Positive EU role hard to underplay, says Martin


IT WOULD be “hard to underplay the positive effect that the European Union has had on Ireland and the positive potential that is still there to exploit”, the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin has said.

While acknowledging there were many things to criticise about the EU, he said: “I make no apology for being enthusiastic about much that has come about through European integration.”

He was giving his view to the Institute of International and European Affairs in Dublin yesterday in a paper on Christian Values and Irish Membership of the EU.

He recalled how during the recent dioxin scare involving Irish pork, it emerged that Irish beef made up 8 per cent of Italy’s beef market. It meant that sales of Irish beef to Italy were larger than sales of Irish beef in Ireland. “This success story of Irish beef, despite the protestations of many in the farming community, is in large part thanks to our membership of the European Union,” he said.

Referring to the EU’s role in conflict resolution, he said: “Take the affirmation, made also by Pope Benedict, that the EU has been responsible for generations of peace in Europe. I agree.” He also acknowledged the role of Nato in that achievement.

Addressing those who said it was “the style of prosperity created within the EU that has brought about a climate of materialism and rejection of Christian values,” he said he would respond that “taking huge sectors of the European population out of poverty and precariousness is an achievement about which the Christian can only rejoice”.

That such prosperity accompanied change in EU belief patterns “may be due to a lack of dynamism in the churches”, he said.

In the context of a second Lisbon referendum, he referred to the Government’s hope that binding protocols could be secured to guarantee respect for specific ethical values enshrined in Ireland’s Constitution. “It would be foolish to think that such protocols might not be challenged on the basis of other aspects of European law and philosophy, especially non–discrimination and equality norms,” he said.

He referred to the message of the Irish bishops before last year’s Lisbon referendum and their concern that “in a climate of legal positivism, attempts may well be made to use traditional language regarding human dignity in ways that are contrary to the traditional sense”. This was not unique to European law, he said.

“We should always remember that in Ireland abortion became legal in certain circumstances not through . . . Brussels but through an interpretation of the Constitution by an Irish court,” he said.

The only way to overcome this was for “public representatives to engage actively with a broad coalition of other like-minded governments and organisations, as well as European public opinion, to avoid such over-innovative interpretations and to curtail tendencies towards ‘competence creep’ [whereby areas of competence are gradually extended] by European institutions,” he said. But without protocols “the task of defending the values in question would be even less secure,” he said.

Europe also needed to examine its economic values, he said.

“It is useful to remind ourselves that there are very few who would say that the malpractice which is at the root of much of the current economic crisis was Brussels-driven, rather than homegrown. Brussels is not the problem, but it is recognised more and more as an essential part of the solution.”

Of last year’s Lisbon campaign, he said it was strange “that parties who supported the treaty found it difficult to say that together”. He recalled the bishops had condemned those who misled or gave incorrect advice in the campaign. That statement was “still as valid as it was then,” he said.