MEP and First Vice-President of the European Parliament Also Calls For National Debate on the Future of Europe
In as much as the 1921 Treaty signed by Michael Collins shaped the future of our nation the new ‘Treaty’ between the UK and the EU will shape our future, Mairead McGuinness MEP and first Vice-President of the European Parliament has said.
Speaking at Béal na mBláth (Sunday 20th August) to mark the 95th anniversary of the death of Michael Collins she said Ireland’s relationship with the UK will be more radically changed by Brexit than it was by the Easter Rising, the War of Independence, the Treaty or the Declaration of the Republic in 1949.
“If the shape of Brexit is a hard one then the separation will be more definitive and absolute than anything envisaged by those involved in the foundation of the state, including Michael Collins,” she said.
On the UK proposals for a new future partnership with the EU she said they “are more than the UK wanting to have its cake and eat it, it’s an attempt to have its cake and eat ours,”
And she said every time a British politician repeats their determination to leave the Customs Union, “another brick gets placed back in the border wall.”
“The UK has the capacity to stop this unwelcome development by remaining, at the very least, in the Customs Union,” she said.
She said it is “regrettable, indeed reprehensible,” that there is no functioning Assembly in Northern Ireland to give voice to the many concerns of citizens, of community groups, of business leaders and the farming community in Northern Ireland.
“Brexit has reopened hardly-healed wounds of division and deepened the polarisation of politics in Northern Ireland. The decision of the British Government to accept the support of the DUP to remain in power has added sharply to that polarisation.”
Michael Collins knew the importance of compromise but he also found out that it’s not achievable if one party sticks rigidly to its position and is not open to the concerns of the other, she said.
“There are those who would use Brexit as a weapon to reunite our country. That is misguided. The path to reunification is already set out in the Good Friday Agreement.”
“Our challenge is to be as brave as Collins was. We cannot and do not turn our backs on the UK as near neighbours and trading partners. But as they choose to retreat behind their borders and go it alone, we remain global as a full, active and engaged member of the EU,” she said.
She said Ireland will need to find new markets and focus efforts both internally in the EU and externally. “We have to face the uncertain future with determination – as Michael Collins did in his time.”
Ms McGuinness also called for a national debate on the future of Europe.
“Brexit, as profound as it is, must not be allowed sap all energies and efforts. We need to start looking beyond Brexit to what type of Europe we want to see in the future. Scepticism and indeed cynicism about the EU was certainly fuelled by the economic crisis. And mistakes were made giving rise to justifiable concerns among citizens which must be addressed in any discussion about the future of the EU.”
She said the options for the Future of Europe set out in a paper from the EU Commission range from maintaining the status quo to deeper integration. “Ireland is ideally placed to take a leadership role in that conversation and play a constructive role in shaping the new Europe.”
But it shouldn’t be left to politicians alone, she said. “All elements of society and media need to be invested in this. There are big questions around economic governance, deeper integration, globalisation, security and defence policy and how the EU should be funded into the future.
“The conversation must go beyond just defending our corporation tax rate, which we do,” she said. “We must try and imagine how the Union can meet the challenges of automation, of youth unemployment, of an ageing population, of inequality, of environmental degradation and climate change, while also dealing with the rise of sinister movements which seek to divide people.
She said Europe needs to start building new relationships with the Islamic world and with Africa,” if we are to tackle the refugee crisis at its roots.”
“Michael Collins would not be impressed to see Irish politicians hide behind Europe and blame it for decisions and choices that are their responsibility. We have seen how the EU is used as a handy scapegoat by populist politicians with a narrow nationalist agenda or those with no agenda at all except a desire to be elected,” she said.
“We should challenge the European Union to do things better, to be big on the big things and small on the small things.”