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Need for honesty about mistakes and failings of the EU during Brexit Debate - Carthy

20 October, 2015 - by Matt Carthy MEP


Speaking tonight at a debate in University College Dublin, Sinn Féin MEP for the Midlands North West Constituency Matt Carthy said that a British Exit from Europe would be bad for Ireland and will be opposed by Sinn Féin but that there is a need for honesty around the mistakes and failings of the EU, which have alienated people across Europe.

Carthy said:

“We need to be honest about the mistakes and failings which have seen growing numbers of people across Europe lose faith in the European Union.

“We cannot ignore the persistent concerns regarding a democratic deficit at its core.

“I believe that the actions of the EU have in fact alienated an increasing number of progressive forces – in Ireland, in Britain and across Europe.   The EU, once seen by many as advancing and protecting the rights of workers, citizens and consumers, is now actively participating in a race to the bottom. It has been central in advancing the austerity agenda.

“But the British Conservative government has not initiated an ‘in out’ referendum on European Union membership because of how the EU has treated individual states or their citizens.

“Its agenda is entirely regressive.  

“The prospect of increased, or full withdrawal by the British state from the EU, and formal repeal, or significant erosion of human rights protections has negative implications for Ireland, north and south.

“I believe that a British Exit from Europe would be bad for Ireland - especially for the development of all-Ireland integration and for the north.

“In April 2015 a study by Open Europe calculated that a Brexit would reduce this state’s economy’s GDP by 3.1%.

“British exit would be retrograde because the fragility of the peace process requires constant attention in London, Belfast and Dublin.

“A full British withdrawal or even a position of ‘Half Out’ conditionality would represent a setback for political and economic progress and continued democratic transformation of the north.

“It would cast the north adrift and undermine the ability of the southern Irish state to benefit from the most positive benefits associated with EU membership.

“Sinn Féin will oppose Brexit and we will campaign vociferously in this regard while at the same time not being afraid to be critical of the EU when we need to be and of opening up uncomfortable conversations along the way.”

Full Text of Speech Below:

I am speaking in favour of the motion "This House Fears a Brexit for Ireland".

It’s a strange place I find myself in.

First, I don’t think we should ‘fear’ anything. As a people and a nation we should be big enough, bold enough and proud enough to have the confidence to face whatever international obstacles are put in our way.

That’s not to say we shouldn’t have a position – or that we shouldn’t articulate that position in as forceful a manner as required – simply that we shouldn’t do so from a position of fear.

I believe that a British Exit from Europe would be bad for Ireland - especially for the development of all-Ireland integration and for the north.

However let me also be clear – while Sinn Féin is opposed to a Brexit for the reasons which I will outline I am not about to join in the fawning uncritical approach to the European Union common to many in Irish political life and which has formed the basis for many entries to this question.

We need to be honest about the mistakes and failings which have seen growing numbers of people across Europe lose faith in the European Union.

We cannot ignore the persistent concerns regarding a democratic deficit at its core.

We cannot ignore how the European Union has treated Greece nor indeed how it has treated Ireland.

We cannot ignore the failure of the European Central Bank to take responsibility for its part in creating the crisis in Ireland or indeed its role in exacerbating that crisis through the bully-boy actions of its then head Jean Claude Trichet.

I believe that the actions of the EU have in fact alienated an increasing number of progressive forces – in Ireland, in Britain and across Europe.   The EU, once seen by many as advancing and protecting the rights of workers, citizens and consumers, is now actively participating in a race to the bottom. It has been central in advancing the austerity agenda.

Why would anyone who believes in solidarity between European nations and citizens sign up to what former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis described as “treating the worst-hit parts of the Union (the Eurozone that is) as alien lands that had to be fiscally waterboarded until they ceased to obey the laws of macroeconomics”?

If the EU project is about forcing the Greek people (or Spanish people, or Irish people) to live in extreme poverty and deprivation then it is something that many people across Europe will reject.

Why is this happening? It’s happening because at present the key drivers within the European Union are wedded to neoliberal ideology which is incompatible with solidarity and the creation of a social Europe.

We need to be clear: there is a drive towards further integration and the creation of a United States of Europe even though there is no evidence of popular support for such movement. In fact the draft European Constitution was dropped soon after it was defeated in popular votes in France and in the Netherlands.

