Tying Ireland to Europe's sick man?
MR. LEMASS—as always—displayed a nice sense of timing this week. His visit to London, followed by the crucial announcement that both governments were considering the possibilities of setting up a free trade area between Ireland and Britain, has not only served to divert attention from our more immediate economic difficulties, but has started quite a healthy little controversy of its own.
It is, as yet a muffled controversy: Dublin, for instance, is still newspaper-less after more than a month of fruitless negotiations between printers and managements; but it is definitely a live issue and one that will come in for a great deal of discussion within the next few months.
Mr. Lemass and his Cabinet have been at pains to assure the public that participation in a free trade area will involve no loss of sovereignty. The Minister for Finance, Mr. Lynch, in the Senate this week, went an far as to point out that we would lose less sovereignty in a free trade area than we would by joining a common market.
"Our object", he added later. "is ultimately membership of an enlarged E.E.Ce and it is with Britain bilaterally that we are in a position to make the best interim arrangement. It is our own economic interest which motivates our negotiations with Britain."
In one way, it is difficult to see what we can lose by such an arrangement. It will prevent the creation of another situation such as the one that was created by the 15 per cent import surcharge. whose effects on our economy have yet to he frilly delineated. It will encourage even more foreign manufacturers to establish factories here with direct access to the British market and • even if it makes things more difficult for Britain — it will ultimately make it easier for Ireland to leap-frog into the Common Market.
Two schools of opposition THERE ARE two schools of opposition to this new development. One is the pro-tariff school, which is unwilling, or unable, to face the effects of free competition and has ten years' leeway to make up in modernising its approach to industry, marketing and export. The attitude of the other opposition school was perhaps best expressed by the Fine Gael Senator, Garrett Fitzgerald, when he objected to the Taoiseach's "tying us to the sick man of Europe". Senator Fitzgerald's voice will not be the only one raised along these lines in the months to come.
But it remains to be seen whether they can offer any practicable alternative. Some firms here, it is true, have a certain suspicion of the British market, and prefer Ito develop their exports in other directions — towards the United States, for example. Their farsightedness was shown when the British import surcharge was applied early this year. They are relatively few in number, though, and it is unlikely that they will be joined by many more.
Whatever chance of independence it once had, the Irish economy 's now very firmly linked with that of Britain. That this is only partly by design is of little consequence. What is slightly alarming is that so few of those who acknowledge this situation do anything concrete to take advantage of it.
A tricky situation THE PRIME MINISTER Mr. Lemass had hardly got back from London when he was faced with yet another tricky situation. The Executive Council of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, acting on a motion passed at their annual delegate conference in Cork last week, called on the Minister for Industry and Commerce, Dr. Hillery, to ask for a meeting of the parties to the national wage agreement as soon as possihte. This is not something that can he put off, in spite of the fact that the national wage agreement is due to last for another year. At their meeting in Cork, trade unionists came back again and again to two simple statistics: since the 12 per cent wage increase, the cost of living generally has risen by 11 per cent, while the cost of foodstuffs has risen by 14 per cent.
The lower income groups who spend a greater proportion of their total income on the necessities of life, have clearly been most seriously affected by the rise in the cost of living.
The government can hardly find any consolation in the fact that much of the rise in the cost of living is undoubtedly due to profiteering by traders who used the 21 per cent turnover tax as the excuse for a general price hike: and they
are faced, in the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, by sonic very determined customers indeed.
Goodbye to the Gaiety?
DUBLIN'S FAMOUS Gaiety Theatre— whose stage has been graced, more often than they care to remember, by artists like Micheal Mac Liammoir. Hilton Edwards and the late Jimmy O'Dea—is the latest of our cultural landmarks to be threatened in the name of development. The E.S.B. has already demolished a majestic swathe of Georgian buildings in Fitzwiliiam Street, leaving exposed the crude, concrete monstrosity they put up behind them some years ago. Now the Gaiety is in danger of being sacrificed to an office block.
The theatre simply doesn't. seem to be making enough money any more. Otherwise it is difficult to see why it should be sold. But the price to be paid for the block — about £200,000 by cross-channel interests is a fair enough indication of the way property values can escalate.
So far little has been done to save it, although a strongly worded motion framed by Dermot Doolan, Secretary of Irish Actors Equity, was passed at the Irish Congress of Trade Unions meeting in Cork. The only glimmer of hope has come from the Minister for Finance, who hinted that if the people of Dublin wanted to save the theatre, they might do the same as the people of Cork.
Now the people of Cork, to save their Opera House, raised over £50,000, and the government matched them pound for pound. But it took a long time, and property developers are not inclined to wait.
St. Michael's is gutted TOURISTS WHO visit the wild and beautiful lake in Gougane Barra this year for the first time may well be puzzled by the architectural style of the church built on the lake's little island and dedicated to St. Finbarr. It is, in fact, a fine example of the Hiberno-Byzantine style and is modelled after the chapel of Cormac on the rock of Cashel.
Not even the thousands of people who visit the island and its oratory every year can take away much of its essential solitude. The church, however, has seen a lot of hard weather since it was built in 1880 and the parish priest of iveleary, under whose jurisdiction it comes, is now about to undertake a major job of repair and renovation on the church fabric.
However big a job it is, though. it will not be as large as That which faces Mgr. Boylan, parish priest of Dun Laoghaire. His Church of St. Michael was gutted by fire earlier this week and the structure, which is well over a century old, is now nothing more than a shell.
The fire. which is believed to have started in the organ loft, raced through the roof's tinder-dry rafters and had a paralysing grip on the whole building before anyone could do anything about it. The fire was so fierce that large areas of the town were without water for several hours while the fire brigades were in action.
Characteristically, perhaps, Mgr. Boylan's thoughts as he watched his church being remorselessly gutted by the flames, tended less towards the past than towards the future. He was less interested in mourning what had happened than in thinking about the new church that would have to be built.