The possibility of Ireland following Britain out of the EU would spell danger, writes NUIG Sin's Aisling Bonner.
Éirexit: it just doesn’t have the same ring to it. For the press, the pundits and portmanteau lovers alike, Éirexit is not going to cut it. Unfortunately, it takes a very acute obsession with wordplay to disregard the possibility of Ireland leaving the EU based on the hashtag alone.
For those less linguistically-allured, allow me to bring some more transferable arguments to the table. Ireland joined the European Union in 1973 at the same time as the UK, but very much separate from the UK. This was a continued step forward in Ireland’s global recognition as an independent nation. Most of Ireland’s current population have no memory of Irish life without the EU, so for most of us, the progress it has brought on is inconceivable. In reality, acknowledging the influence the EU has had on Irish life takes little more than opening our eyes to what surrounds us. EU investment in Ireland is everywhere – we see it signposted on motorways, we see it on our own university campuses, we see it as locally as Galway’s Ceannt station. In virtually every sector, segment and slice of Irish life lies an EU initiative, investment, agreement or rule.
In the past forty years, Ireland’s economy has been utterly transformed from agricultural dependency to one led by modern, hi-tech industry with a global reach. Access to the EU’s Single Market, which allows free movement of goods and services across the EU, has boosted Ireland’s export-heavy economy, while EU trade agreements with other large non-EU markets opened Ireland up to the rest of the world. Without the EU, it would be impossible for a small nation like Ireland to negotiate such deals against giants such as the US. On the ground, Irish workers are protected by EU worker’s rights which encompass everything from contracts, wages and hours, to ensuring equal opportunities for men and women and preventing discrimination of all forms in the workplace. If Ireland were to leave the EU, it would likely retain this standard, but who’s to say it would evolve with it in time?
Since joining the EU, Ireland have received €6.5 billion in investment from the European Social Fund, the financial body associated with investment in people, predominately in the areas of education and training. The EU Erasmus programme has seen over 50,000 Irish partake in student exchanges with other EU universities, and is a common rite of passage for many Irish students today. An Irish exit from the EU would surely put student exchanges in jeopardy, and deliver a significant blow to Ireland’s advancement towards being a more multicultural and tolerant society.
In today’s ever-shrinking world of migration and travel, Ireland would be ill-advised to put their EU travel privileges in jeopardy. As it stands Irish citizens are free to work or travel in any EU country without seeking a visa. They are protected abroad by passenger rights and the European Health Insurance Card which entitles any EU citizen to the same healthcare as a local in any EU country. The perks are ever-increasing, and from June 2017 roaming charges within the EU will be removed, further increasing the ease of travel.
The Common Agricultural Policy which has invested billions in preserving, protecting and promoting Ireland’s agricultural sector; European Commission environmental directives which commit Ireland to reducing greenhouse emissions, waste, pollution and energy consumption; and EU consumer rights and quality control standards, are other slices of the workings of our country which have been positively permeated by the EU. If Ireland seriously considers leaving, not only do we risk a reversal of these advancements, we risk losing the driving force pushing us towards further progress.
In Ireland’s current political climate, riddled with distrust towards our own politicians is it really wise to remove the overseer leaving them to their own devices? Would this really make for a happy electorate?
One of the driving forces behind Brexit was the argument that the UK was essentially investing in the EU than it received in return. Ireland, who since joining has been one of the EU’s largest benefiters, has in recent years followed the UK to become a net contributor (albeit on a much smaller scale), with the rate of contribution set to rise when Brexit is in place. While this may signal alarm bells to some, it should be viewed as a means to afford Ireland greater leverage in EU negotiations. In this way, Ireland’s interests in Europe could be protected and highlighted more fervently. It would be unrealistic to think that Ireland could float throughout its entire membership always reaping more financially than it contributes.
Ireland has much to lose and little to gain from exiting the EU. We are not the UK. We have far less bargaining power than our neighbours to form our own deals alone. In our small nation’s history we have struggled to maintain sovereignty and independence in times when borders were more fixed and economies individual. A small country like Ireland is about as independent as it can be to survive in today’s world.
In this new global economy, in this new wave of human migration, in this new world of cooperation, agreements and unions; Ireland is paddling in its inflatable EU ring.
If it lets go it will sink.