The decision by the vast majority of the Irish people to join the European Communities (EC) in 1973 had a profound impact on our development as a nation. We looked outwards, rather than inwards, recognising, as then Taoiseach Sean Lemass had said during the accession negotiations: “Ireland belongs to Europe by history, tradition and sentiment, and no less than by geography”. Europe has played a substantial role in Ireland’s transformation from a protectionist nation to an international hub.
When preparing for today, I looked back at the White Paper, laid before the House of the Oireachtas in 1970, outlining the implications of joining the then EC for Ireland. Along with the desire to participate in the movement towards European unity, the rationale included the belief that membership would be more beneficial to economic development than remaining outside the Community. There was a recognition that the small domestic Irish economy alone would not enable our country to grow to achieve its principle economic objectives of: “full employment, the cessation of involuntary emigration and a standard of living comparable with that of other Western European countries”.
The European Union itself is very different to the one we joined over forty years ago. From the implementation of the four freedoms governing the movement of goods, people, services and capital to the creation of the common currency. And just as Ireland has benefitted from progress, as a country we have also worked hard to contribute to that progress through our engagement.