by André Francischetti Moreno
Seán Lemass, an Irish politician who advocated for an active role of Ireland in the international community, said, “Irish people are citizens of the world as well as Ireland.” Often called “the global island” due to the worldwide presence of its diaspora, Ireland is now taking further steps to leave its footprints in the international political scenario. In the past years, the European country struck substantial diplomatic victories which go from assuming a protagonist role in the Brexit negotiations, to securing a seat on the United Nations Security Council and reaching the presidency of the Eurogroup. The latter two can be traced back to a public policy launched in 2018 by the Irish government whose main goal is to turn Ireland into a main political actor by 2025.
The United Kingdom`s decision to leave the EU raised several questions concerning the Irish border with Northern Ireland (UK), trade, cooperation between the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, and the UK, and the Good Friday Agreement. On the one hand, a no-deal Brexit which implied hard borders could undermine the regional political stability and revive old rivalries. Having this in mind, Dublin lobbied for the Northern Ireland Protocol, which was finalized by the European Commission and May’s government to guarantee a free-border island. On the other hand, Brexit’s economic damage severely affects both countries as their supply chains are highly integrated, and they are close trading partners. Only in 2018, goods exported to the UK amounted to roughly 11.5% of total Irish goods exports (nb the growth of the pound sterling is estimated to be 1% or 2% lower per annum after Brexit, which is bad for the Irish export business). Based on this interdependency, Ireland gained an important leverage power to bring the UK to a softer Brexit. Additionally, Ireland, Cyprus, and Spain were granted by the European Union with an enhanced role in the implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement. The European Commission itself stated that it would respond positively to any requests of these countries.
Global Ireland 2025 is an initiative that aims to increase Ireland’s role in Europe, the United Nations, and the world. In practice, this global vision involves, among others, opening up new embassies and consulates, building new air and sea connections, welcoming more international students, and expanding existing missions. A further aspect of the plan is to promote Ireland’s values of peace, humanitarianism, equality, and justice. The benefits of such a complex plan are various: presenting a unified and positive image of Ireland, increasing the infrastructure to support the Irish diaspora, developing tourism, doubling Eurozone exports and diversifying trade (beyond the UK), influencing multilateral institutions and attracting investment.
In June, Ireland won a two-year-long seat for 2021/2022 in the United Nations’ Security Council, debunking the more influential and powerful candidate, Canada. Some reasons for that were the good relationship which Ireland sustains with the islands and African countries, its position in favor of a two-state solution in the Middle East and being the only EU country in the race. President Higgins highlighted that the campaign “engaged with social global issues such as peace-building and peacekeeping, the elimination of global poverty, the strengthening of multilateralism, and reform of the United Nations.” Irish PM Leo Varadkar declared that Ireland will use this position to advance causes such as “peace and security, conflict resolution, reconciliation, climate action, sustainable development, and gender equality.”
One month later, Paschal Donoghoe, the Irish finance minister, won the presidency of the Eurogroup against the Spanish candidate, Nadia Calvino, who was preferred by countries such as France, Germany, Italy, Greece, and Spain. Facing a predicted recession for 2020 of 8.7% in the Eurozone, Donoghoe described himself as a “bridge-builder” who will seek to bring together conservative nations with the ones who have a looser approach to public finances. Donoghoe reinforced the importance of reinstating financial targets along with the recovery plan for the European economy.
In brief, the increasing presence of Ireland in key positions worldwide represents a significant shift in the more restrained international approach of the country in the post-2008 period. This phenomenon was influenced by the Brexit process, which pushed Ireland for an active role in the negotiations, and by the Global Ireland 2025 plan. Irish PM Leo Varadkar said that Ireland must assume a leadership role so as to be in the heart of the European community and, more ambitiously, at the “center” of the world. Lastly, one can see that it is noteworthy to keep an eye on the Celtic island because Ireland is on the rise.
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