billions (as secured by Albert Reynolds).

13. An end to roaming charges.

14. A start to roaming generally. Before the cheap flights ushered in by deregulation, Paris and Prague were about as accessible for most Irish people as space is now.

15. Being able to do InterRail without a rucksack full of Italian lira and other foreign currencies.

16. The middle aisle in Aldi/Lidl. A cornucopia of consumer items we didn’t know we needed, brought to us by the single market.

17. Polish plumbers.

18. A welcome expansion of the Irish DNA pool.

19. Guaranteed cooling-off periods for consumers making purchases from door-to-door salesmen.

20. Guaranteed cooling-off periods for voters saying No in EU referendums.

21. Mrs Doyle-style democracy: always giving us a chance to reconsider our first answer – which, being Irish, we may not have meant. Ah, go on. You will, you will, you will. (See above)

22. Clearer labelling of food ingredients.

23. None of the food ingredients being chlorinated chicken.

24. Ending the marriage bar. (“The what, dad?” “The marriage bar, son. It was this thing we had back in the day whereby, under law, women had to give up work when they got married.” “God, it sounds medieval, dad – was that in the, like, 18th century or something?” “Eh, no, son. 1973.”)

25. Also outlawing wage discrimination against women. A radical idea enforced by a Fianna Fáil European commissioner (Paddy Hillery) against the protests of a Labour government minister (Michael O’Leary) that such things were all very well but we couldn’t afford them.

26. Speaking of Michael O’Learys: putting manners on the other one, occasionally.

27. Reducing the homelessness problem (for Pee “three houses” Flynn, anyway).

28. Greatly improved standards in English Premiership football due to (1) the Bosman Ruling and (2) compulsory pasta in player diets.

29. Ending a situation where the name of the Irish currency was also a synonym for a small, unbalanced boat or a bet on the horses.

30. Getting rid of those badly designed five-pound notes that disintegrated in your pocket.

31. Funding a major investigation into the possible existence of culture in Cork in 2005.

32. Erasmus students.

33. The Northern Ireland protocol.

34. Allowing consumers a wider colour range when buying diesel products.

35. Increasing business opportunities for entrepreneurs in depressed Border areas which were badly affected by the disappearance of customs differentials. (See above)

36. Not changing the shape of bananas, but causing British Conservative politicians to go bananas, providing endless entertainment for Irish TV viewers.

37. Transforming Luxembourg from a popular radio station into an actual country.

38. Giving us some idea where Luxembourg actually is.

39. Providing humane, Napoleonic-style exile for politicians who don’t quite fit in in the Dáil. If Elba (a seat in the Seanad) doesn’t work, there’s always St Helena (the European Parliament). They rarely come back from there.

40. Allowing Mick Wallace and Clare Daly to achieve their full potential, which was clearly wasted at home.

41. The cheerful spectacle of Luke “Ming” Flanagan addressing a European Parliament committee in his underpants.

42. The Waterford Apple Market.

43. Corncrakes making a comeback, finally.

44. Ensuring a vast improvement in Ireland’s European language skills. Mainly by sending us lots of workers from mainland Europe who speak their own languages fluently.

45. Granting temporary independence to the Cooley Peninsula during the 2001 foot-and-mouth crisis to prevent a ban on Irish beef products.

46. Multilingual ATMs with, post-Brexit, the Irish Tricolour as shorthand for “English”.

47. Turning the Franco-German conflict into suitable subject matter for a BBC sitcom (’Allo ‘Allo!) within 40 years of the second World War ending.

48. Finally convincing Sinn Féin that the EEC/EU was a good thing. It only took half a century.

49. Being the grown-ups in the room at a time when world politics was dominated by Donald Trump, Boris Johnson, Vladimir Putin, etc.

50. Making Ireland look good for the past 50 years, at least compared with the next-door neighbours.

Frank McNally

Frank McNally

Frank McNally is an Irish Times journalist and chief writer of An Irish Diary