Ireland is a contradictory isle. On the one hand, we have a penchant for rejecting EU treaties, then deciding to pass them at the second time of asking (a questionable policy in any democracy, but that’s for another day). On the other, we consistently rank highly in the Eurobarometer surveys monitoring satisfaction with the EU. One thing, however, is clear: if you believe in cooperation between European nations, but are not in favour of the eventual creation of a single European state, you are politically adrift on this island.
The causes for this ideological isolation are numerous. Firstly, as many are beginning to realise, our media is stiflingly monochrome, and rarely carries any criticism of the EU. Occasionally David McWilliams or David Quinn in the Irish Independent detail their own objections to EU expansionism, but unsurprisingly the Irish Times shows nothing but adoration for the budding European State, while the Irish Examiner carries little comment of any colour on it. On almost all radio and television stations, coverage of Brexit focused from the very beginning on the supposedly catastrophic consequences of a Leave vote, without once considering the multiple triggers that brought the UK to exit the union.
Additionally, our political parties have been lazily complicit in this failure to properly consider the direction in which the continental behemoth is travelling. For their parts, Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Labour and the Social Democrats are wholehearted cheerleaders of the EU’s expansion, while the hard-left sees the only issue with the Union as its tolerance of capitalism. On the right, Renua’s main issue with the EU seems to be its facilitation of immigration, rather than its attempts to create a federal pan-European state by stealth.
In fact, Sinn Féin have even abandoned their long-standing opposition to the EU in recent years. Perhaps because they realised that the DUP also opposed it. Sinn Féin opposed every single EU referendum (accession, the Single European Act, Maastricht, Nice and Lisbon), yet still decided that the EU was worth staying in, despite opposing its existence in the first place, along with all subsequent structural changes. An organisation which is superior to national parliaments is in no way compatible with self-determination based nationalism, which was once Sinn Féin’s ideological basis.
Motivated by lazy opposition to whatever the DUP supported in Northern Ireland, and the political consensus in the Republic, SF abandoned a century of ideological consistency, and despite being a party which opposes London dictating to one part of the island, appears quite content to have Brussels dictate to the entirety. For a party whose entire existence is based on the premise that only Ireland should decide on Ireland’s laws, this volte-face rings hollow.
Another issue (not helped by the media in Ireland) is the perception that Euroscepticism can be equated to xenophobia or racism. In reality, Euroscepticism is a traditionally liberal concept, driven by the belief that the only people who decide how a state is run should be the people living in that state.
The EU Parliament grouping European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) is predicated on this principle, and is currently the third largest grouping in the Parliament. For Irish Eurosceptics who want only the Irish parliament to decide on Irish laws, and not a body where their representatives comprise just 1.7% of the total number of MEPs, this group appears the ideal political home for their views.
Renua’s anti-immigration based opposition to the EU is more suited to Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy (EFDD – Nigel Farage’s group) or Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF – Marine Le Pen’s group) than to the ECR. Fianna Fáil are now aligned to the Alliance of Liberals & Democrats in Europe (ALDE) the most staunchly federalist of all groupings.
This situation makes it unlikely that Irish voters, who have shown themselves to be positive to the cooperation between European nations yet opposed to further integration, will have a candidate to reflect these views. This with less than a year to go before the next European elections. No political party is as of now affiliated to ECR, and unless Renua, Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil (ideologically the closest to it on either side) decide to affiliate to this grouping, Ireland will remain no country for Eurosceptic voters who want the EU fundamentally reformed, not demolished.