By Gráinne Ní Aodha, PA
A visit by Ursula von der Leyen to Dublin has prompted politicians to reflect on the benefits of EU membership, with some taking the opportunity to raise flaws with the “marriage”.
As the one-day visit did not provide any opportunities for questions from the media, the most colourful part of the trip was when opposition politicians responded to the EU chief’s comments in the Dáil.
Ms von der Leyen gave a glowing address to Dáil Eireann in which she quoted former Taoiseach Jack Lynch, former president Mary Robinson, playwright George Bernard Shaw as well as Irish band The Saw Doctors.
She noted the progress Ireland had made since joining the EU, saying that it had grown its GDP from half of the EU average in the 1970s, to it now being double the EU average.
The European Commission president said that Ireland shows “Europe’s best face”, and that it was “a beacon for Europe and the world”, particularly in light of the “famous Irish welcome” it has given to Ukrainian refugees.
Her assertion that there would be no hard border on the island of Ireland prompted the loudest bout of applause from the packed Dáil chamber.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin welcomed her “strong comments”, with he and Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald in rare agreement in thanking the EU for its “unswerving” solidarity with Ireland during the “storm” of Brexit.
“Merci beaucoup for standing up for the Good Friday Agreement and the Irish protocol,” Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan told the German national during his contribution.
Ms McDonald had said that Ireland had “quite a journey” since joining the European Economic Communities in 1973 – a precursor to the EU.
“There have been so many positives, so many positive advances in areas like equality, workers’ rights, environmental standards, economic progress, and many challenges too – the growing militarisation, deregulation and privatisation to mention just some.”
Other opposition politicians also raised criticisms of the EU in response to Ms von der Leyen’s address.
Social Democrat co-leader Roisin Shortall outlined what she saw as the good and the bad of the EU.
“It is safe to say Ireland would be a less developed and less progressive country today had we not joined what is now the European Union.
“But it’s also fair to say it hasn’t all been positive – being forced to bail out the bondholders during one of our lowest ebbs is a case in point.
“The increased militarisation of ‘Fortress Europe’ and its consequences for desperate migrants, thousands of whom have died trying to reach our shores, must be regarded as shameful.
“And of course, the bloc’s fiscal policy must also come under the microscope.”
She added: “I hope the EU can learn from its mistakes and live up to the ideals which it claims to profess. Otherwise, we will undoubtedly be doomed to repeat those mistakes.”
People Before Profit’s Richard Boyd Barrett argued it was necessary to criticise the European Union for imposing austerity on Ireland, saying that it was partly to blame for the housing and homelessness crisis that Ireland is still struggling with.
Towards the conclusion of speeches, Independent TD Michael Fitzmaurice noted that the EU was “like marriage… you either buy into it, or you don’t”.
Among those who were present for the address to the chamber were Sinn Féin deputy leader Michelle O’Neill and EU commissioner Mairead McGuinness.