Ireland needs to mobilise and build EU alliances, says Catherine Day

Need for more young Irish people to get involved in key European institutions

Catherine Day: worried about falling number of Irish people working at the heart of the European Union. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Catherine Day: worried about falling number of Irish people working at the heart of the European Union. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

The falling number of Irish people working at the heart of the European Union is a “worry”, a special adviser to European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker has said.

Irish woman Catherine Day, formerly the first female secretary general of the EU, has also cautioned Europe’s “huge solidarity” with Ireland during the Brexit fallout “will be hard to maintain in more normal times”.

Ms Day said the Government needed a “step change” in mobilising politicians and diplomats to travel regularly to European Union countries to build up new relationships.

“We have to reach out beyond the English-speaking world to our continental partners , and that means travelling to them, and it means keeping in touch in a regular basis, not just when we have a problem,” she said.

“I think this will mean a requirement for more staff increases, not only in the Department of Foreign Affairs but across all the departments dealing with EU matters.

‘Visit different countries’

“It will also require a bigger travel budget, so politicians and officials can regularly visit different countries as part of building deeper alliances.

“In fact, what we need is something close to the mobilisation that Ireland engages in every time we have presidency of the EU. Then we really gear up . . . and Ireland has a very good track record of successful presidencies.”

Ms Day told the Oireachtas Joint Committee on European Affairs that “the EU will be very different after Brexit”.

“Inevitably it will be more continental in outlook after the UK leaves,” she said, adding that France and Germany will play a bigger role as “they will no longer have to contend with the questioning and reluctant attitude of the UK”.

“Ireland has never known the EU without the UK . . . it is going to be quite a change for us,” she told TDs and Senators.

Visits to other countries will be “very important” in future, she said, adding that the number of national parliamentarians who visited the Border since the Brexit referendum showed the value of trips in strengthening allies and building goodwill.

Alliance-building should not just be about other countries, she said, and Ireland should be encouraging and helping young people to get involved in key EU institutions.

She said her generation of EU staff was “retiring and our numbers are going down”.

“I do worry about the number of new Irish officials in the institutions,” she added.

Ms Day said without the opposition of the UK, she expects more consolidation in the EU in future, including “stronger social policies” to help combat the rise of populism.

Brussels needs to show it cares about citizens, find a European policy on migration and work harder to debunk myths about the EU, she told the committee.

“That is not so easy,” she added.

“The UK media in particular have developed ridicule into a fine art and it is the most damaging thing. If you see the way Nigel Farage always gets a laugh in the European Parliament, even from people who don’t agree with him, it is devastating.

“We have to work harder to explain [the EU].”