Joining the European Community
The decision by the vast majority of the Irish people to join the European Communities (the European Coal and Steel Community, the European Economic Community and the European Atomic Energy Community) in 1973 has had an impact on our development as a nation that not even the most optimistic observer of the time could have predicted.
Back then Ireland was regarded by most of the global community as an almost insignificant island, still struggling to find its place in the world more than five decades after gaining independence from the UK.
In the years before becoming a member state, political leaders like Seán Lemass and later Jack Lynch, along with senior diplomats and economists, had argued that Ireland’s future lay within Europe.
However, Europe wasn’t so sure. Ireland’s agricultural based economy was choked by its dependence on the UK market, and the country suffered from poverty, mass unemployment and emigration.
The founding six EEC countries expressed doubts about our economic capacity and our neutrality. Ireland’s policy of protectionism, which saw restrictions imposed on imports, certainly wasn’t very appealing to a European community with free trade at its heart.
Leading economists in Ireland had been campaigning for a shift in economic policy and by the early ‘60s many senior politicians were coming around to the idea that it was the only way to tackle the high unemployment and mass emigration that blighted the country.
Ireland continued to press for EEC membership but hopes were crushed in 1963 when then French President, General Charles de Gaulle, made it clear that France didn’t want Britain to join the community.
His stand brought an abrupt end to negotiations with all applicant countries and it was to be another decade before Ireland became a member of the EEC.
A second application in 1967 had been blocked again by President de Gaulle but in 1969 his successor, George Pompidou, promised not to stand in the way of British and Irish membership.
Fresh negotiations began and in 1972 the Treaty of Accession was signed. A referendum held in May 1972 confirmed Ireland’s entry into the European community with 83 per cent of voters supporting membership.
What being in the EU means for Ireland
- Irish businesses have unhindered access to a market of over 440 million people
- An estimated 978,000 jobs have been created in Ireland during the years of membership and trade has increased 150 fold
- Foreign Direct Investment in to Ireland have increased dramatically from just €16 million in 1972 to more than €30 billion
- Irish citizens have the right to move, work and reside freely within the territory of other member states
- Between 1973 and 2015, Ireland received over €74.3 billion from the EU. During the same time, it contributed approximately €32 billion to the EU budget (Department of Finance figures).
- Between 1973 and 2014 Irish farmers received €54 billion from the Common Agricultural Policy.
- Irish views and interests are reflected in the policies of the EU towards the rest of the world.
- EU membership has helped bring peace and political agreement in Northern Ireland through support and investment in cross-border programmes.
- The Irish language is an official working language in the EU, which helps to protect the country’s native mother tongue for future generations.