The legacy of 50 years of EU membership

Positives and negatives

A chara, – I was delighted to see that Anthony Coughlan, my old social policy lecturer and later professor in Trinity College, is still ploughing his old furrow of opposition to Ireland’s membership of the EU (“Fifty years later, I still think EU membership was a mistake”, Opinion & Analysis, December 31st).

He has been nothing if not consistent in his views for the past 50 years. He has also been consistently wrong.

Somehow it is still a surprise to him that the EU has evolved towards a supranational state despite the opening lines of the 1957 Founding Treaty of Rome establishing the European Economic Community stating that its purpose was “the foundation of an ever closer union of European peoples”. We knew what we were joining.

According to him, the initial rejection of the Nice Treaty in 2001 and the Lisbon Treaty in 2008 was legitimate and correct, while their later acceptance by much greater margins on much higher turnouts by the Irish electorate was illegitimate and incorrect.


According to him, our membership of the European Union has only brought us benefits like our membership of the British union prior to 1922. I don’t recall the last 50 years of EU membership replicating the centuries of repression, dispossession and famine under British rule.

Apparently, our membership of the euro zone forced our banks to engage in the reckless credit expansion which led to the 2009 financial crisis. There is no mention of the complete failure of our own regulator to police their actions. No one forced our banks to lend money to finance dubious investments.

Now apparently, we must consider “Irexit” to accommodate the “Britishness” of northern unionists, when a large majority in Northern Ireland voted against Brexit and most there see our continuing membership of the EU as one of the more attractive features of a possible united Ireland.

He emphasises that “we are now net contributors to, rather than beneficiaries from, the EU budget” when that is the consequence of our economic success due to our membership.

The UK is now discovering the hard way that the cost of leaving far exceeds the costs of membership.

Having said we are far closer to Boston than Berlin he nevertheless suggests we should not engage with the US in its “proxy war” against Russia in Ukraine. How does facilitating the brutal Russian invasion of Ukraine make us neutral?

I never doubted the sincerity of Prof Coughlan’s beliefs, and I am pleased to see he is still exercising his right to expound them. – Is mise,



Co Wicklow.

Sir, – Anthony Coughlan is selective in his assessment of Ireland’s membership of the European Union. He neglects the significant social and environmental gains achieved over the last 50 years.

As a child I remember “EEC NO!” slogans painted on walls around Dublin. Within days these were altered to read “BBC NO1″. Prospective voters realised that the benefits of European membership would be more than economic. As UK voters now reassess their decision to leave, countries such as Georgia, Moldova and Albania are queuing up to join. They seek what we gained half a century ago: assistance from neighbouring countries in improving the quality of life for their citizens. They know the EU stands for rule of law, respect for LGBTQ+ rights, women’s rights, democracy, and climate action. They also recognise the assistance that the European Union has given Ukraine after Putin’s murderous invasion.

As a member of the European Parliament, it is an extraordinary privilege to collaborate with colleagues from Finland, Romania and elsewhere to make laws that impact on 450 million citizens. The EU is by no means perfect, and the pace of change can be agonisingly slow, particularly in the light of climate breakdown. We also need greater transparency in decision-making. Thankfully, other groups are now considering following the lead of the Greens/EFA group in making available records of meetings with lobbyists, and the breakdown of expenses spending.

Every time I cross the river Liffey at Essex Bridge it feels good to see the Dublin, Tricolour and European Union flags flying over Dublin City Hall. Democracy requires vigilance and good governance locally, nationally and at European Union level. – Yours, etc,


Green Party,


Dublin 7.

Sir, – Fintan O’Toole in his revisionist reflection on Ireland’s membership of the EU references Mary Harney’s “Closer to Boston than Berlin” remark and then goes on to excoriate the EU’s “wrongheaded” response to the Euro crisis which he claims was brought about by “The flood of cheap money that washed in after the deregulation of EU financial markets” (“Half a century on we can see the benefits of Ireland joining Europe’s top table”, Opinion & Analysis, December 31st).

While interest rates were ultimately inappropriately low for Ireland’s economy, O’Toole conveniently absolves Ireland of all responsibility in this mess. He should reflect the pro-cyclical spending of the Irish government following the rejection by the electorate of the “steady as she goes” Rainbow Coalition. The fiscal attitude of the time was summed up by Charlie McCreevy’s foolish mantra “when I have it I spend it” and a raft of policy incentives poured further fuel on the fire. Does O’Toole ever wonder why Finland never had the same crisis despite euro membership and the same vague “deregulation”?

O’Toole should reflect on the hostile response of the media/political establishment to the persistent warnings from the EU/ECB. He should remember the smug contrasting of Ireland’s GDP growth rate to Germany’s. Ultimately O’Toole should note that the absurd bank guarantee was not foisted upon Ireland but was a taken in spite of the wishes of the ECB and was initially the source of further smug gloating from government and banking figures.

O’Toole recently criticised austerity as forced upon Ireland by Europe; instead he should ask why Europe should have bailed out a truculent and ungrateful member country that facilitated such shenanigans as the “Double Irish” to funnel money from EU economies to Bermuda and beyond. –

Yours, etc,



Co Dublin.