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The Irish Image Collection

Michéal Martin Europe’s most sacred task remains its first - peace

The Tánaiste reflects on Ireland’s 50 years in the EU and the development of the country’s voice within.

TOMORROW, 50 YEARS ago, on New Year’s Day 1973, Ireland officially joined the European Communities – what would later become the European Union.

This event was the catalyst for a remarkable transformation of our nation. Progress has been neither linear nor constant, but it has been profound and indisputable: We are living more than a decade longer than we did in 1973, we are far better educated at all levels and we have access to vast opportunities to get jobs across many sectors.

There is however no room for complacency.

There are challenges to be faced today that far surpass those of the past. The inventory is as long as it is familiar: Climate change, inflation, energy, Brexit, and sadly, the illegal war against Ukraine. These are collective problems that can, by definition, only be resolved through collaboration and cooperation with our EU and other partners.

That is why our place at the heart of our Union is more important than ever.

Yes to Europe

Irish people, I believe, have always understood this importance. In 1972 over 83% of voters said ‘Yes’ to joining Europe; in the most recent poll, 88% agreed Ireland should remain a member of the EU.

For many in 1972, it was the economic costs and benefits that were weighed most carefully. They could have hardly imagined that over the next 50 years our long history of emigration would be reversed, and our streets instead filled with new accents and languages.

Or that Europe could provide the shared space where people like John Hume would eventually be successful in loosening the constrictor knot of conflict. For those who suffered on the margins of society – whether because of gender, sexual orientation, or because they were simply deemed different – it would have been difficult to imagine that Ireland could grow to become more generous in spirit and more kind in its thinking.

And few, in turn, would have dared imagine that we would come to play a pivotal role in the building of our shared European home. More than 10 million European students have benefitted from the Erasmus programme.

Every day, travellers across the EU roam freely because Ireland pioneered the idea of removing roaming charges, and it was Ireland who welcomed 10 new member states – the largest ever expansion of our union – during our “Day of Welcomes” in 2004.

Ireland’s voice

Our story lends credibility to the EU. Over 50 years we have gone from lagging to leading. We have shaped how our Union has grown and have used our voice in important moments to ensure that our values are always protected.

As we look to the next 50 years, we must do more at all levels of society to engage more with the EU. Ireland is now considered to be a central and old member state, one which is expected to lead.

For those who wish to emulate our path of progress, we must share with them the lessons of our own journey. For those who have veered from their path, we must remind them that our shared European values cannot be compromised. The internal threats to these values, particularly the rule of law, are not to be taken lightly.

Peace takes work

We must remain vigilant against any attempts to ignore our core values and robust in calling out when other Member States fail to meet the standard, they have set for themselves.

It is our values that set us apart and it is our values that remind us that Europe’s most sacred task remains its first: Peace. The Schuman Declaration – the foundation stone of our Union – is a testament to the possibilities of imagination.

Today, we need a renewed imagination, one that can help us navigate a just transition to a more sustainable way of life, and one that is resolute in its opposition to Russia’s unjust war and steadfast in its support for Ukraine’s right to peacefully exist amongst the nations of the world.

Now, 50 years on there are approximately 70,000 Ukrainian refugees living in our communities and in our homes. As Ukraine progresses on its path to accession to the European Union, we would do well to remember that this remarkable act of generosity is also a manifestation of that great European imagination.

The dual identity of Irish and European is one we wear lightly and with ease. We have today the cautious confidence of peace on our island, the collective experience of cooperation and the spirit of imagination that will guide us to another 50 years of European success.

Our shared European future is bright.

Micheál Martin is Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs. He is a TD for Cork South-Central.


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