Ireland's policy on Brexit


Sir, – Ray Bassett was a valued member of the government team that took part in the successful negotiation of the Belfast Agreement (Pat Leahy, “Former ambassador condemns Ireland’s Brexit policy”, April 3rd). As a retired ambassador, he has the same right as former ambassadors in other countries to express opinions based on his experience, even where inconvenient or irritating to the powers that be.

That said, I profoundly disagree with his view that Ireland should now be seriously considering leaving the EU in the wake of Brexit.

What led to our joining the EEC in 1973, in the words of Ken Whitaker, was because, back in the 1950s, “our dependency was hugely pronounced – dependent for industrial employment on a limited and highly protected home market and dependent for sale of our surplus agricultural production on a British market where prices were deliberately held low in the interest of consumers and to which even access was insecure”.

Why should it be assumed that Ireland exiting the EU would retain unfettered access to the British market? If the British-Irish relationship is to be our sole political and economic mainstay, it is bound to be a hugely unequal one, as it always was. One wonders, if we were content with that, why we ever bothered with independence and did not settle for Home Rule, where the devolved regions can be overridden on all major UK decisions, as Brexit has shown.

The EU is the one international forum, where a country of small population can enjoy an approximate equality of status and be subject in principle to the same rule of law. If there is one thing Irish governments and their officials have been mostly very good at, where they prepare thoroughly and network well, it is important EU negotiations. There are as many opportunities ahead in the new situation as dangers.

When I was interviewed for the post of third secretary in the Department of Foreign Affairs in 1974, the first British referendum on EEC membership in 1975 was already looming, and I was asked what should Ireland do, if Britain decided to leave. I said we should stay. That was and is my conviction, but I doubt if my services would have been called on if I had given any other answer! – Yours, etc,


Tipperary, Co Tipperary.

Sir, – Dr Aidan Regan warns that Ireland will find it more difficult to block EU corporate tax reforms, like the Common Consolidated Corporate Tax Base (CCCTB), due to Brexit (“Brexit to make CCCTB reforms harder to block, UCD academic warns”, April 3rd).

Taxation matters are still and always have been subject to a unanimous vote at the European Council. This means that Ireland on its own has the power to veto any piece of EU tax legislation and does not require the backing of any other member state, large or small. The unanimity voting rule on taxation policy is enshrined in the EU treaties and the only way to change it to a qualified majority voting (QMV) procedure would be by way of a treaty change.

A treaty change to the unanimity rule is somewhat unlikely, considering it would have to be ratified through referendums in several member states. The recent European Commission proposal on CCCTB was formally rejected by seven national parliaments in the EU, including the Dáil. The proposal also failed to get through the EU decision-making apparatus at the first attempt in 2011 due to overwhelming opposition. I think Dr Regan underestimates the level of resistance from member states to any attempt to harmonise corporate tax policy. It is not simply Ireland and Britain who oppose such moves, there is a contingent of Baltic, Nordic and eastern European states that raise similar concerns. Ireland is right to debate and engage with other member states on the substance of the CCCCB proposal from the European Commission. However, when it comes to taxation policy, the Taoiseach and Minister for Finance Michael Noonan have consistently made Ireland’s position clear that corporate tax rates remain an exclusive competence of member states. The unanimity rule protects that competence. – Yours, etc,


Fine Gael,

Dublin Constituency.

A chara, – A monoglot, Anglophone Ireland is not the key to success. The misconception that we can attract investment, trade effectively and forge links across the world because “we speak English” is being laid bare as the City of London’s assets relocate to Frankfurt, Luxembourg and Paris rather than Dublin. Speaking English is a basic skill in the globalised marketplace, not a unique selling point. Our collective failure, refusal and neglect in relation to language learning costs us in trade and diplomacy. – Is mise,



Baile Átha Cliath 7.

Sir, – I love Ronan Scanlan’s provocative description of the EU as an “anti-democratic, over-regulated, protectionist little customs union” (March 31st) . He is certainly aware that the decision-making bodies – the European Council (heads of government) and Council of Ministers – consist entirely of people elected in the member states, while the European Parliament, which approves or amends their decisions, is directly elected by the EU electorate. How much more democracy could be fitted in, I wonder.

“Over-regulated” is a matter of opinion, but in any case the regulations are decided or approved by the ministers.

As for protectionism, all states adopt such measures. The EU has fewer than many others, such as the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) for example; and it looks as if the US will soon expand its arsenal, despite most economists’ advice that protectionism harms rather than helps the economy.

“Little” is an odd description for a grouping that, though facing a post-Brexit drop in population, will still number 450 million citizens. – Yours, etc,