Ireland should step up EU role and back greater spending and powers, says Taoiseach

Irish access to vaccines would not have been possible without EU, says Martin

Taoiseach Micheál Martin at an EU summit in Brussels in May. Photograph: Olivier Hoslet, Pool via AP

Ireland should step up its role in the European Union, Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said, arguing that the turmoil of Brexit has strengthened the case for membership.

In an address to a Fianna Fáil party event on the future of Europe, Mr Martin expressed support for an increase of EU spending powers and a move away from the strict fiscal rules of the past.

“I believe that the union must be able to do more to support development and not just to focus on fiscal controls,” Mr Martin said, according to a copy of his speech.

“The regular zero-sum fight over budgets exposes the weakness of a union which people make huge demands of but which has a tiny budget in terms of the size of Europe’s economy. We need to stop the efforts to undermine successful programmes in order to provide funding for new programmes.”


He noted that Ireland was now a net contributor to the EU budget and had supported the development of a joint borrowing initiative to fund a massive Covid-19 stimulus programme.

“It is initiatives such as this that will deliver a union which supports countries and regions when they need it most and which learns the lessons of the failures which led to a significant worsening of the recession in much of Europe,” Mr Martin said.

The Taoiseach described the economic crisis triggered in 2007 and the departure of Britain as “traumatic” for the union. However, the case for Ireland’s place in the EU had been strengthened, he said, and it was now time for the country to assume a more active role.

“The argument for membership of the European Union is actually stronger today because of the experience of the last five years,” Mr Martin said.

“Over the years Ireland has often stepped back from many of the most charged debates, selectively picking moments on priority issues. At a moment of such urgency, and with stakes which are so high, we must be more active.

“I am absolutely determined that Ireland will not stand on the sidelines at this critical moment. There can be no doubt about where we stand – and the strength of our support for a union based on fundamental democratic values.”


The Taoiseach said he supported proposals to expand EU powers in the area of health, noting that a vaccine programme under which 70 per cent of people in the republic have had at least one dose and half are fully vaccinated, would not have been possible without the EU.

“In Ireland, we were able to get fair and equal access to vaccines which would have been impossible otherwise,” Mr Martin said. “Europe is the only vaccine manufacturer in the world which has exported major volumes to others.”

In the wake of escalating tensions in the EU over democratic backsliding in Poland and Hungary, Mr Martin said that the rule of law was a "basic requirement" of EU membership.

“You don’t get to join a community and then decide which rules you will and will not respect,” Mr Martin said.

Finally, he criticised MEPs who he said did not reflect the high support for EU membership reflected in opinion polls, and said they needed to be challenged.

“They often go to great lengths to attack the union, engaging in grotesque ‘whataboutery’ where they claim that Europe has no right to object to even the most appalling abuse of rights and democracy in the world,” Mr Martin said.

“They won’t even oppose the invasion and partition of another European country. These people don’t represent Ireland – they represent their own ideologies and their own obsessive anti-European opinions.”

Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O’Leary is Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times