Ruairi Quinn: a distinguished record of service in Europe’s heart
2016-04-01 11:20:37 -
World News

Michael McGowan


The terrorist attacks in Brussels highlight the urgent need for more European co-operation, not less. It is regrettable, cheap, and dangerous that the response to the bombings and murders is being used to fuel other political agendas including, contenders in the US presidential campaign and the British EU referendum.

Republican frontrunner Donald Trump last year suggested that Muslims should not be allowed to enter the US, and since the Brussels terrorist attacks has claimed that British Muslims are reluctant to pass on information to the security forces. In the UK, Nigel Farage of Ukip has claimed that the attacks ‘prove’ that the UK needs to leave the EU.

As Ireland comes to terms with the outcome of its recent General Election as it commemorates the Easter Rising, there is an urgent need for this State not yet 100 years old to get moving and help provide political leadership in Europe, especially as the EU flounders in the light of the Brussels attacks. We need more political leaders who are internationalists, who do not pander to populist, nationalist, and far-right attitudes but who will positively support the EU, the UN and world citizenship.

It is also important for Ireland to reflect with pride on the service of leaders who have contributed to European co-operation, such as Ruairi Quinn, former leader of the Irish Labour Party, who retired as a TD at the General Election.

Quinn held the key positions in recent Irish politics of both Labour leader and Minister for Finance, and has been influential and respected in Europe.

He was an important, steadying element in the economic and political crises of the 1980s, the fall of the Iron Curtain, the landmark Presidential election of Mary Robinson, the birth of the Euro and the emergence of the Celtic Tiger.

Quinn’s family were prominent republicans in South Down in the 1920s. He was educated at St Michael’s College in Dublin and Blackrock College where he was an outstanding athlete and always interested in art. He studied architecture at University College Dublin in 1964 and later at the School of Ekistics in Athens. In 1965 he joined the Labour Party, was a leading student radical in UCD, travelled in Europe and became a Europhile.

Qualified as an architect in 1969, Quinn didn’t get into the mainstream political game till a few years later, first elected a Labour Party TD for Dublin South East in the 1977 General Election to become the first professional architect and town planner ever elected to the Dáil.

He became deputy leader of the Labour Party in 1989 and was director of elections for Mary Robinson’s successful Presidential election campaign in 1990. He was also the first Minister for Finance from the Labour Party in Irish political history.

In Europe, Quinn served as president of the Ecofin Council of the European Union in 1996 and worked to accelerate the launch of the European single currency while securing Ireland’s qualification for the Eurozone.

In October 1997, when Dick Spring retired as leader of the Labour Party, Quinn took the reins and consistently argued for closer European integration. He stood down as leader of the Labour Party at the 2011 general election.

In addition, Quinn led the European Movement Ireland, a pro-EU lobby group in Ireland until late 2007, when he founded the Irish Alliance for Europe to campaign on the Treaty of Lisbon. He has also served as vice-president and treasurer of the Party of European Socialists.

Ireland has always played a positive role as a member of the EU and today needs to use its influence in Europe and build on the service over the years of renowned Irish MEPs, EU Commissioners and ministers in the vein of Ruairi Quinn. The terrorist attacks in Brussels demonstrate most vividly the urgent need for more political leadership and co-operation across Europe such as Ireland has contributed over the years.


Michael McGowan is a former MEP and president of the Development Committee of the European Parliament

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