There's no doubt that the European Union has been an economic and cultural success story but it also contributes significantly to maintaining peace in global trouble spots - and Ireland plays a vital role in directing the EU’s security policy towards the rest of the world.
It’s sometimes forgotten that one of the main driving forces in creating the EU was to heal the deep wounds caused by World War II and to ensure Europe would never so violently tear itself apart again.
The forerunner of today’s European Union, the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) founded in 1951, was originally established to forge economic links between former enemies France and Germany in order to bring about lasting prosperity and peace to both nations and the rest of Europe.
By the time Ireland joined what had by then become the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1973 that objective had been achieved, but member states had reservations about what an economically poor and defensively neutral country could contribute to Europe.
As it turned out, the answer was quite a lot.
Ireland’s neutrality is enshrined in both the Irish constitution and EU legislation and was further clarified by the Seville Declarations on the Treaty of Nice in 2002. But as an active member of the European family our neutral position has been given a global voice and can influence the defence policies of other nations.
Ireland’s foreign policy is to help maintain international peace and security under the United Nations Charter and it was with this principle in mind that Ireland participated in negotiations leading up to the signing of the Treaty of Maastricht in 1992.
The treaty included a new EU Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) and it’s through this policy that Ireland’s views are heard on the world stage.
Along with the other five neutral and non-aligned member states, Ireland holds much influence over the other 22 EU nations who are also members of NATO.
The EU’s security policy - which was formulated with the help of Irish politicians and diplomats - is centred on crisis management and conflict resolution.
The vast majority of missions are civilian in nature and Irish gardai, diplomats and judiciary representatives as well as troops have been deployed on peacekeeping duties in global trouble spots like Kosovo, Chad and Palestine.
Ireland’s proud tradition of neutrality is respected within the EU and Irish participation in operations is protected by what is known as the ‘triple lock’ system.
That means missions must have a UN mandate, be authorised by the Government and be voted on in Dáil Éireann before Irish troops or civilian personnel can be involved.
Cooperation between EU member states through CFSP has also helped tackle crime in Ireland and across Europe. Gardai have exchanged intelligence and experience with European police forces to help in the fights against crime, terrorism, drug trafficking, human trafficking and money laundering.
Ireland was not directly involved in the two world wars that ripped through Europe in the 20th century but this island has had its own problems with internal conflict.
The Troubles in the north are well documented and while political negotiations eventually saw the bombs and guns put away for ever, EU funds contributed significantly in supporting the peace and reconciliation process.
The European Community contributes €15 million per year to the International Fund for Ireland which was set up to promote economic and social development, and to encourage reconciliation between the nationalist and unionist communities.
The EU also set up a special Programme for Peace and Reconciliation – more widely known as the PEACE Programme - which operates in Northern Ireland and in the border regions of the island.
Various European regional aid programmes have contributed to promoting growth and jobs in Northern Ireland over the years but the PEACE Programme introduced in 1995 and renewed in 2000 is specifically tailored to help with the area’s unique needs in the drive towards lasting reconciliation and stability.
For the period 2007-2013, six new European programmes – including the third PEACE Programme - will deliver €1.1 billion for new investment in the region.
[ 3] The Treaties