I believe that in Ireland’s case we should use the space created by the Brexit debate to open discussion as to the need to return powers that have been ceded to the EU to ensure that Irish people have the ability to make decisions in the interests of the Irish people. I believe that those of us who are concerned with democracy and sovereignty need to stand up for the right of individual countries to safeguard their domestic institutional and policy choices.

Ireland has been badly served by the failure to listen to Eurocritical voices – including those who raised concerns about the implication for Ireland of joining the common currency.

The future of the European Union will be dependent on whether the types of issues which I have outlined are addressed. A discussion on Brexit that ignores these realities would be a false debate.

But the British Conservative government has not initiated an ‘in out’ referendum on European Union membership because of how the EU has treated individual states or their citizens.

It agenda is entirely regressive.  

The prospect of increased, or full withdrawal by the British state from the EU, and formal repeal, or significant erosion of human rights protections has negative implications for Ireland, north and south.

The Conservative party secured a majority government in Britain, albeit with less than 37% of the vote, on a platform promising:

  • A referendum on Britain’s continued membership of the EU by 2017.
  • A repeal of the Human Rights Act.
  • Reversal of civil liberties, workers and democratic rights.
  • A programme of harsher austerity.
  • And, increased expenditure on defence and security.

British Conservatives have an ideological aversion to the overarching accountability of European laws and rights, and their precedence over British security and criminal justice.

This has implications for the exercise of human rights within the north of Ireland, and the centrality of human rights protections to the overall Good Friday Agreement framework.

A British led assault on the ECHR will fuel opposition to the efforts by victims of British state collusion to secure either justice or information recovery.

British hostility towards the extra-territorial application of human rights to its armed forces and security agencies will also weaken efforts to hold Britain accountable for collusion.

In circumstances of a British exit a myriad of serious and far reaching consequences would affect the north.

These include:

  • The prospect of reinforced partition and hardening the division between north and south; with the potential for customs checkpoints, trading tariffs, and adverse knock-on effects for all-island economic activity and cooperation.
  • The damage to the agri-economy and potential loss of CAP single farm payments and similar financial supports for the fishing industry.
  • The loss of EU structural funding which has been central to small, medium enterprise development, community regeneration and government programmes.
  • The undermining of the north as a region attractive to foreign investment and as a gateway point for US investors and investment to mainland Europe itself.
  • Negative impacts upon local business, and the potential for growing the private sector and promoting enterprise and growth. (During the period 2007-13 10% of the north’s GDP was estimated to be reliant upon the EU.)
  • The dangers inherent with derogation from ECHR for the promotion of human rights legislation and provisions.
  • The effects of any possible change to the existing Common Travel Area between Britain and the southern Irish state.

However, wider implications for the island as a whole would arguably arise in the event of full British withdrawal.

In April 2015 a study by Open Europe calculated that a Brexit would reduce this state’s economy’s GDP by 3.1%.

British exit would be retrograde because the fragility of the peace process requires constant attention in London, Belfast and Dublin. Brexit could isolate nationalist communities, see a reduction or end to EU structural funds and adversely affect both cross-border cooperation, and institutional bilateral contact between British and Irish government officials at formal and informal levels.

A full British withdrawal or even a position of ‘Half Out’ conditionality would represent a setback for political and economic progress and continued democratic transformation of the north.

It would cast the north adrift and undermine the ability of the southern Irish state to benefit from the most positive benefits associated with EU membership.

Should we be afraid? Well, we should certainly be aware of these potential consequences. And, we should certainly try to ensure that we use this opportunity to influence the debate, not only in Britain but at EU level. Certainly Sinn Féin as one of the largest parties in the six counties (the largest in the most recent EU elections) will use our position to encourage voters there to reject the regressive Tory agenda.

This debate though has the potential to open up a much needed discussion about what kind of Europe we want to see and what type of Ireland we want to create, very apt as we move towards the centenary of the Easter Rising. Nobody could argue, as we look at all the potential dangers that a Brexit presents, that we wouldn’t be in a better position to face them if we were operating on the basis of a United, integrated economy and society.

While the British are contemplating leaving the EU, maybe we should be considering the plan to have them exit Ireland.

To summarise in a single sentence - Sinn Féin will oppose Brexit and we will campaign vociferously in this regard while at the same time not being afraid to be critical of the EU when we need to be and of opening up uncomfortable conversations along the way.

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