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Speech by the Taoiseach, Mr Brian Cowen T.D. at the launch of "Ireland and the European Union" by Brigid Laffan and Jane O'Mahony at the Royal Irish Academy, Dawson Street on Monday, 8 December 2008 at 6.45pm


I am very pleased that Brigid and Jane have invited me here tonight to launch their fine new book. I would also like to acknowledge Jane and Brigid's families and friends here this evening. I am sure you are very proud to see all their hard work being recognised and earning well deserved praise. Thanks to the publishers Palgrave and MacMillan, for supporting the overall series on the European Union of which this book is part.

I want to offer my own congratulations to Jane and Brigid on their achievement. The book tells an important story of how Ireland's membership of the European Union is fundamental to our success as a nation. It reminds us that Ireland's relationship with Europe is not a success just because of what we got from Europe, but rather what we were able to achieve through and with Europe.

It reminds us that the decision of the people in 1972 to join the European Economic Community as it was back then, was fundamental to securing Ireland's economic and political independence. It traces back the original thinking about membership and how it was driven by a new national economic vision and confidence.

Lemass and Whitaker recognised that national sovereignty could not stem the tides of mass emigration. They saw that protectionism did not in fact protect. They understood that openness, economically and politically, was the path to national success and meaningful self determination.

This book ably demonstrates how our membership of the European Union has greatly enhanced our international standing and our ability to act on the matters of most concern to us on the international stage. Our significant contribution to the EU mission in Chad to defend a vital humanitarian space is but one example of our commitment to international peace and security.

As the then Taoiseach Jack Lynch noted in 1972, Europe would provide 'the opportunity also to play a meaningful and positive role in working for peace in the world.'

EU and Northern Ireland
I want to commend Brigid and Jane for highlighting the role of the European Union in relation to the achievement of peace and stability in Northern Ireland. The importance of that rarely receives the credit it deserves.
It is not sufficiently known, for instance, that the European Union provided more than a billion euro to Northern Ireland and our border counties, funds which were used in efforts to build friendships between people as a contribution to improving the basis for peace.

Ireland's and the UK's shared membership of the European Union provided a context which helped focus minds on the concept of a shared future based on equality, fairness and the ideals of peace and cooperation.

The shifting European ideas about the nature of statehood and new European language on partnership and problem-solving lent themselves to developing the thinking that ultimately permitted compromises in the careful crafting of our Good Friday Agreement.

And the Union's specific contribution is not over: even now, as the Executive and other institutions get on with the business of government, the European Union is contributing towards peace and reconciliation programmes until 2013.

I want to congratulate Jane and Brigid on their impeccable sense of timing. This book is published at a moment in time when the relationship between Ireland and the European Union has never been more critical.

We all need reminding that Europe is far too important to take for granted. This week I will meet with other Heads of State and Government at the European Council where we will deal with three key issues: the Lisbon Treaty, climate change, and the international economic and financial crisis. Climate change and the financial crisis are two good examples of areas where we are almost entirely exposed to what happens at the international level. Clearly we both want, and need, to play our role in that. Of course, being able to achieve that brings responsibilities: we have to play our part in the responses which we agree collectively.
Turning to the Lisbon Treaty, let me firstly recall that the will of the people, as expressed in the Referendum on June 12th, must be respected. Over the months since the Referendum we have carefully analysed the outcome, and in particular the many concerns which contributed to it. Those concerns were heartfelt and we have a collective responsibility to seek to allay them.
When I travel to the European Council this week, I will be aiming to achieve a political agreement that the concerns of the Irish public with regard to the Treaty will be responded to in a satisfactory way, both in substance and in a legally robust manner.
It is my own view that our future and Europe's are bound inexorably. The Union is the most effective mechanism for Ireland to have our voice heard and our concerns reflected in the international responses to global issues.

All of this points to the need for us to understand our relationship with Europe better. That must happen at all levels.
This publication is a very welcome, valuable and timely contribution. It is a scholarly, yet accessible, account of Ireland's experience of accession to, and membership of the EU.

It is worthy of a wide audience. I commend it to anyone who wishes to get a better understanding of the EU and Ireland's relationship with it, past, present and future. I wish you every success with it.