Euroscepticism in the Republic of Ireland

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Euroscepticism is a minority view in Ireland, with opinion polls between 2016 and 2019 indicating between 70% and 90% support for continued membership of the European Union (EU).[1]

Irish Eurosceptics say that the EU undermines Irish sovereignty, that it lacks democratic legitimacy, it is neoliberal and works for the benefit of the business elite and it as a threat to Irish neutrality.[2]

Some Irish Eurosceptics oppose elements of the EU and its policies and seek reform, while others seek an Irish withdrawal from the EU altogether.[2] This proposed withdrawal is sometimes referred to as "Irexit", based on "Brexit", the popular term for the British withdrawal from the EU.[3][4][5]

Euroscepticism in Ireland is traditionally found among small left-wing and Irish republican groups. The biggest of these have been Sinn Féin and Solidarity–People Before Profit,[6][7][8] who each have members in elected office. Sinn Féin long opposed European integration,[2] but now describes itself as "critical, but supportive, of the EU" and does not advocate withdrawal from the Union.[9][10] The Green Party have also shifted from being Eurosceptic to pro-EU.[2] More recently, small right-wing Eurosceptic parties have formed in Ireland, but they lack representation in any elected positions.

Background and opinion[edit]

Ireland pursued an isolationist policy from the 1920s to the 1950s.[11][12] In the mid-1950s, then opposition leader and former Taoiseach, Éamon de Valera noted that Ireland would have less representation and influence in a European parliament than it had in the British parliament before independence, saying Ireland "did not strive to get out of that British domination [...] to get into a worse [position]".[13]

Membership of the EEC was however sought by successive Irish governments, and Ireland acceded to the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1973. This followed a referendum with a near record turnout of 71% (the highest turnout since the vote to adopt the Constitution itself in 1937) and saw a five-to-one vote (83.1%) in favour of joining.[14] Then President Éamon De Valera opposed the state's entry.[15]

A Red C poll, commissioned by European Movement Ireland in January 2013, found most Irish people would opt for Ireland to remain inside the EU (66%) even if the UK decided to leave. Just 29% of those asked said that Ireland should leave if the UK does.[16]

In a 2015 opinion poll, commissioned by European Movement Ireland, 84% said they "believe that Ireland has, on balance, benefited from membership" and 77% said Ireland should remain in the EU even if the UK leaves, while only 33% agreed that there should be an EU army.[17]

Following the Brexit referendum, a poll commissioned by public relations firm PR360 found that 77% of those polled believed EU membership was good thing. It also found that, if a referendum on EU membership were held in Ireland, 80% would vote remain, 13% vote leave, with 7% undecided.[18]

Another poll conducted by Ipsos after the Brexit referendum found that 81% thought the UK had made the wrong decision to leave, 12% thought the UK was right to leave and 7% said they didn't know.[19]

A poll conducted by Red C in January 2017 found that 70% are in favour of EU membership while 28% said they would vote for an 'Irexit' if there was a "hard border" with Northern Ireland.[20] Additional Eurobarometer and Red C polls in the first half of 2017 found that a significant majority agree that Ireland should remain in the European Union, with the former poll suggesting 90% support for freedom of movement of EU nationals, and 85% support for economic and monetary union.[21][22]

In February 2018, a poll by Amarách Research of 1000 voters indicated 79% support for EU membership and only 10% support for an "Irexit".[23]

A poll by European Movement Ireland in May 2018 indicated over 90% support for continued EU membership.[1]

Poll results published by Sky News in February 2019 indicated that, in the event of a no-deal Brexit, 81% of the Irish people polled "would cut economic ties with the UK rather than with the EU".[24]

A Eurobarometer poll conducted across the EU in March 2019 showed that if a referendum on EU membership were held tomorrow, 83% of people in Ireland would vote to remain. This is the second highest result in the EU, with only the Netherlands ranking higher.[25]


The 2000s saw the birth of a number of small organisations with eurosceptic positions, including Éirígí, Saoradh, Identity Ireland, Libertas Ireland, Cóir and the National Party.[citation needed] Some of these (like Identity Ireland, 115 members) report a very small base of members,[26] while others (like Cóir) were limited-lifespan lobby groups involved in the Lisbon Treaty campaign and whose campaign included references to Ireland's independence struggle.[27][28] A conference in the RDS, Dublin in February 2018 was claimed by organisers to have been attended by "600 Irexit supporters and young people".[29]

The 2014 European Parliament election saw some support for candidates with eurosceptic connections, with 4 of the available 11 seats going to members of the "soft eurosceptic"[30] GUE-NGL grouping and 1 seat to a Fianna Fáil candidate Brian Crowley, who later joined the European Conservatives and Reformists group.[31] However, the latter did not to attend any votes in the European Parliament.[32]

This followed a number of events, including changes in the post-2008 Irish economic outlook, and the Lisbon Treaty vote, which some commentators linked with a 'scepticism' of some aspects of the union.[33]

Lisbon and Nice referendums[edit]

In Ireland, ratification of significant amendments to the Treaties of the European Union require an amendment to the Constitution,[34] and hence a referendum vote. In the 2000s, there were referendums on the ratification the Treaty of Nice and the Treaty of Lisbon. In each case, a first referendum failed to pass but, following renegotiation and the debunking of certain claims made during campaigning,[35][36] a second one was successful (with around two-thirds majority in favour in both cases).

