The Irish establishment needs to call a halt to its Brexit gloom

The Irish establishment needs to call a halt to its Brexit gloom

Last Friday I attended the “All-Island Civic Dialogue on Brexit” in Dublin Castle. I was one of around 500 attendees. But – I’m pretty sure – I was the only Brexiteer in the room.

The event kicked off in gloom mode and pretty much stayed in that mode for the rest of the day. To be fair, I left the proceedings mid-afternoon – uncharacteristically, on my part, missing the drinks reception and “networking” at the end. But by lunchtime it was clear that there was little I could do apart from invite the admonition of the delegates for daring to depart from the chosen line that Brexit was bad for everything: bad for Ireland, bad for the EU, bad for Northern Ireland and bad for the peace process.

Few seemed to care if Brexit was good for the United Kingdom. In short, the entire event was an excuse for collective lamenting. Even Angela McGowan, regional Director for the CBI in Northern Ireland, when asked if she could think of any opportunities arising from Brexit, seemed perplexed by the question.

Ms McGowan was one of three panellists who took part in a discussion on the “unique circumstances of Northern Ireland”. All of the panellists were, needless to say, very vocal Remainers during the referendum campaign.

To be fair, the Irish Government did invite the DUP and other Unionist parties to take part, but they declined. But many of the most vocal campaigners for Brexit in Northern Ireland were not aligned to any political parties. Many – including myself – were from the business community, but none were invited to sit on any such panels.

But the event failed at other levels too. There was no real discussion about any of the structural fault-lines running through the EU. There was no discussion about the systemic infection of the European banking system, or the overly cosy relationship between some of Ireland’s most rotten banks and many of Europe’s. There was no agenda item about how Ireland could possibly survive as a small nation if it had no control over its corporate taxation rates or was forced to demand ‘unpaid tax’ off its most important inward investors, like Apple. There was no discussion about the possible merits of Ireland leaving the Eurozone – given the severe problems Irish exporters have faced since Sterling devalued post-referendum.

Instead, speaker after speaker focused on the border and the need to maintain EU-funded border bodies. There were loud demands that border towns needed special assistance (taxpayers’ money or tax breaks) to weather the terrible Brexit nuclear winter.

The Irish gloom merchants prefer to fixate on the largesse of the EU funding border county quangos than the largesse of the UK exchequer funding Northern Ireland’s grotesque levels of benefit claiming or public sector employment.

We were told time after time about the threat to the peace process if the British insisted on forging ahead with this Brexit folly. One speaker suggested that the Irish Government might assist Tony Blair in his crusade to have the Brexit result overturned.

The rationalists in Dublin have no doubt that Ireland and Britain have, in fact, a very synergistic relationship. Perhaps, in the short term, Ireland may steal some advantage for herself in Brussels or Strasbourg. But, ultimately, the EU’s days are numbered and Ireland and the UK will have to replace the peace process with something a bit more respectful of our shared values and trading partnerships. The common travel area will continue. Trade will continue, even if the UK leaves the single market and customs union.

But, long term, Ireland’s interests will be best served by sticking closely with her closest trading partner. Thankfully, many people in Dublin know this and will get on with it, despite what the All-Island Civil Dialogue on Brexit might say in its plenary sessions.