THE IRISH have a better grasp of the European Union than their British counterparts, according to Ireland’s ambassador in London.
Mocking Britain’s attitude to the 27-member bloc, Bobby McDonagh compared Britain’s relationship with the EU to “permanent marriage guidance counselling sessions” at a debate on British-Irish relations within a changing EU earlier this month.
He also claimed that Britain does not seem interested in working with its European neighbours and argued that debate on this side of the Irish Sea is guilty of prioritising “national angst” ahead of “national interests”.
“Debate about the EU in Ireland has, over many years now, been deeper and more widespread, not least because of our frequent referenda,” said the ambassador, who confessed the EU is a matter “close to his heart”.
“If you don’t believe me, ask your next Dublin taxi driver to give you an analysis of bond spreads.
“I hope I’m not generalising too much from my extensive personal vox-pop of London taxi drivers if I suggest that they may be more likely to offer widespread misconceptions such as that Britain has little influence in Europe; that the Euro-zone is a basket case (and) that the UK has captured the majority public mood across Europe.”
While London continues its “marriage guidance counselling” relationship with the EU, Mr McDonagh claimed, “in Dublin and other capitals people have perhaps moved on to discuss where to live and where to send their children to school”.
“Public debate here sometimes focuses more on national angst than on national interests. Sometimes it seems to focus less on winning the game in hand than on how to invent a different game which the other players don’t want to play,” he added.
The ambassador’s comments, which break from his usual emollient statements about British-Irish relations, come just months before he is due to leave his post in London to become Ireland’s ambassador in Rome.
Based on his 22 years of experience dealing with EU negotiations in previous diplomatic roles, Mr McDonagh said Britain’s and Ireland’s membership of the EU has made the most significant contribution to improving British-Irish relations.
But he insisted Ireland has “never been in the British camp in the EU or indeed in any camp” and warned that the two countries risk drifting further apart as the possibility of Britain’s exit from the Union looms large.
The ambassador was speaking at London’s Irish Embassy during the first of Trinity College Dublin’s Henry Grattan Lecture Series event to be held outside Ireland. The debate also included talks given by Pat Cox, former President of the European Parliament, TCD professor Antoin Murphy and Charles Grant, Director of the Centre for European Reform.