On Monday, the stoic splendour of Trinity’s Exam Hall paid host to the annual Hist Inaugural, the subject of which was Hist Auditor Ronan Mac Giolla Rua’s paper entitled “The Future of the European Union”. Over one hundred and fifty attendees packed out the venue to hear several esteemed guests react to Mac Giolla Rua’s remarks. In their midst was David O’Sullivan, ex-Auditor of the Hist and current Ambassador of the European Union to the United States. He was followed by Noelle O’Connell, Executive Director of European Movement Ireland, Rory Montgomery, Second Secretary General in the Department of An Taoiseach and Jim Power, economist with Friends First.
There was broad consensus among the speakers that the integrity of the EU needs to be guaranteed in the aftermath of the Brexit vote. Mac Giolla Rua praised the liberal values which have hitherto formed the basis of the European project, with O’Sullivan in particular drawing attention to the benefits that the Republic of Ireland has drawn from the organisation since the State first acquired membership of the EEC in 1973. O’Sullivan went on to criticise the ineffectiveness of the EU’s response to the current refugee crisis, stressing that Europe must become more tolerant towards inward migration and that the numbers seeking refuge from conflicts such as Syria’s civil war are equivalent to a tiny percentage of the EU’s current population. Reference was made to the up-and-coming generation of European citizens who have never known anything but membership of the bloc and so may be guilty of taking many privileges of membership for granted”.
Next to the podium was Noelle O’Connell, presenting an unashamedly pro-EU case on the back of campaigning her organisation, European Movement, has carried out during both the Brexit referendum and throughout numerous referenda which the State has taken on European treaty changes, most notably the Fiscal Compact Treaty and the Lisbon Treaty in recent years. O’Connell reviewed the recent campaign in Britain, referring to a conversation with a taxi driver which she thought emblematic of the Brexiters’ attitude to the EU. The taxi driver in question voted for Brexit on the basis that Britain’s membership fees could be better used to fund the NHS. The alarming frequency with which the British dailies used such rabidly Europhobic rhetoric would appear to be a significant cause of such misinformation among many voters who opted to leave the bloc. Jim Power pointed out that economic flaws inherent in the design of the European Monetary Union lay at the heart of growing disengagement with the EU, and that without further integration, corresponding to the “fiscal federalism” of the US, the organisation’s economic credibility would be in perpetual jeopardy.
In his closing remarks, Prof. David McConnell, President of the Hist, commented on Mac Giolla Rua’s background in mathematics, pointing to it as a clear example that each of us, “whatever our discipline”, are urged to interact with the pressing questions of the day through forums such as societies. Speaking to Trinity News after the debate, Rory Montgomery noted that proponents of the EU must not overestimate the tacit support the bloc has amongst young people, who they are more likely to attribute events such as the economic crisis of 2008 onward as a failure of Brussels’ institutions. Montgomery also remarked that divisive, off-topic referendum campaigns in this State over the last decade on treaty changes, such as Lisbon, reveal a possible flaw in the Constitution whereby the Irish electorate consent to changing “every comma” in the document.