CAIN: Democratic Dialogue: Politics: Continentally Challenged (Report No. 5)

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Continentally Challenged

The following publication has been contributed by Democratic Dialogue. The views expressed in this report do not necessarily reflect the views of the members of the CAIN Project. The CAIN Project would welcome other material which meets our guidelines for contributions.

front cover Continentally Challenged
Securing Northern Ireland's Place in the European Union
Report No. 5

by Democratic Dialogue (1997)

ISBN 1 900281 04 X Paperback 80pp

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Democratic Dialogue
Report No 5
February 1997

Democratic Dialogue
5 University Street
Belfast BT7 1FY
Tel: 01232-232228/232230
Fax: 01232-232228/233334
E-mail: dd@dem-dial.demoncouk
Web site: http://www. uk

©Democratic Dialogue 1997
ISBN 1 900281 04 X

Cover by Dunbar Design
Cartoons by Ian Fraser
Printed by Regency Press

Continentally Challenged

Securing Northern Ireland's Place
in the European Union


Wrestling with porridge
Acting regionally
Truthful with the economy
A smoother road to Dublin
Social modelling
Cash questions
Uptight citizens
Future imperfect


This, the fifth report from Democratic Dialogue, has its immediate origins in a partnership project run in conjunction with the Institute of European Studies at Queen's University.

A residential round-table, with some 50 participants from these islands and the institutions of the European Union, this took place over two days in Co Antrim in June 1996. DD greatly appreciates the co-operative approach of the institute and in particular the contribution made to the success of this project by its resource centre manager, Catherine Madden.

The breadth of involvement and the sophistication of the speakers generated a discussion of arguably unprecedented quality about Northern Ireland's relationship with the EU, enhanced by a discussion document, Northern Ireland and the European Union, then just published by the institute.

This report is, in part, a sequel to that debate, but it also draws on an earlier round-table on Britain, Ireland and Europe, held at Wilton Park in Sussex last February, and a workshop in Dublin in May, on the theme of Negotiated Economic and Social Governance and European Integration, organised by the National Economic and Social Council.

It also places matters in the context of the wider intellectual debate about the current phase of European integration and the swim of events up to the Dublin summit of December 1996.

Though this report has a single author (the director of Democratic Dialogue), it should thus be stressed that this is in fact because it represents a distillation of views - the sources of which, since the DD/IES and Wilton Park round-tables were under Chatham House rules to maximise free expression, are often only obliquely indicated. Ultimately, of course, I bear responsibility for the contents.

It seeks to interweave a set of themes, set out in successive chapters, into a tapestry from which one can stand back and survey, from the perspective of Northern Ireland, the vast and complex scene that is the European Union of the 90s. Because all these themes are indeed deeply entangled, there is an unavoidable degree of overlap between the chapters that follow, but it is to be hoped that a coherent picture thereby emerges of where the region stands in a European context and where it might go. A number of concluding practical recommendations suggest ways in which a range of actors - not just government - can play an active part in this journey.

As ever, DD gratefully acknowledges the generous support of its funders, including the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust and the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust.

Further copies of this report are available from the address on the inside front cover, price £7.50 (£10 institutions, £4.50 unwaged) plus 10 per cent postage and packing.

DD publishes a number of reports per year, as well as organising a rolling programme of seminars, round-tables, lectures and debates. Readers may wish to return the enclosed subscription slip, to avail of reduced-rate payment for reports, free copies of DD's newsletter and notification of all DD events. You may also visit our web site, as detailed on the inside cover.

We are open to requests to organise discussions around any of the themes or ideas raised in this, or indeed other, reports. Again, the contact number is on the inside cover.

Our next report will explore another emergent theme in Northern Ireland- young people and their political agendas.

[Report Contents] [List of Reports]


During this year, probably at the Amsterdam summit in June, the parameters of the European Union as it faces into the new millennium will be clearly delineated. The republic's presidency in the second half of 1996 highlighted the significant input which Dublin enjoys, along with its European partners, into the deliberations of the Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) charting this course. Indeed, a developed draft treaty was presented by Irish officials to the Dublin summit in December, and the presidency was generally seen as an extremely well-managed affair.

As a region of a member state whose political culture has assumed an increasingly 'Euro-sceptic' air, Northern Ireland has no such influence. True, the European Union is a union of states, not regions. Yet, at minimum, it cannot be assumed that a UK government of such a sceptic hue - and a Labour administration would be by no means Europhile - best articulates the specific interests of Northern Ireland.

The latter's ill-defined status as a distinct UK region creates a serious separation between the policy community and the political world when it comes to European matters (though not only in these, of course). Thus, the Institute of European Affairs in Dublin produced a mighty policy tome[1] on how the republic should approach the IGC, in expectation of a diligent response within government. Yet the Institute of European Studies at Queen's University could anticipate no such reaction from the UK government to its analogous publication[2] - regardless of its high quality.

