Stephen Collins: Those intent on EU’s destruction need to be exposed
Micheál Martin was right to call out Sinn Féin and a number of Independent candidates as being inherently anti-European
Sinn Féin has campaigned for a No vote in every EU referendum in the history of this State. The party did back Remain in the UK referendum, but that probably had as much to do with the fact that the DUP was on the other side as anything else
Why does a country like Ireland, which is so supportive of the EU, elect a significant proportion of MEPs who are committed to undermining its fundamental principles? We can mock the British for Brexit, but at least the people who vote for Nigel Farage have a clear idea of why they are doing so. They simply want their country out of the EU, regardless of the consequences.
By contrast, a substantial chunk of the Irish electorate seems to have no idea what it is doing. A recent opinion poll showed that a whopping 93 per cent of Irish people are committed to this country’s continuing membership of the EU, but there is every chance that on May 24th they will elect a number of MEPs whose goal is to wreck it.
This bizarre contradiction between the positive attitude of the vast majority of Irish voters to the EU and their willingness to elect people to the European Parliament who are fundamentally hostile to the project was the most striking outcome of the last European election five years ago.
It is debatable whether this was due to a lack of proper debate, voter obsession with local grievances or poor media coverage of the issues.
This time around the stakes are far higher, with the rise of populist forces from the extremes of right and left all across Europe threatening to derail the EU. So it is crucial that the electorate is clearly focused on the choices involved on May 24th.
Sinn Féin campaigned for a No vote in every EU referendum in the history of this State
That is why Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin was absolutely right to call out Sinn Féin and a number of prominent Independent candidates as being inherently anti-European.
In the wake of Brexit the term euro-sceptic no longer has much traction in this country, so Irish politicians hostile to the EU are now inclined to describe themselves as euro-critical. However, the leopards have not changed their spots.
For instance, Sinn Féin campaigned for a No vote in every EU referendum in the history of this State. The party did back Remain in the UK referendum, but that probably had as much to do with the fact that the DUP was on the other side as anything else.
The party’s record in the European Parliament is one of consistent opposition to the policies of free trade and close co-operation between member states that underpin the union.
As a member of the GUE group, composed mainly of current and former communists, the party has also taken a pro-Russian line in that country’s conflict with the EU.
Independent MEP Luke “Ming” Flanagan is a member of the same group in the parliament, and is even more hostile to the general direction of the EU. He called on this country to follow the UK out of the union after the Brexit vote, although he seems to have modified that stance in recent times.
Prominent left-wing TDs Clare Daly and Mick Wallace take the same line in the Dáil in opposition to EU policies on trade and security co-operation. Their hostility to the fundamental principles of the EU was illustrated by the fact that they even voted against the EU’s withdrawal agreement with the UK when the issue came before the Dáil last November.
That is why Martin performed a public service at the launch of the Fianna Fáil European election campaign by pointing out the real possibility that Ireland could send to the parliament a number of MEPs who have a fundamentally anti-EU position, and “will spend endless hours pursing false conspiracies about EU militarisation”.
All of the unambiguously pro-EU parties ... need to spell out their positive visions of the European future, and not get sucked into personality contests or debates
His effort to highlight the approach adopted by Sinn Féin, Flanagan and others to Russia, and their hostility to free trade on which this country’s economy depends, was probably the first many Irish people had heard of their record in Europe.
It begs the question as to why other pro-EU parties, particularly Fine Gael, have failed to take an equally robust approach to exposing that record. It is only through political debate that voters will come to appreciate the very different approach to the future of Europe that they are being offered in this election.
Of course, political parties and Independent candidates are entitled to adopt a hostile attitude to the current shape of the EU, and voters are equally entitled to elect them to the European Parliament. Yet it is important that the electorate has the information at its disposal to make an informed decision.
That means all of the unambiguously pro-EU parties – Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, the Labour Party and, in latter times, the Greens – need to spell out their positive visions of the European future, and not get sucked into personality contests or debates about national issues which have no relevance to the current election campaign.
This European election will be the most significant since direct elections to the parliament began in 1979. All across the continent it will be a contest between parties who believe in the European project as it has developed over the past half century, and those who want to destroy it. The Irish electorate has a clear choice to make about which side it is on.