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Guide to sources on Ireland and European Unity

Note: the following guide written by Bernadette Chambers, archivist, Department of Foreign Affairs, draws on the archives of the Department of Foreign Affairs held in the National Archives and aims to highlight the research potential of this material through the provision of an historical background to the files, together with a list of references for various file series, a list of the principal participants and a select bibliography.


The records referred to in this guide were created in the Department of External Affairs (known as the Department of Foreign Affairs from 1970) and cover an approximate period of 1945–1962. They relate to Ireland’s approach to European unity through membership of European organisations both prior to her first application for membership of the European Economic Community in 1961 and also in the subsequent negotiations preceding the country’s eventual entry into the Community in 1973.

References are to file series, but some individual file references are given in the historical background. All records referred to in this guide are open to public inspection under the National Archives Act 1986 and Regulations 1988.

Historical background

During 1948–50, Ireland participated in the European Recovery Programme (widely known as the Marshall Plan) and signed the Convention creating the OEEC (Organisation For European Economic Cooperation) in April 1948. Ireland was a founding member of the Council of Europe and in 1948 a branch of the International Committee of the Movement for European Unity was inaugurated in Dublin.

Prior to 1961

The EEC (European Economic Community) was established in Western Europe in 1957 with the objective of achieving the economic and political union of its members. There had been widespread interest in Ireland during the 1950's towards membership of such an organisation. Some consideration was also given to the possibility of seeking associate status with the EEC and membership of EFTA (European Free Trade Area) was also mooted. However, realising that the United Kingdom intended to apply for membership of the European Economic Community, Ireland, in view of the substantial economic linkages with her nearest neighbour, applied to join the Community as a full member on 31 July 1961. (See file CM/6 I (B)).


On 1 September 1961 the European Economic Community Council replied, but it was noted that the letter to Ireland differed from that sent to Denmark and the UK. Doubts were expressed not only about Ireland’s economic capacity, but also the question of closer political co-operation within the EEC. The matter of Ireland’s neutrality and her position on NATO membership was also in question. The Council agreed to exchange views in January 1962, but this did not happen and the Government made a decision on l March to approach M. Couvre de Murville, Chairman of the EEC Council of Ministers. The note was delivered to him on 3 March 1962. Ireland expected her application to be considered at the July Council meeting and to be admitted under Article 237.


The Taoiseach, Mr. Seán Lemass, met M. Couvre de Murville on 13 October 1962 and the German Chancellor, Dr. Adenauer, on 22 October 1962. The issue came before the Council of Ministers on 23 October 1962. (Council of Ministers meeting of 23/24 October 1962)


On 14 January 1963, French President General Charles de Gaulle gave a press conference at which he made it clear that he did not agree with the entry of Britain into the EEC. This did not bode well for Ireland’s entry. Ireland mounted a diplomatic 'charm offensive', with the Taoiseach and his officials visiting European capitals to muster support for EEC entry. However, it was not successful on this occasion. The Taoiseach addressed Ministers of the Governments of the EEC on 18 January 1963 and stated Ireland’s attitude to union with the EEC and NATO clearly. (see paper by the Secretary of the Department of External Affairs, Mr. Con Cremin, of 5 January 1963, "Political Implications of Membership of the EEC".)
In 1965, after entry to the European Economic Community was refused, Ireland signed the Anglo-Irish Free Trade Agreement.

Foreign Affairs file series references

Marshall Plan 1947–60 and Conference for European Economic Cooperation following European Recovery Programme. Organisation for European Economic Cooperation

Post war financial arrangements 1943–60 and (Keynes and White plans) following four files

European Parliamentary Union 1946–59

Establishment of a National Council of 1948–59 and the European Movement in Ireland following Council of Europe

Council of Europe Series

EEC and GATT 1957–61


European Political Authority (EPA) 1952–53

same 1953

same 1953–55

same (press cuttings) 1952–53

CM 6 I (a) to CM 6 XXI
and CM 6 XXII to CM 6 XXIV
Ireland’s relations with the EEC. Developments affecting Ireland following suspension of British-EEC negotiations

Series S
Secretary’s Office files

Series 313
Political reports from the various missions

List of the principal participants

Mr. Sean Lemass – Taoiseach (Prime Minister) 1961
Mr. Cornelius Cremin – Secretary, Department of External Affairs, 1961
Mr. Francis Biggar – Ambassador, Brussels Embassy, 1961 (permanent representative from 1963)
Mr. Eamonn Gallagher
Dr. Donal O’Sullivan (seconded from the Department of Industry and Commerce)
Mr. Denis McDonald – Ambassador, Paris Embassy 1961
Mr. Brian Gallagher Ambassador – The Hague Embassy up to 1962 (Bonn Embassy from 1962)
Mr. Hugh McCann – Ambassador, London Embassy
Mr. W. Warnock Ambassador – Bad Godesberg 1961
Mr. Thomas J. Kiernan – Ambassador, Washington
Mr. J.G. Molloy
Mr. Noel Dorr
Mr. T.K. Whittaker – Secretary, Department of Finance, 1961
Mr. J. C.B. MacCarthy – Secretary, Department of Industry and Commerce 1961
Mr. J. C. Nagle – Secretary, Department of Agriculture 1961
Dr. Nicholas Nolan – Secretary, Department of the Taoiseach 1961
Prof. Ludwig Erhard – President, Council of EEC 1961

Select bibliography

Treaty concerning the Accession of the Kingdom of Denmark, Ireland, the Kingdom of Norway and the United Kingdom to the EEC, etc., Brussels, 22 January 1972, published by the Stationery Office, Dublin.

The Single European Act, a Government Information Booklet, published by the Stationery Office, Dublin, May 1987.

Developments in the European Communities, series of reports published twice yearly by the Stationery Office, Dublin, under Section 5 of the European Communities Act, 1972.

The Road to Europe – Irish Attitudes 1948–61, Dublin, 1983.
M. Hederman O’Brien.

Ireland and Europe 1919–1989, Hibernian University Press, Cork & Dublin, 1990. Dermot Keogh.

The Tortuous Path: The course of Ireland’s entry into the EEC 1948–73, Dublin, 1986.
D.J. Maher.

The Irish Department of Finance 1922–1958, IPA, Dublin, 1978. Ronan Fanning.