The temptation is strong to go apocalyptic over Brexit. A slightly poorer UK with the threat of fragmentation hanging over it is not the ideal backdrop for stability on Northern Ireland.
But here’s a thought.
Why not set good example? After all, our experience of instability is unrivalled in modern western Europe. We know the score. Let’s pick our way through Stephen Collins’ prophetic piece in the Irish Times .
There is some irony in the fact that on the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Rising, England has severed its key connection with us. Now, whether we like it or not, we are going to be far more dependent on our “gallant allies in Europe” than ever before in our history as an independent state.
I disagree that the EU was the “key connection”. Yes, the principle if not quite the practice, of equality between member states boosted Irish self confidence and the institutions created space and an additional framework to allow the essential connection to become healthier. But “the key connection” has always been, always will be, the intimate personal relations, across the islands, and north south.
There are many reasons to be apprehensive about what will happen in the years ahead but no reason to panic. Ireland has done far better as a member of the European Union than ever before in its history so there is no dilemma about remaining on despite the departure of our nearest neighbours.
There’s never any point in panicking if you can help it. The sterling/.euro exchange rate has gone up again to levels just short of the euphoria level it reached when the markets (wilfully?) misread the late polls. But the next strategic question is, will the eurozone proceed to integration? From their experience of the notorious troika are the Irish entirely happy about that? The rhetoric is still playing yes, the political realities say no. This is a discussion that must be held after the shock of Brexit subsides.
“There is no dilemma about remaining?” Probably not, Taking continuing EU and eurozone membership for granted is the best evidence that the key relationship is bilateral. There’ also a good chance that the City of London’s adversity will become Dublin’s opportunity if there is capital and services flight out the UK.
The future relationship between the two parts of Ireland is another huge challenge. The most likely response of the next UK government to the exit decision will be to impose strict Border controls, but they are likely to be between the two islands rather than along the 499km frontier.
Well possibly. Nobody knows what a future UK government will do including its potential members. Digitisation should help make it easier wherever controls are placed. Need a visible border on the island be so terrible in practice? Drivers are used to pausing to pay motorway tolls.
The constitutional position of Northern Ireland will be another live issue. Sinn Féin has been campaigning for a Border poll on the way to a united Ireland and the party will push that agenda much harder now. If there is a referendum on Scotland to leave the UK, it will fuel the demand for a referendum in the North.
“Live” issue? Embryonic maybe or a phantom pregnancy? No such evidence of demand presently exists. Indeed, last month’s dip in support for nationalist parties in the Assembly elections produced a rethink about the inevitability of a united Ireland and complaints that Sinn Fein were lying down under DUP triumphalism. Their sudden call for a border poll after the Brexit vote suggests they were as surprised at the outcome as most of us and were improvising a response to match Nicola Sturgeon’s in Scotland. It doesn’t seem like a quick fix. The local conditions are the ones that count .
Just now it’s makes me smile to read distinguished Dublin writers pontificating about the dangers of nationalism. They have learned their own lessons of nationalism. The smaller countries may have become less prone to self deception because their limitations for posturing are more obvious.
The British (specifically the English) are not the only ones to indulge in exceptionalism. There is for instance, the little matter of une certaine idée de la France. All the bigger countries fancy themselves. Creating a bigger and bigger stage of an ever- enlarging, ever closer EU to perform on was at least as powerful a driver as the pious claims of pooling sovereignty for the common good.
The EU can still provide corrections to too narrow a vision of national interests provided it restrains its own imperialist instincts. Sadly the UK seems to have rejected that valuable service. Perhaps the Irish can speak up for it?
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London