ATTITUDES TO EUROPE
Sir, - As a former diplomat who spent several years dealing with European affairs, I agree with Prof Brigid Laffan (Opinion, May 15th)about our entry into the European Community, now the EU. It revolutionised Irish life and brought many beneficial changes to this country.
Apart from such issues as equality legislation, improvements in living standards, environmental protection, the huge investments in infrastructure and so on, membership boosted our confidence and enabled us to escape from the shadow of our neighbouring island and take our place in a wider world.
However, I regret the polarised and superficial nature of the debate about where Europe and the EU are going now. It is interesting that Prof Laffan should turn to the UK for a definition of the term euroscepticism. Britain is a country which really is "eurosceptic" and which, having lost an empire, still doesn't seem to have found a role in the world for itself. Yet most British people surely realise that past glories are gone: they live in a relatively small country off the north-west coast of the European continent and their future lies in Europe.
In the Irish case, I find the term eurosceptic simplistic and unhelpful, a label rather than an idea. What disturbs me more, however, is the underlying arrogance of many in the political establishment who are so dismissive about the simple fact that some people have misgivings about some aspects of EU policy.
Personally I am a europhile who has always (I hope) a healthy degree of scepticism about any project which I do not understand, or where I feel I have not been consulted, or with which I do not agree. There may be some "hard" eurosceptic isolationists out there, but there are probably a lot more people like me, who are just not prepared to be led by the nose and who want consultations, clear answers and a proper democratic debate before signing up.
I accept that the Treaty of Nice was largely about preparing for enlargement and I support enlargement. That does not mean that it is not a bad, even a botched, text - it has several very unsatisfactory features. But the most important point, which Prof Laffan does not address at all, is that the Irish referendum procedure is an integral part of the political process of this country, enshrined in the Constitution. It is not a rubber-stamping exercise and the Government was simply wrong to sign up to Nice and essentially say to our partners, "Don't worry about the people - they'll do what we tell them". Moreover, not enough has been done since to address people's concerns, whether well-founded or not.
Over the past several years people have come to doubt the changes which have been made to the governance of the EU, not necessarily because they were really opposed to them, but because there has been an inadequate level of debate, or no debate at all. Yet the response of the "pro" lobby is always that we should do what they say is good for us. Why should people believe them?
Take one example. The Treaty of Amsterdam incorporates the so-called Schengen arrangements for border controls, asylum and immigration policy into EU law. Ireland and the UK have opted out of part of it, but a Government decision alone, not a referendum, could change this at any time.
Yet the Schengen arrangements, including a data-sharing system we have already opted into, contain several dangerously oppressive, anti-immigrant and anti-asylum provisions, with extremely limited provision for the protection of civil liberties. Most of the arrangements were negotiated behind closed doors by civil servants and security authorities. Work is going on - one proposal being discussed is for a common EU border immigration police. When did we have a debate about this in Ireland?
If we do not debate these issues seriously, and the pro-everything-at-any-price lobby continue to preach at us, there will be a strong danger of another No result. They should realise that they are seriously out of touch. - Yours, etc.,
PIARAS MAC ÉINRÍ,
Irish Centre for
University College Cork.