Lead-up to Accession

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s Ireland’s potential membership of the European Communities was, of course, heavily vested in and bound up with the application of the United Kingdom and whether and how that application could be pursued successfully against French objections in particular. For much of the period Ireland struggled to achieve any meaningful successes in the effort to create sufficient distance from the UK internationally.

When Europeans could be persuaded to pay attention to Ireland they observed a poor, backward close relation of Mother England, and a state which was still almost totally dependent for its economic livelihood on London. The economic statistics fully bear this out: In 1958, 56.3 per cent of Ireland’s imports came from the United Kingdom and 77 per cent of exports went there. Even as late as 1964 the EEC absorbed only 11 per cent of Ireland’s total exports. The Irish pound was aligned with the pound sterling and the majority of the Irish banks’ currency reserves was located in London. A provincial and overwhelmingly agriculture-dominated economy ‘continued to function as it had since 1921: providing the basic foodstuffs for the British urban-industrial economy’.

It would be an uphill battle to persuade ‘the Six’ of the merits of including such a poor, under-developed state as a full member of the ‘club’. This was the challenge taken on by an array of civil servants, politicians and diplomats in July 1961 when the membership application was tabled. Ireland’s quest to join the EEC was challenging, polarizing and protracted, encompassing as it did three separate bouts of negotiations (1961-63, 1967 and 1970-72) in which the task of re-orienting the Irish economy and politics in a more open and cosmopolitan direction was accompanied by an intensive diplomatic effort to present Ireland as a ‘returning European’. The problem for Ireland was that President de Gaulle’s ingrained opposition to UK entry to the Community left Dublin completely hostage to London’s fate and thus with no possibility of access while De Gaulle remained in office. It was only de Gaulle’s unexpected decision to resign (following the loss of a referendum on a package of government reforms) on 28 April 1969 which revitalized negotiations and led to Irish accession on 1 January 1973.


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