Has Farage a point, is it time for Ireland to examine its own relationship with the EU?
Nigel Farrage’s address at ‘Irexit: Freedom To Prosper’ conference at the RDS in Dublin last weekend has attracted the level of media coverage its organisers would have desired. The former UKIP leader and current MEP, is a media savvy master of soundbite, who knows how to effectively convey his Euroscepticism to the masses.
The core messages from Farage at this event was his belief that pro-Irexit candidates could win votes from pro-EU politicians in the next European elections and that more public debate should occur on the topic of “Irexit”.
It’s worth remembering that the Brexit result itself, surprised many at the time, including many of the Vote Leave contingent such as Farage. However, the negative maligning of the EU in British politics and society was not a new phenomenon pre-Brexit and had existed for decades to the merriment of a growing dissenter base, a faction that has long revered their talisman Farage and his UKIP manifesto.
There is little doubt then, that the presence of a British right-wing politician like Farage addressing an Irish crowd about independence was both ironic and audacious. Particularly given the fractured Brexit talks to date under an increasingly weakened Prime Minister Theresa May, who’s disjointed Conservative Party is still being controversially propped up by the DUP.
In spite of such criticisms, however, has Farage raised a valid question for the Irish electorate to consider? Is it time for Ireland to re-evaluate its own relationship with the EU and debate the merits of “Irexit” if any?
The benefits of EU membership?
The salient advantages for member states is that the EU operates a single market which allows free movement of goods, capital, services and people between those member states. Therefore, member states are free to trade with other members at no additional taxation, while their respective citizens are open to many more work and educational opportunities.
Another key advantage is the significant funding available from the EU for agriculture, community projects and all levels of business and industry within its member states.
From a legal viewpoint, many of the legal protections afforded and enjoyed by all citizens of each member state, has either emanated or has been greatly enhanced through EU membership and the ruling of the European Court of Justice (ECJ).
Furthermore the historical basis upon which the EU was founded is as pertinent today as when initially envisaged at the end to the Second World War. A time when a new movement of unity was envisaged by influential thinkers, such as Britain’s Winston Churchill and French Minister Robert Schuman, who aspired to “Make war not only unthinkable but materially impossible “.
Therefore with the continual and growing instability in the Middle East coupled with a volatile U.S Presidency under Donald Trump- a strong united Europe based on the promotion and protection of peace, is far too valuable a benefit to not embrace during such testing times.
Despite such benefits of EU membership, dissent and scepticism has always existed to some degree throughout the EU’s history and has significantly increased in recent years.
The German election results last year sent shockwaves across the EU, when the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party stormed to an unprecedented 93 seats in the Bundestag election at the expense of Angela Merkel’s party.
Such growing cynicism and poor voter sentiment towards the EU, has been the catalyst for the substantial support enjoyed by these new wave of invigorated far-right and far-left leaning parties throughout Europe. Such political factions, play heavily on the economic hardship borne by its members, while using hardwired anti-EU rhetoric that questions the necessity of EU membership and laments nostalgically on the subject of greater sovereign rule.
Ireland itself, has also endured a rather chequered history of EU dissent in the recent past.
The Nice Treaty was initially rejected in June 2001 by the Irish electorate, a decision which was later reversed in a second referendum in 2002. A similar scenario occurred during the Lisbon Treaty with a rejection in 2008 and reversal in 2009, following concessions.
Further scepticism increased against the EU following our devastating economic crash in 2008 and subsequent bailout negotiations with the EU, via the European Monetary Fund (EMF). The political and economic bruising the Irish Government and citizens experienced at that time, helped to create a damning image of the EU and its institutions, which was amplified with the EMF’s subsequent dealings with Greece during their economic woes. Accusations ranged from such deals being too draconian, unjust and too federally focused at the expense of citizen rights and well-being.
We will need to wait and see if Nigel Farage’s attendance last weekend, will have any effect on stirring up or capturing EU dissent amongst Irish voters and whether the topic of “Irexit” will gain any widespread debate or political traction.
Although one might assume, there appears to be no substantive appetite or demand for Ireland to follow in the footsteps of the UK, it is still important for the Irish Government and our people to evaluate and debate what exactly EU membership means to us as a nation and as a civil society. This requires clear and constructive communication of membership benefits, as well as drawbacks and challenges, to develop an informed electorate with the necessary measured understanding to invoke change; if required.
This will in turn will enhance our ability to embrace the salient benefits and exploit the many opportunities that are still available through our EU membership, factors which now seem more real and relevant following Brexit. It may also helpfully deter such prominent sceptics as Farage from unduly interfering in our democratic process and fuelling a debate, one feels he has little right to fuel.
Jason O’ Sullivan, is a Solicitor and Public Affairs Consultant at J.O.S Solicitors
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