The calling of second referendums drew criticism from some quarters. People Before Profit for example, had opposed the Lisbon treaty saying "Enshrined in this Treaty are the failed neo-liberal policies which have caused the recent economic crisis. This is a Treaty for big business".[37]

Troika and the Euro[edit]

Following the post-2008 Irish economic downturn, some commentators noted that the response by the European troika to economic developments might lead to some changes in the "political landscape" and changes in perception of institutions like the European Commission and European Central Bank.[38][39] Other economic commentators, like David McWilliams, argued that membership of the eurozone is bad for the Irish Economy,[40] As of 2015 however, perceptions of EU membership as a whole remained favourable.[17]


Anticipation of the potentially negative effect of Brexit on the Irish economy[41] led to some speculation about a possible 'Irexit' both before and after the British referendum.[42][43][44] Cliff Taylor of the Irish Times said that the question arose because Ireland's participation in the single market is "vital" to the economy, and that Ireland's interactions with British economy were similarly "vital", leaving the economy of Ireland in a potentially awkward position.[4]

In November 2016, Harry McGee of The Irish Times reported that "a small but growing band of public figures [were] questioning the basis of Irish EU membership",[45] identifying the Socialist Workers Party and Socialist Party as groups that would support an exit.[45] After the Brexit vote however, polls indicated that 80% of those asked would not support a similar Irish exit.[18]