A few years ago, this might have been thought, albeit short-sightedly, a matter of little consequence. 'Europe' was seen as external to Northern Ireland life, remote from daily concerns.[3] A cynical, instrumentalist view prevailed: what money is available, and how can we get it? And it remains strikingly the case that there is neither a direct air link from Belfast to Brussels nor any permanent Northern Ireland media presence in the latter city.

But such a disengaged stance is increasingly unreal, for several reasons. First of all, the acceleration of European integration in the past decade has itself been a product of dramatic global changes which Northern Ireland ignores at its peril. The establishment of a single market, the succeeding pressures for economic and monetary union, and the looming prospect of enlargement to the post-Communist east all raise massive questions for the region.

Can it stand the heat of this harshly competitive economic climate, or will it be left behind (as its southern neighbour surges)? Will Northern Ireland continue to enjoy the current flow of support from the EU structural funds, and will the Common Agricultural Policy be sustained as is in the face of the huge demands enlargement will throw up?

Secondly, the 'internationalisation' of the Northern Ireland conflict, as evidenced by the 300 million ECU (£240 million) EU Special Support Package agreed in the aftermath of the paramilitary ceasefires, has changed the context of the debate about the political future of the region. Will such international goodwill endure the recrudescence of violence in 1996, and the apparent inability of the domestic political class to play its part in establishing peace and reconciliation?

Thirdly, the question of the governance of Northern Ireland itself appears to be heading towards an endgame, which could take three forms. It could be checkmate, in which unionism or (more plausibly) nationalism, by some grand démarche, definitively outmanoeuvres its opponent. More likely, however, is a stalemate, in which each side repeats its moves ad nauseum. Or could they yet agree an honourable draw, which would allow us to start a new game with new players?

Put together, these three questions boil down to one big one. Is the future of Northern Ireland in Europe to be an introverted, self-obsessed backwater, wallowing in its own ideological swamp - a place where able people want to leave rather than live, unable to survive economically except on a massive drip-feed of external funding? Or is it to be a dynamic, outward-looking, modernising region, marked by collaboration and cohesion, at ease with its external relationships - a symbol of Europe's values rather than a blot on its surface?

The EU offers no panacea for the future of Northern Ireland. This writer has been guilty in the past of an overblown view of the potential of Europe to act as a solvent, rather than a salve, for Northern Ireland's 'troubles'.[4] But the seriousness, and outcome, of debate in the region about its relationship to the EU is not only of intrinsic significance but will also prove a telling indicator of the ability, or otherwise, of Northern Ireland to master its congeries of problems in the years ahead.

If none of the above convinces as to the importance of Northern Ireland's positioning in Europe, including vis-à-vis the member state and the island of which it is respectively a part, a three-letter word should suffice: BSE. As unionists in the region came to insist its beef was 'Northern Irish', not 'British'; as the republic put up border-security barriers unprecedented in recent times, against an invasion, not of loyalist terrorists, but of beef from another part of the 'national territory'; as Scotland insisted Northern Ireland could not be treated differently from the rest of the UK; and as Northern Ireland politicians who can not agree on how to secure political autonomy for the region all fruitlessly agreed that it should be freed from the ban on UK beef-something was dawning. That something was that if Europe had not been seen as a 'bread and butter' issue in Northern Ireland, it had certainly become a 'beef and bone-meal' one.

This report advances no easy resolutions to Northern Ireland's European challenge-simply because there aren't any. 'Europe' is neither a crock of gold for the region, nor a hand-me-down political model; it does not owe Northern Ireland, and still less can it provide it with, an economic or political living. The real question is one only the people of Northern Ireland, and their various representatives, can answer.

Can the region grasp the opportunities the evolving Europe offers? Can it find, and articulate, a common autonomous voice? If it can, there are big prizes to be won. None, however, will fall into its lap.

But first, it must understand the 'Europe' with which it must grapple.


1Institute of European Affairs, 1996 Intergovernmental Conference: Issues, Options, Implications, Dublin 1995
2 Institute of European Studies, Queen's University, Northern Ireland and the European Union, Belfast, 1996
3Before the IES publication, the only substantial report on Northern Ireland and the EC/EU was Arthur Aughey, Paul Hainsworth and Martin Thimble, Northern Ireland in the European Community: An Economic and Political Analysis, Policy Research Institute, QUB/University of Ulster, 1989.
4Richard Kearney and Robin Wilson, 'Northern Ireland's future as a European region', submission to the Opsabl Commission on ways forward for Northern Ireland, published in Irish Review 15, spring 1994; see the critique by Paul Teague, 'The European Union and the Irish peace process', Journal of Common Market Studies, vol 34, no 4, December 1996, pp 549-70, which also applies to Gerard Delanty's 'Northern Ireland in a Europe of regions', Political Quarterly, vol 67, no 2, April-June 1996.

[Report Contents] [List of Reports]

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