Constant fear on Ireland's standing within Europe


A constant fear that the EEC might overlook Ireland in its expansion plans characterised official correspondence on the Community in the mid-1960s.

Department of Foreign Affairs papers from the period reveal a deep feeling of vulnerability within the Government following the sudden suspension of British-EEC negotiations in January 1963.

In private correspondence dating from 1966, the Secretary of the Department of Finance, Mr T.K. Whitaker, stressed the need "to protect our position in the EEC" and "to ensure that the attention of the six governments is directed to our continuing interest in membership of the Community."

He also stressed the need "to put in train the necessary `homework' in preparation for the revival of our application, bearing in mind that if the negotiations with Britain are resumed, it is very likely that they will be completed within a short time."

The Secretary of the Department of External Affairs, Mr Hugh McCann, also expressed a desire to strengthen contacts with member-states, and agreed to a plan to increase the number of visits by European dignitaries to Ireland.

If the Government felt weakened after the suspension of UK-EEC talks, however, it insisted on putting on a brave face. Correspondence within the Department of External Affairs stressed the need to be positive about progress being made.

Writing in February 1965 following complaints that misrepresentations of the Government's position had been given to the press, the assistant Secretary of the Department, Dr O'Sullivan, said: "We must expect some continuance of this tendency to exaggerate short-term possibilities for us in the Common Market. Apart from other considerations, certain influences here will follow this course to keep the Common Market alive in the public mind."

The prevailing sensitivity about Ireland's standing within Europe was exemplified by an incident in July 1963 when the former German Foreign Minister, Dr von Brentano, omitted to mention Ireland among the list of countries Germany would like to see in the Common Market. The "slip" resulted in a flurry of correspondence between the Department and the Irish Embassy in Bonn.

Initially, it was thought Dr von Brentano "might be nettled" if the matter was raised but, after he neglected to mention Ireland on a second occasion when listing Britain, Denmark and Norway as future members, approaches were made to both him and the German government.

Ambassador B. Gallagher was subsequently assured by a senior German foreign office official that the omission was entirely accidental and that "Britain had to come in as a full member because she was too important and powerful and Ireland and Britain naturally went together; `it is all the British Isles anyway'."

The ambassador remarked the incident showed "Ireland bulks much less largely in the picture for Continental Europeans than do the Scandinavian countries; a fact of life we must learn to live with."

Other Department papers show that the Taoiseach, Mr Lemass, floated the idea of having the island of Ireland treated as a single region by the EEC. According to internal documents, the Taoiseach asked in November 1962 whether "it would be possible to work towards some arrangement by which, because of the identity of the development problems arising in the two areas, the 26 Counties and the Six Counties would be dealt with as one `region' . . ."

The proposal followed the rejection of a previous suggestion from the Taoiseach that the Government might try to seek to establish an All-Ireland free-trade area under the auspices of the EEC, similar to that in operation in Germany.

The Secretary of the Department of External Affairs, Mr Con Cremin, said it would be very difficult to obtain such an arrangement, pointing out that Germany differed in that member-states had accepted that its reunification was desirable.

Explaining the difficulty, he said: "In the first place, none of the member-states of the Community has formally accepted Article 2 of our Constitution. In the second place, none of them has formally committed itself to the proposition that the two parts of the country should be united. Finally, trade between the two parts of the country has not, of course, hitherto since 1922 been treated as `internal trade'."

He added that the difficulty would be very much greater if Britain were to be involved in the negotiations.