Sixty years ago this week, some 100 people gathered in the Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin to establish the Irish Council of the European Movement. Signing the Articles of Association of the Irish Council were seven pioneers of Ireland’s future in Europe: Denis Corboy, George Colley, Declan Costello, Dr Garret Fitzgerald, Seán Healy, Donal O’Sullivan and Prof Louis Smith. The original objective of the organisation was to advocate for Irish membership of the European Economic Communities (EEC), as the EU was then known. This aim was achieved when Ireland formally joined the EEC in 1973.
As the oldest organisation dealing with European affairs in Ireland, over the course of the past sixty years the mission and vision of EM Ireland has developed and evolved to reflect the priorities of our evolving relationship with both the EU and our European neighbours.
In recent years, this country has experienced a seismic economic shift. European matters have come to the forefront of the Irish national media and the forefront of the minds of the citizens living and working here. Within EM Ireland, our workload and ways of communicating with our members has had to adapt to recognise the increased public knowledge and awareness of European matters, and the accompanying shift in attitudes. It is no exaggeration to say that the work this organisation has undertaken in recent years, and most particularly since the November 2010 EU-IMF bailout, is as important as anything we had done up to that point.
No longer were we solely working to ‘make the connection between Irish people and the EU, every day and not just on referendum day’. Irish people were involved and engaged and eager to have their voices heard. In order to best facilitate this, EM Ireland’s goal became about ‘providing an independent, reasoned non-governmental voice on European issues’ and, above all, ‘ensuring that European issues are discussed in Ireland in a reasoned, robust and fair manner’. We are no longer tasked with encouraging Irish people to talk about and engage with the EU – this is happening every day. Instead, we are working to help Irish people to make their voices heard at a European level and to ensure that, when going to the polls to vote in European referenda and national elections, we as citizens are armed with the facts necessary to make an informed voting decision.
Over the years, EM Ireland has been extremely lucky to have the support and expertise of some of this country’s leading political and economic thinkers, as well as engaged and informed members of the public. This is a tradition that had continued since the earliest days of the Irish Council of the European Movement and one which I, as Chairman want to pay tribute to. Our partners, stakeholders, members, advisory board and contributors are drawn from wide range of backgrounds and disciplines, including the business, media and academic spheres. This, we hope, is a reflection of the scope of our work over the last sixty years. To all of those contributors, and most importantly to you our members thank you.
Here at EM Ireland we have a tendency to describe every year as a very important year in Irish-EU relations. That is because, as far as we are concerned, every year is an important year in Irish-EU relations. From the Lisbon Treaty Referenda of 2008 and 2009, the bailout in 2010, the Fiscal Stability Treaty Referendum of 2012, the European Year of Citizens 2013, Ireland’s turn as President of the Council of the EU for the first six months of 2013 and our exit from the bailout programme only weeks ago in December, to the European Parliament elections coming down the tracks in May of this year; the European Union is woven into the fabric of our society. What happens in Europe has a knock on effect in Ireland – the EU’s successes are our successes, its challenges are our challenges and, regardless of the difficulties we both may face, our futures are inextricably linked.
Here at European Movement Ireland we are pleased and proud to be marking the 60th birthday of this organisation. Noelle and her team have a busy programme of events and activities lined up for the year to mark this important and historic occasion. As an organisation, we have survived numerous challenging financial circumstances, 23 changes of government, 15 Commissions presided over by 12 Presidents and countless elections, referenda, debates and treaties. We are committed to ensuring that EM Ireland surpasses its past achievements and successes and remains a vital and vibrant part of Irish civil society and political life for the next 60 years. We look forward to continuing the discussion and working for and with Irish people to further develop the connection between Ireland and Europe.
Chairman – European Movement Ireland