By Daniel J. McLaughlin
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 2017 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.
According to the Institute for Government, the UK, Ireland and the EU have "all committed to maintaining the Common Travel Area (CTA)", which has been in place for most of the period since the establishment of the Irish Free State in 1922. 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's economy is highly integrated with the UK, and Brexit is expected to have a negative effect on it. Around 80 per cent of Irish exports are transported to or through the UK, and Ireland sources 41 per cent of its food imports and 55 per cent of its fuel imports from the UK.
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.