Ireland and the EU

 

Sir, – The view has been advanced by Eoin Drea that Ireland is no longer seen as a credible voice in Brussels (Opinion, September 6th) – a viewpoint I must argue is without foundation.

Ireland remains an active and respected member of the European Union, with Irish voices playing a key role in a variety of EU bodies and institutions. Our Minister for Finance, Paschal Donohoe, as president of the Eurogroup is playing a crucial role in promoting the economic recovery of the union. Emer Cooke leads the European Medicines Agency, Michael O’Flaherty is the executive director of the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency and Emily O’Reilly is the EU Ombudsman. All of these are credible Irish voices in Brussels and beyond.

All Irish governments have and continue to take seriously the need to ensure that, as a member state, we exert meaningful influence on the overall direction of the union. Many senior and respected Irish officials have occupied key positions within EU institutions, including Pat Cox as president of the European Parliament and David O’Sullivan and Catherine Day as successive secretary generals of the commission.

As Minister for European Affairs, I am determined to maintain and enhance Ireland’s influence within the EU institutions. That is why, last May, I launched A Career for EU, which aims to increase significantly the numbers of Irish officials serving within the institutions. This strategy is vital to ensure we remain at the heart of Europe, shaping the future of our shared union. The incredible solidarity which has been shown to Ireland in relation to the UK’s decision to leave the union also firmly belies any notion that Ireland and its concerns are not taken seriously in Brussels.

We do, of course, not always agree with our EU partners or with the commission. All member states come to the table with a broad range of national positions, and it is not unusual for member states to differ when it comes to key areas of EU policy.

However it is our job to work together with our colleagues in Europe to seek consensus where it can be found, but also to defend our national interest when necessary.

I must also disagree with the suggestion that Ireland lacks a vision for the future direction of Europe. As the responsible Government Minister, I am working hard to ensure that Ireland is actively and centrally engaged in the Conference on the Future of Europe, a year-long reflection and consultation process aimed at hearing the views of ordinary Europeans about how the EU can emerge stronger from the unprecedented crisis posed by the pandemic.

Our national programme has been praised by the commission for its inclusivity and level of engagement with ordinary citizens.

The process of citizen engagement being adopted by the commission was inspired in no small part by such innovations as Ireland’s citizens’ assemblies. The Conference on the Future of Europe will be stepping up its activities in the coming months and I want to encourage as many people as possible, here in Ireland and across the EU to engage, including through its innovative multi-lingual digital platform.

I also warmly welcome the fact that next December, Dublin has been selected to host one of just four Citizens’ Panels being held across the EU over the coming months. This will see 200 ordinary EU citizens, randomly selected, coming together to discuss the future direction of the EU.

– Yours, etc,

THOMAS BYRNE TD,

Minister for European

Affairs,

Leinster House.