Collins and the Lisbon Treaty
John McGuirk of Libertas ponders what Michael Collins may have thought of the proposed Lisbon Treaty.
Ninety odd years on from his passing, the legacy of Michael Collins remains the watchword for Fine Gael members of all ages and political hues.
For those on the left of the party, he is a reminder of their faith in an Irish sense of community and common destiny, a name to be invoked in the fight for social justice and equality. For those on the right, his memory instills a conservative desire to protect the vestiges of Irish culture and heritage, and a commitment to what they see as a need to put country before party at every opportunity, even when to do so involves significant political sacrifice.
For the rest of us, his mystique as a parent of the nation assures that the real man and his agenda, ambitions, and world view have long since been replaced with a tableau onto which we can project our own sense of Irishness. Collins, to a majority of us, is both much more and much less than a flesh and blood man with real ideas and human frailties – instead he is what we call upon when we require a sense of where our nation came from, and when our relationship with our own nationalism requires some clarification.
Distilling, therefore, how Collins might have viewed our relationship with the European Union is a nearly impossible task if one wishes to reach consensus on the issue. Fine Gael and its supporters are committed to the current European arrangements with a passion and zeal that is otherwise reserved for their relationship with Collins itself, and will argue that the great man would have viewed Ireland’s membership of the EU as the natural progression of our collective sovereignty – a nation seizing its place on the world stage, so to speak.
From what we know of Collins, however, this romantic and conveniently self-reinforcing analysis does not seem to bear itself out. Collins was above all a romantic nationalist, joining the IRB in London at the age of 19 and rising to become its last President. He came from a family steeped in the most reactionary and isolationist breed of Irish Republicanism, and while the Treaty which would lead to his death may have shown a willingness to compromise with his opponents, it raises no question over the ferocity of his political values.
In that context, were Michael Collins, almost a century after his reign as Minister for Finance, to discover that the republic for which he died no longer controlled its own monetary policy, what would he think? Were he to discover that the party he founded wishes at this moment to see the country hand over 60 further areas of sovereignty to a supra-national body, would he support it? And if he saw, as he would, his country being implicitly threatened with disaster for taking a sovereign decision, how would he react? Fine Gael treasures two ideas above all others: its identity as the party of Collins, and its identity as the party of Europe. Alas, there must be grave doubts as to whether the two sit comfortably together.
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