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European Union

It's been 40 years since we joined the EU, so how did it all happen?

The National Museum in Collins Barracks is running an exhibition to mark the anniversary until 27 June.

YESTERDAY WE CELEBRATED the 40th anniversary of our accession to the European Union in 1973. To mark the occasion, the National Archives and the Royal Irish Academy have produced an exhibition with documents and photographs to show our path into the union.

The exhibition shows the intricate, decade-long political, diplomatic and economic story that brought Ireland into the EEC on 1 January 1973.

Here’s a snippet of what you can expect if you go along go the National Gallery at Collins Barracks in Dublin by 27 of June…

It all began in 1950 when Ireland passed the ‘Schuman Declaration’ leading to the European Coal and Steel Community. We first applied for membership of the EEC on 31 July 1961 but this was rejected as Ireland was considered economically underdeveloped.

Image: Letter announcing Ireland’s desire to apply for EEC membership from Seán Lemass to President of the Council of the EEC Ludiwg Erhad, in July 1961.

Ireland’s economy continued to grow, though at 3 per cent per annum instead of the expected 4.3 per cent. Further trade barriers
were removed, and the Anglo-Irish Free Trade Area created from 1966 the correct environment in Ireland for EEC membership.

Irish attempts for an interim trade deal with the EEC failed and the European Commission showed sympathy, but little else, for Ireland’s position. There was some domestic discontent in Ireland about an apparently rudderless EEC policy; the truth was that the EEC was not waiting with open arms to welcome Ireland, and Anglo-French tension continued to cloud the enlargement process.

Image: Taoiseach Jack Lynch, Minister for Foreign Affairs Patrick Hillery at the Irish negotiating and accession team in Brussels, 1972.

Negotiations, led by Foreign Affairs Minister Patrick Hillery, began in 1970 and the final session took place two years later. The Chairman, Luxembourg’s Permanent Representative to the European Communities, Jean Dondelinger, declared all outstanding problems solved and the proceedings closed with appropriate toasts. The signing ceremony for Ireland’s EC accession followed at the Palais d’Egmont in Brussels on 22 January 1972.

Ireland’s accession to the European Communities required a change in the Constitution and so the matter was put to a popular vote via a referendum on 10 May 1972. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael as well as many interest groups and the media campaigned for a ‘Yes’ vote.

The ‘No’ campaign represented a much smaller group.  Despite the imbalance in size there was still a thorough debate in Ireland on EC accession through 1971 and 1972.

In the end, the result was an overwhelming ‘Yes’ vote with 83.1 per cent versus 16.9 per cent of ‘No’ votes.

Ireland joined the EC on 1 January 1973 with Ambassador Seán Kennan presenting letters to the Council of Ministers formally giving the country’s assent to the changes brought about by enlargement to the Treaty of Rome. At that stage it was eleven and a half years since Lemass first lodged Ireland’s application in Brussels.

Image: President DeValera and Taoiseach Jack Lynch at the signing of the Instrument of Ratification of the Treaty of Accession to the EEC.

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