Speech by Minister of State Helen McEntee T.D. at NUI Galway
Speech08 February 2018
As you can see, the slogan we chose for the citizens’ dialogues is quite simple: “It’s your future; your Europe; get involved.” I want to thank you, therefore, for taking the first step in this debate by getting involved.
The future of Europe is too important to leave it to others. As the Taoiseach has said: “The EU has always offered the promise of a better future. It is not a future that will be handed to us. We must work to create it.”
Noelle will explain in a moment how the evening will be organised but, first, I would like to say a word about why we are organising these citizens’ dialogues around the country.
The European Union is 60 years old. Ireland joined it 45 years ago. It was founded after the Second World War and has been instrumental in keeping peace among its members. It has played a significant part in bringing prosperity as well.
In Ireland we can see how the common agricultural policy transformed farming communities here. Ireland was smart in using cohesion funding from Europe to invest in our education system and the motorway network we now have is just one example of the infrastructure built with European structural funds.
The European Union also played a significant role in modernising social policies here by insisting, for example, on the protection of workers and equality for women.
Over the course of its history, the European Union has taken a pragmatic approach to
the improvement of living and working conditions.
This work will never be complete and I hope that tonight we can get your views on how this 60 year old, imperfect institution can be updated to meet your needs.
One big difference between today and 1957 is that we now live in a globalised world. We face growing competition from emerging economies such as China, India and Africa. We are also challenged by new issues such as migration, climate change and international terrorism. These are issues that are too big to be dealt with by member States alone. As the world becomes more crowded, Europe’s share of the global population is getting smaller, relatively speaking. So too is Europe’s share of global wealth. So we are at a crossroads where, as one Foreign Minister has put it, we can try to shape the world or wait to be shaped by the rest of the world.
What, therefore, are the big issues we want the European Union to be ‘big’ on and what are the small issues we want it to be ‘small’ on?
We will be asking many questions of you tonight but, fundamentally, we want your views on the kind of European Union you want in 5, 10 or 20 years’ time. Remember: children starting school today will probably be working in jobs and professions that do not exist yet. So all of us need to focus now on how to help the next generation cope with change in a rapidly changing world.
Tonight is about listening to your views and concerns. It is not about convincing anyone that the European Union is perfect and has all the answers.
This debate is part of a wider debate taking place across Europe. We hope that it will help us formulate Ireland’s contribution to the future of Europe ahead of the elections to the European Parliament next year.
I am keen to hear Pat McDonagh’s perspective, which I am sure will help enrich tonight’s discussion.
But, fundamentally, it is about you. It’s your future, your Europe. Thank you for getting involved.