It was a such a pleasure to visit a number of Blue Flag schools in East Galway and I wish to thank all the school students, teachers and principals for their wonderful welcome and – for their efforts in encouraging an interest in, and knowledge of, the EU in their schools.
I was delighted to be accompanied by Dr Josianne Farrugia, Chargais D’affaires at the Embassy of Malta in Dublin, accompanied Hon Anne Rabbitte, Minister of State at the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth to celebrate Europe Day – a day each year when Europe commemorates the signing of the ‘Schuman Declaration’ on 9 May 1950.
The Schuman Plan was an ambitious plan to secure long-term peace in post-war Europe – and is considered the beginning of what is today’s European Union.
Europe day is important as it coincides with an important anniversary for Ireland – 50 years tomorrow on the 10th May 2022 since Ireland voted to join the then European Economic Community, today’s European Union.
The decision to join the EU at that time was a courageous decision – we had gained our independence just 50 years before that. But Ireland at that time understood the potential benefits of joining the EEC and following the referendum, Ireland became a full member on 1st January 1973.
During my visit to the schools I was delighted to see how much the children in my constituency know about EU membership and we are both looking forward learned so much from the children on what they know about their knowledge of Europe.
For our own generation, membership has brought transformative change, for example:
- The Irish economy of the 1950s and 60s was very focused on agriculture – farming – with a heavy reliance on Britain for trade. Membership opened up new markets for Ireland letting us trade our goods and services freely amongst the EU countries.
- Membership brought freedom of movement – letting us live, work, holiday in countries across the EU – and using the same euro currency.
- The ability to live and work anywhere in the EU, including through programmes such as Erasmus+, has opened up huge opportunities in particular. All of you can live and work anywhere in Europe – an option past generations would just not have had – and I would really encourage you to look towards Europe, to learn and use European languages and to take part in Erasmus and other exchange programmes in University etc. I would also encourage you to look towards a future career in Europe. There is such a range of career opportunities available ranging from lawyers and communication specialists to interpreters and translators.
- Importantly also, EU laws have driven a much more tolerant and humane Ireland – driving forward equality, including in the workplace and the rights to maternity and paternity leave. While, the EU also protects cultural rights including the status of our Irish language and EU funding has helped transform and modernise Irish society, infrastructure and industry.
- We are proud to sit at the European Union table of 27 Member States today – shaping EU policy making – and contributing strongly to the EU’s global voice based on democratic values.
- While not perfect, together, the EU is working together, to confront our major shared challenges like climate change and of course the European Union’s response to the war on Ukraine. At this time of tragic conflict on the continent of Europe, it is more important than ever, that the Union is united and internally strong.