One of the things I’ve picked up about Fianna Fáil (under Micheal Martin, if not previous leaders of the party) is how they like to use commemorations for individuals from the party’s past to sow ideas about the present and future.
So yesterday in a speech in Cork to remember Seán Moylan, an IRA volunteer from the 1920s and former FF minister in the 1950s, the party leader concluded with this peppery warning about Brexit…
By any measure this is a challenging moment in our history. We have come through a deep recession and we must address a broad sense of a country which has become more divided and more unfair. On top of this we face rising threats from an international situation which could cause deep, long-term damage.
These threats cannot be tackled by sitting back and hoping everything will turn out all right. We desperately need a new urgency and ambition in our government.
In the five months since the UK’s Brexit vote the only things which are clear are that their policy is a shambles and that it is already causing real damage on this island. Brexit is not something which is happening in two years, it is happening now.
Brexit is already undermining Irish businesses and communities which have for decades worked on the basis that our countries shared a commitment to working constructively with other European countries.
Britain has taken the route of a backward-looking nationalism, suspicious of outsiders and ”
The republican constitution drafted by Eamon de Valera at the darkest moment in modern history committed this country to the idea of democratic values, international cooperation and respect for international law.
The founding generation of this state committed us to a European future which has delivered us progress which would have been impossible if we had remained a provincial economy of one neighbour.
We are not going to join the English in their desire to repeal the 20th century. We will not join them in their right-wing ideology of trade rules with no social dimension and no enforceable laws.
We stand for a progressive approach which demands that rights be protected, that there be investment in social needs and that we have the opportunity to have our voice heard in the international community.
What we need now is an urgent national plan for mitigating the impact of the hard Brexit which is already underway and for opening up new markets.
Given how much the UK market is worth for agri-food exports, rural communities are facing the hardest impact. The unprecedented decline in Sterling may soon be followed by new barriers to trade. We can’t stand by and let this slow-motion crash happen.
That is why we are calling for the EU to agree and part-fund a new programme to help sectors badly hit by Brexit and to give them an exemption from normal state aid rules until they have been given a chance to find more secure markets or to develop new products.
We also have to stop the talk and start acting to protect the fabric of our rural communities. The worst of the last government’s agenda on attacking rural schools has been stopped – but what they need now is a long-term agenda for how they are to develop and how their role as the heartbeat of the community is to be protected.
Rural Ireland also needs a guarantee that it will have fair access to the social and economic services which are essential for communities and businesses to thrive. Whether it’s the closure of post offices, reduction of infrastructure funding or poor broadband coverage, rural Ireland is facing official policy which is making a tough situation much, much worse.
We must also as a nation understand that the hard-line populism developing in other countries is a threat to us as well. Those who try to push politics to the extreme, who always have a conspiracy or an enemy on which to blame problems and who claim there are easy answers to even the hardest problems – these are people who do nothing constructive and cause immense damage.
It is much harder to argue from the constructive centre – limiting yourself to what is possible rather. But this is the only way to deliver a politics which focuses on tackling problems rather than exploiting them. Practical patriotism – ambitious for our country and putting people ahead of ideology – that is the spirit which helped build our country and it is the spirit which is needs now.
It is our duty as a democratic republic – one of the oldest in the world – to speak up for our values. It is our duty to be true to the progressive republican idealism of Seán Moylan and the rest of his generation which did so much for us.