Former tánaiste Michael McDowell has warned that “elitist eurofederalists” are “firing up the boilers” for one more step towards a European state but that the debate is being ignored by Irish political parties and the media.
In a speech on Ireland’s future in Europe, Mr McDowell said discussion on the topic was led by “an orthodox magisterium” and that there was a need for centres of political thought on Europe that were “not all funded from federalist sources”.
"We have Jean Monnet professors, the Institute of International and European Affairs and heavily-funded NGOs to research the future of Europe," he said. Eurobarometer polls measured public opinion on "carefully selected" issues.
“There is a sense that there is an orthodox magisterium which ‘owns’ the debate on Europe and actively seeks to keep us safe from heresies and infidels,” he said.
“I have absolutely no objection to the existence of such an ‘establishment’. But we need diversity of thought.”
Mr McDowell, a senior counsel, was giving the annual Brian Lenihan Memorial Lecture at the Trinity College Dublin Law Student Colloquium on Saturday night.
He said Ireland was about to enter a three-month period of "inane debate" leading to "largely worthless" European Parliament elections in which candidates were being nominated by all parties chiefly because they were "household names".
“Between the candidates there will be no debate whatsoever on where they actually stand in relation to the very real emergence of proposals to create a federal Europe,” he added.
Mr McDowell said he considered himself to be pro-Europe and in favour of Ireland’s membership of the EU. “Our membership of the European Union is well settled,” he said.
However, he said anyone who challenged the “strongly federalist ambitions” of a small minority of very well-placed Irish people for the EU risked being described as Euro-sceptic. “We are not confronted by a binary choice – that you either support European federalism or you oppose the European Union.”
On the sources of federalist thinking, Mr McDowell highlighted proposals from the former German foreign minister Joschka Fischer; a recent article by businessman Declan Ganley and academic Brendan Simms; and a recent book by former Belgian prime minister Guy Verhofstadt and the Franco-German Green MEP Daniel Cohn-Bendit, which argued for the creation of a "post national Europe".
“In my personal view,” said Mr McDowell, “the future of Europe does not lie in the creation of a federal superpower, a United States of Europe, and although that outcome may be favoured by a minority of active Eurofederalists, I believe that the great majority of Irish and other European supporters of the European Union would be wary of creating such a dubious construct.”
He said that Irish discourse on Europe was reduced to “Punch and Judy debate” that showed a “staggering” poverty of imagination and analysis. “It also reflects an intellectual poverty among the Irish media that they draw labels from the highly polarised United Kingdom debate which is very much an ‘in, out’ debate,” he added.
“Intergovernmentalism is not a dirty word in my mind. The idea that member states continue to be the source of EU legitimacy is one with which I am very comfortable.”
The Brian Lenihan lecture, held annually in memory of the late minister for finance, has previously been given by Mr Justice Bryan McMahon and former attorney general Peter Sutherland.
Mr McDowell described Mr Lenihan as a "true friend" and an "upright patriot and statesman". The event was chaired by Mr Justice Frank Clarke of the Supreme Court.