Bonnie Greer’s intervention on Brexit and Ireland last week was spectacularly ill-judged

Bonnie Greer’s intervention on Brexit and Ireland last week was spectacularly ill-judged

It’s hard to be surprised by anything surrounding Brexit these days, but sure enough the BBC did their best last week. This time it was the turn of playwright Bonnie Greer to weigh in on the debate as a panellist on this week’s edition of Question Time. What followed was fitting of an Alanis Morrisette song…

Firstly, isn’t it ironic that an American playwright would discuss international diplomacy in the first place? But especially a playwright so uninformed as to talk about the potential for the UK negatively impacting Ireland in the same week that the US did in fact negatively impact all of Europe.

For this week the United States had $7.5 billion worth of tariffs approved that will affect Ireland directly. The WTO approved 25% tariffs on Irish food and beverage products, meaning Kerrygold and Baileys will suffer significantly. This is a given, it’s been approved and it’s happening. However, Greer still feels compelled to comment on hypothetical future deals that may happen between the UK and the US?

However, I will forgive Greer for knowing nothing about international trade deals; after all, she is a novelist. But where she stepped over the line was with regard to the Good Friday Agreement. She incorrectly referred to it as a “truce” before going on to claim the peace process happened after the US and the EU sat the British down and told them to broker a deal. I had to pause at this juncture: was Ms. Greer brainstorming ideas for a sci-fi novel?

How dare anyone take from the peace agreement the tireless work of the Irish, particularly Bertie Ahern, and other unnamed civil servants who worked for years to get peace in Northern Ireland. Furthermore, the work of John Major and Tony Blair was instrumental in this whole process and the Good Friday Agreement should be a beacon of what we can achieve when working together, not a virtue signal for the Americans.

While I acknowledge that Bill Clinton broke ground in visiting Northern Ireland and he certainly helped, Greer’s comments were so far off the mark as to verge on absurdity. Clinton’s work on the peace process was important, but it was as a facilitator and not a heavy-handed US grand intervention. Yet these comments grew traction in the media and so the news cycle predictably lauded her. This isn’t the first time that unfortunate comments about Northern Ireland gained media attention: Leo Varadkar made similarly blasé remarks in January. However, at least Varadkar is relevant to Brexit and knew what he was saying. Bonnie Greer’s comments served no agenda other than her own and that of sensationalist writers looking for a quick puff piece to fill their word count (by the way, thanks Ms. Greer!).

The most spectacularly ironic comment was made by Greer in relation to a Polish friend in London. She told the story of a woman who was afraid to speak Polish with her daughter for fear of being attacked which is certainly sad and in no way right. Yet, this story was just another sign that Greer has no right to be talking about Brexit and Anglo-Irish relations; after all, this past summer Irish people with families and children in the US were forcibly arrested and removed from their families without warning. There was no mention of this from Greer, only an insulting platitude that the Chicago river is dyed green for St. Patrick’s Day. Really Bonnie, what good is that when you won’t be able to buy a Baileys coffee to keep yourself warm?

The reporting on Brexit and Ireland has increasingly become disparaging towards the British and is failing to be constructive. Greer’s misinformed remarks are the latest in a litany of damaging articles and publications on Anglo-Irish relations. What all these pieces have in common is the assumption that we Irish don’t care about the UK or their future or that they owe us nothing. That may be true, many people I talk to don’t care and certainly we don’t owe them anything.

But this monothetic way of thinking is wrong, because we owe something to the nearly 100,000 Irish-born people employed and living in the UK. We owe it to our countrymen and women to be concerned for their futures and livelihoods and misrepresenting the situation in public is not looking after them. Selfishly I want a prosperous Britain for my family in London, a place that I imagined wishfully as my father told stories of a lost summer spent working as a barman.

Let’s not listen to hyperbole from a talk show panellist – whose native country has catastrophic border relations. Let’s work together to maintain a sustainable relationship with Britain and Northern Ireland through this process.