In September 2018, the Irish Freedom Party (also known as "Irexit Freedom to Prosper"), was formed to campaign for an Irish exit from the EU and to field candidates in the 2019 European Parliament election.[46] Its two candidates were party leader Hermann Kelly, who received 2,441 first preference votes (0.67%) in the Dublin constituency,[47] and chairperson Professor Delores Cahill, who polled with 1.47% of first preference votes in the South constituency.[48]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Department of Foreign Affairs (Ireland) [@dfatirl] (8 May 2018). "Support for Ireland remaining in the EU has jumped to over 90%" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
  2. ^ a b c d Laffan, Brigid; O'Mahony, Jane (2008). Ireland and the European Union. Macmillan. pp. 87–88. ISBN 9781403949288.
  3. ^ "Are we heading for an "Irexit"? German business leaders haven't ruled it out..."
  4. ^ a b Cliff Taylor. "Who fears to speak of Irexit?". The Irish Times.
  5. ^ "Eurosceptics are salivating at the idea of 'Irexit' after Apple's shock €13 billion EU-Ireland tax bill". Business Insider.
  6. ^ "Euroscepticism without politicisation: the case of Ireland during the financial crisis".
  7. ^ "LEXIT: WHY WE NEED A LEFT EXIT FROM EU". Archived from the original on 2016-05-21.
  8. ^ "Paul Murphy calls for Brexit despite 'racist' opinions of Leave campaigners".
  9. ^ "Sinn Fein adopt 'Team Ireland' approach in Europe". Irish Examiner. 24 July 2014. Once seen as being firmly in the eurosceptic camp, Sinn Féin now describes itself as being critical, but supportive, of the EU [..] "We are euro-critical and we have nothing in common with Ukip," said [Sinn Féin MEP Lynn] Boylan
  10. ^ "Irexit: Could it be Ireland's next big political movement?". Irish Times. 9 February 2018.
  11. ^ Thomas Bartlett (2010). Ireland: A History. Cambridge University Press. p. 542. ISBN 9780521197205.
  12. ^ William J. Crotty, David E. Schmitt, eds. (2002). Ireland on the World Stage. Pearson. p. 3. ISBN 9780582423572.CS1 maint: uses editors parameter (link)
  13. ^ Bruce Arnold (11 July 2009). "Opinion: History warns us about the risks of ceding power to EU". Eamon de Valera on [..] return from Strasbourg in 1955 where he had been attending a meeting that was part of the construction of the future Europe [...] said: 'We did not strive to get out of that British domination of our affairs by outside force, or we did not get out of that position to get into a worse one'.
  14. ^ "Turnouts fail to match 1972 figure". Irish Times. 8 June 2001. The 71 per cent turnout in the May 1972 poll was the biggest for a referendum since the vote on the Constitution itself in 1937. The Yes vote was even more impressive [.. with ..] a crushing five-to-one defeat for the No campaign
  15. ^ Ronan Fanning. Eamon de Valera. p. 259.
  16. ^ "European Movement: Two-thirds of Irish People Would Choose to Stay in the EU Even if the UK Leaves". 18 January 2013. Retrieved 4 January 2014.
  17. ^ a b "Almost 80% say Ireland should stay in the EU, even if UK leaves". NewsTalk. 29 May 2015. According to the poll, 84% of adults here also believe that Ireland has, on balance, benefited from membership. [..] These figures are higher than those in a similar poll carried out in 2013
  18. ^ a b "Over 60% of people say the EU is more important to Ireland than the UK". Retrieved 19 December 2016.
  19. ^ "Four out of five Irish voters say UK was wrong to leave EU". The Irish Times.
  20. ^ "Strong majority want a Minister for Brexit, according to poll".
  21. ^ "Little public support for "Irexit" - Latest national Eurobarometer results". 2017-02-27.
  22. ^ "Poll suggests 88% of Irish people want Ireland in EU". RTÉ News. 2017-05-09.
  23. ^ "Should Ireland leave the EU? New poll shows only 10% of voters would back 'Irexit'". The Journal. 10 February 2018.
  24. ^ "Sky Data poll: Irish overwhelmingly back government's pressure on backstop". Sky News. 8 February 2019. Retrieved 9 February 2019.
  25. ^ Quann, Jack (25 April 2019). "Over 80% of Irish people would vote to stay in EU, poll finds". Newstalk. Retrieved 26 April 2019.
  26. ^ "Identity Ireland sees 25% increase in membership since yesterday".
  27. ^ "Lisbon outtakes". Irish Times. 28 September 2009. Retrieved 20 February 2017. Cóir campaigners were also out in force outside the GPO [..with banners reading..] "People died for our freedom, vote No"
  28. ^ "Irish referendum battle deadlocked". 2008-06-09. Retrieved 20 February 2017.
  29. ^ "'We wouldn't piss on them if they were on fire': Horslips slam conference for song usage". 6 February 2018.
  30. ^ "Groups in the European Parliament". BBC News.
  31. ^ "Fianna Fáil says Brian Cowley's move to Eurosceptic group is 'unacceptable'". The Journal. 23 June 2014.
  32. ^ "Only one person in the EU Parliament has a worse voting record than Nigel Farage". Daily Mirror. 28 June 2016. Retrieved 17 January 2017.
  33. ^ "'Bye Bye EU' - The other countries who could be looking to leave the EU after 'Brexit'". Newstalk. 24 June 2016.
  34. ^ Raymond Crotty v An Taoiseach and Others [1987] IESC 4 (9 April 1987)
  35. ^ "FF 'out to nail Cóir lie' over wages". Irish Examiner. 16 September 2009.
  36. ^ "IBEC: Minimum wage posters rotten to the 'Coir'". 18 September 2009. Retrieved 17 January 2017. IBEC is calling on Coir to remove the posters following an interview by Coir spokesman Brian Hickey [..] in which he said that the Lisbon Treaty would "have no effect" on the Irish minimum wage
  37. ^ "Lisbon Treaty is unchanged and must be rejected". Archived from the original on 2016-06-04.
  38. ^ Evans-Pritchard, Ambrose (28 February 2013). "EU 'Troika' rule in Ireland worse than British Empire".
  39. ^ "Nigel Farage hopeful of Irish 'Eurosceptic' MEPs". RTE. 1 March 2014.
  40. ^ "Auf Wiedersehen? Never". David Mcwilliams. Retrieved 6 January 2017.
  41. ^ "Ireland may suffer the most from Brexit". The Economist. 29 October 2016. Retrieved 2 December 2016.
  42. ^ "A terrible problem is born". The Economist. 26 March 2016. Retrieved 2 December 2016.
  43. ^ "'We should leave EU on same day as British' - Gay Byrne backs Irish EU exit if Brexit happens". Irish Independent. 18 October 2016.
  44. ^ ""Won't be long" before calls to leave EU says John Halligan". Irish Examiner. 6 January 2016. Retrieved 6 January 2017.
  45. ^ a b McGee, Harry (12 November 2016). "Eirexit: Could Ireland follow Britain out of the EU?". The Irish Times. Retrieved 2 December 2016.
  46. ^ Tobin, Sharon. "'Irexit' group seeking to register as political party". RTE News. Retrieved 8 September 2018.
  47. ^ "European Election: 24 May 2019, Dublin, European Parliament". Elections Ireland. Retrieved 29 May 2019.
  48. ^ "European Election: 24 May 2019, South, European Parliament". Elections Irelands. Retrieved 30 May 2019.