Ireland and the EU: from reluctant entrants to enthusiastic members
When Ireland joined what was known as the European Economic Community (EEC) in the 1970s, it was only because they were tagging along with their neighbours, the UK. Although they were somewhat reluctant to join, the UK's position as its largest trading partner swayed the decision; and over the years, Ireland has become the EU's most enthusiastic member.
While Britain signalled their discontent with the bloc, voting to leave the EU by 52 per cent in the referendum, an overwhelming majority of Irish people wish to remain in the bloc. The Irish Times reports that 88 per cent of respondents to a poll released on Europe Day agree with the statement “Ireland should remain part of the EU”.
The future of the European Union ranks higher in the priorities of the Irish voters than the future relationship with the UK, according to a new survey by the European Parliament. Concerns about future prosperity and growth, as well as economic issues and jobs, are higher concerns than the future relationship with Northern Ireland or the possibility of a hard border.
Although the hard border is lower down in the list of priorities, it could have a massive impact on both Northern Ireland the Republic. Both people and goods cross the border every day, with 30,000 workers commuting and €6 billion of goods is traded between the North and the South.
Sky News argues that nobody thinks a hard border is a good idea. It is a rare bipartisan issue, whether they are from the Brexit-backing DUP, the majority of Northern Ireland who voted to remain, politicians on all sides of the Republic, or bureaucrats in Brussels.
Both the EU's chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, and Prime Minister Theresa May have vowed to resolve the border issue, with the former saying there is "always a way" to avoid a hard border.
Brexit could see the return of the Common Travel Area. Before their membership to the EU in 1973, the UK and Ireland shared open borders, along with the Isle of Man, and the Channel Islands.
Ireland also relies on its neighbour across the water for tourism, and the industry has already been affected by the Brexit vote. With Ireland relying on visitors from the UK to contribute to its €8 billion tourism industry, the number of Britons visiting the Republic are down 6.5 per cent this year.
Although Ireland is overwhelmingly in favour of the European Union, it is facing the consequences of Brexit due to its proximity to the UK. From reluctant entrant to enthusiastic member, it faces two dilemmas: the impact of Brexit on Ireland, and the future of the bloc it has warmed to.