Ambassador: Britain's Dominick Chilcott

Friday 26 October 2012 13.02
Dominick Chilcott rejected the suggestion that Britain is being sidelined in the EU
Dominick Chilcott rejected the suggestion that Britain is being sidelined in the EU

Cormac Ó hEadhra interviews EU Ambassadors about the euro crisis, member states' relationship with the EU and relations between Ireland and the country they represent

British Ambassador Dominick Chilcott has said closer integration in the eurozone could make Ireland’s relationship with Britain more difficult.

“I suppose it’s entirely possible that the degree of political and fiscal and economic integration that will be required to make the eurozone work will…could possibly, make some of the intensified collaboration that we have in mind for the UK and Ireland more difficult to achieve, if the UK is standing back from that.”

Without wishing to over-state the point, he said there was “a degree of unease” that both nations are on various paths within the EU.

While saying more detail on integration was required before being more specific, he added it may be more difficult for Ireland and Britain to co-operate on issues like tax harmonisation in the future.

Isolation of Britain within EU

He rejected the suggestion that Britain is being sidelined in the European Union by those pursuing policies of closer fiscal, economic and political integration. His reasoning is that Britain is at the heart of Europe on major issues like enlargement and the advancement of prosperity and peace.

“The difficulty with the present time is, of course, that the big issue is the eurozone crisis. And there, it’s really not our role to be inventing solutions for the eurozone as we”re not a part of it. So it”s right that we're to one side of the argument, which doesn’t mean we’re not a team player, it’s just that we”re not in this particular game.”

Britain is adopting a wait and see policy regarding the development of the EU, he said. If there is a large transfer of sovereignty as a result of integration, then there may be a referendum on Britain”s future involvement in the Union.

He said Britain is happy to see eurozone countries implement policies to make the currency work as intended, but “we’re very comfortable, I think, standing aside from that political and economic and fiscal policy integration.”

EU Budget

Britain is, however, very much part of the negotiation on a new budget for the European Union, which is approximately €140bn per annum. The Commission has proposed to increase the budget to over a trillion euros for the period 2014-2020.

“Britain’s position is absolutely no way to a figure that involves an increase of that size, at this time when all our efforts are on fiscal adjustment and austerity.”

He also questioned the political will for such an increase when policies of austerity are being implemented in various member-states.

Referendum in Scotland

A referendum will be held on Scottish independence before the end of 2014.

When asked to speculate on a vote in favour of independence, he said: “There would have to be a long process of negotiation and it wouldn’t happen overnight.”

This negotiation, he said, would have to deal with the international bodies and institutions which Scotland, as a part of Britain, is currently involved in.

Discussing the prospect of a potentially independent Scotland attaining EU membership, Mr Chilcott said John Bruton's recent analysis of the issue was “a powerful argument.”

Mr Bruton said breakaway states from larger countries would cease to be members of the EU and would have to re-apply for such membership. This would require unanimous acceptance from EU member-states.

One of Mr Bruton's points was that some countries wouldn’t be keen on granting EU membership to secession states, as it might create a precedent and encourage areas within their own borders to do the same.

Decade of Centenaries

Major historical events, like the 1916 Rising, the signing of Anglo-Irish Treaty and various political and social movements, will celebrate their centenary within the next ten years.

The ambassador spoke recently about his wish that such commemorations would be as inclusive as possible.

He hoped there wouldn’t have to be “parallel” commemorations for more contentious events, as some have suggested.

When asked if senior British Ministers or even the Prime Minister would be present at any of the events, he said it would depend on diaries, but there was every sign they’d be welcome.

Despite saying there were no specific plans, he added “the honest answer is that it’s highly probable.”

Commemorating the events in an inclusive manner, which promotes common understanding, can promote reconciliation, he said.

Independent Review of the murder of Pat Finucane

The Ambassador said the independent report into the murder of Belfast solicitor, Pat Finucane, is expected to be published before the end of the year.

“It’s not going to be a comfortable report for the British Government, given that we have already admitted collusion.”

The independent review is being conducted by Desmond de Silva QC.

However, the Ambassador again ruled out a full public inquiry, as demanded by the Finucane family because of “cost and time...and the amount of bureaucratic effort...that displaces other activity as well.”

“It would be wrong to give any encouragement to the view that the government is going to give a full public inquiry. Those days of open-ended, expensive full public inquiries are over.”

Calls for a full public inquiry have been supported by the Government also.

But the British Ambassador said his government’s position is reasonable.

“What matters in this is getting at the truth. And really the manner in which you get at the truth should be less important than getting at the truth.”

The series continues next Friday with the Finnish Ambassador.

Keywords: ambassador
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