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EU and Ireland
EUROPA, the Internet informational site for the European Union, notes that one of the inspirations for the European Union was that, for centuries, "Europe was the scene of frequent and bloody wars," and it was hoped that economic cooperation would heal ancient political tensions between all member nations. (EUROPA, "EU History at a Glance: History of the European Union," 2004) When Ireland and its neighbor and territorial rival, the United Kingdom, both joined the European Union, then called the European Community (EC) in 1973, there was hoped that this mutual economic joining would help contribute to a more lasting peace between these often conflicted nations.
The European Community (EC) became the EU in 1993, when the Maastricht Treaty on European Union (TEU) was approved. (Wood and Yesilada, 1996, p.1) But this change of name came far more easily than the change of economic and political status and tensions between Ireland and the United Kingdom. Peace between Ireland and the UK was certainly not immediate. The intensifying of the "Troubles" of the 1970s and particularly the 1980s and the mobilization of the IRA caused the ideological and political fires between the two nations to conflagrate rather than abate in the short-term after Ireland's admission to the EC. But the resulting economic benefits for both Irelands as well as Ireland's growing international political prominence have been considerable. Ultimately, the influence of the EU has resulted in a more salutary and amicable Ireland in recent years. Thus, its entrance into the EU has led to greater sense of social and economic, if not political peace within Ireland, because of the EU's indirect influence. This influence has not been largely through political intervention in the region, but through the benefits it has created for the Irish economy.
The Benefits to Ireland of the EU -- Political
One of the greatest benefits the EU has bestowed upon Ireland was raising its international profile and improving its international status as a peacemaking nation that exports more than troubles and terrorism. The EU thus increased the desirability for foreign investment in the Irish nation. In July, 1, 2004, the Irish president of the European Council addressed the National Forum on Europe in Dublin Castle at the launch of a publication, the Report on Ireland's Presidency of the European Union, saying, "I believe that our sixth Presidency will be regarded as a successful one," and that the work is a "tribute to Ireland's capacity to deliver for Europe and its member states." It is difficult to believe, in light of such success that when the Republic of Ireland attempted to join the European Community it was rejected in both 1961 and 1967. (EUROPA Press Release, 2004)
How the EU has benefited Ireland -- Economics
The EU is popular at present in Ireland, in both the North and the South of Ireland, particularly amongst young people. One of the main reasons for this is that the European Union's Structural and Cohesion Funds have been one of the contributing factors to Ireland's recent spurt of economic growth. Total investment of the EU over the course of two programming periods in Ireland, from 1989-1999, amounted to approximately 30 billion Euros. The EU Structural Funds and Cohesion Funds contributed 11 billion alone. The EU's financial support enabled Ireland to embark upon a much needed upgrade the country' commercial roads network, which increased the ease of commerce as a whole in a nation. The fund's investment also freed up additional government funds, allowing the Irish government to invest in the education and training programs for its young people that have made Irish university graduates one of the most desirable of all exported workers, as they are both technically skilled, highly literate and relatively inexpensive to employ. And within the nation, particularly the Republic, as a result of such investment, the Irish industrial sector boomed, as it never has before in the past in this once primarily agricultural nation. (EUROPA, "Ireland and the E.U. Structural Funds," 2004)
This investment on the EU's part has not been a merely recent endeavor, one reason for the considerable and deeply seated natures of its infrastructure improvements in Ireland. Rather, since joining the E.U. In 1973 Ireland received over 17 billion in Euros from the E.U. Structural and Cohesion Funds support. "Under the current programming period 2000-2006, Ireland will receive 3.35 [Euros] billion from the Structural Funds. The Cohesion Fund contributed 586 [million Euros] to Ireland during the period [of] 2000-2003." (EUROPA, "Ireland and the E.U. Structural Funds," 2004)
Additionally, Northern Ireland has always enjoyed a special status, as an Objective One region, in accordance with the criteria defined by the EU. The Objective One status was conferred upon Northern Ireland specifically because of the area's economic problems. These problems once included chronic, long-term unemployment and the long-term industrial decline of the region's infrastructure, a downturn that could not be attributed to mere inevitably ups and downs of the capitalist market. The political situation had resulted in a chronically depressed and depleted economy. Today, even in Northern Ireland, the fact that the land has received considerable amounts of extra financial support from the EU's structural funds, as an Objective One region is cited as one of the reasons for Northern Ireland's improved prosperity. (Aughey & Morrow, 1996)
The Divided Irish Nation and People -- Improving Relations between Protestants and Catholics as a result of the EU?
At present, the Irish economy still consists of two economies, that of the Republic and that of Northern Ireland. Due to the present political situation in Ireland, despite recent efforts to broach the chasm between Catholics and Protestants, the economies are classified as separate entities. But both economies are technically members of the European Union. The Republic of Ireland is a full member of the EU. Northern Ireland is connected to the EU a part of the United Kingdom. However, the possibility always exists that Northern Ireland and the Republic will once again unite. The UK government's ministers on the Council of Ministers thus formally represent Northern Ireland in the EU, while through its own members of the European Parliament the Irish Republic is informally represented as well. (Aughey and Morrow, 1996, pp.129-30) The Northern Ireland Secretary of State and the British Secretary's ministers, thus serve as an officially linking presences between Northern Ireland, the UK, and EC policy committees.
It is interesting to note that the 1975 referendum on EC membership in Northern Ireland linked continued membership in the then-European Council (EC) with the status of Northern Ireland. "A marginal majority (52%)" of a 48% electoral turn out "endorsed continued membership," although the Sinn Fein the political 'arm' of the IRA, opposed it because it was concerned that the EC would threaten Ireland's traditional policy of non-alignment and neutrality and take the focus away from the need for the North's sovereignty from the United Kingdom. (Aughey and Morrow, 1996, pp. 129-30)
But today, the attractions of membership for both the Irish Republic and the North remain considerable for all people who identify as Irish, both Protestant and Catholic. The EC's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) has secured access for Irish exports from both regions to the EC markets while guaranteeing high prices for the goods. Tariff-free access to EC markets have attracted foreign investors to what was once an unattractive economic region, and combined with regional grants of the EU, prosperity has skyrocketed. (Munck, 1993, pp. 109-10)
The benefits of regional growth can be seen in the voices of people of Ireland, recently quoted in the New York Times, who are newly enriched as a result of the ensuing prosperity from the nation's involvement in the EU. Oddly enough, this has caused a kind of a crisis, as many individuals are beginning to debate what they and their country should do with such newfound wealth, which was unheard of a generation ago. The generation of wealth has been so considerable it has caused a generational divide between young and old Irish, yet it has also united young Protestants and Catholics who now share a common culture, namely that of consumer-oriented capitalism, and some would say, ostentatious displays of wealth. Hence, Ireland's jump into European Union and its enthusiasm over pro-business economic policies have largely been credited for this benefit to the economy, as well as the land's regional and religious crisis of identity. (Alvarez, 2005)
Advancement into the Future
The end to centuries of threadbare existence, of living hand to mouth, or as some Irish joke, of glass to mouth (given the alcoholism that privation that drove many Irish people to seek comfort in Guinness) has been stark, and the EU's involvement deserves much credit for this cultural shift. This prosperity has brought an " identity crisis" about the "pitfalls of consumer spending," but although one drawback may be the hostility between old and young, the growth's stress upon secularization has also caused personal animosities between protestants and Catholics to ease in the face of the need…[continue]
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