Kevin Doyle: ‘Why we should aim to heal rifts with the UK after years of turmoil’ –

Posted: October 19, 2019 at 1:46 pm

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Kevin Doyle: 'Why we should aim to heal rifts with the UK after years of turmoil'

It's fitting that the final hours of Brexit negotiations were hit by delay, confusion and a DUP wobble.

It's fitting that the final hours of Brexit negotiations were hit by delay, confusion and a DUP wobble.

For three years, these have been the symptoms that have consumed British politics.

Boris Johnson's efforts to finally 'rip the plaster' brought him back towards a long identified cure: a border down the Irish Sea.

Senior Irish politicians, at home and abroad, pointed to the remedy long ago - but it's clear the British establishment does not like to be told what to do by its insignificant neighbour.

But as George Bernard Shaw said: "If you injure your neighbour, better not do it by halves."

That's exactly what the UK did with Brexit. It didn't give a whim of thought to the impact on Ireland and when our politicians tried to tell it, it didn't listen.

It's not that 'our crowd' are brilliant or had all the answers, but they did see the danger.

Former Taoiseach Enda Kenny and several ministers, including Paschal Donohoe, had taken part in low-key events during the referendum to ask Irish citizens in the UK to vote Remain. In hindsight, they could have been more vocal but the government feared Irish 'interference' would only spur the Brexiteers. When the vote came, Mr Kenny noted that exit negotiations would not start for some months. "We must take this breathing space... and use it wisely," he observed.

I recall Fianna Fil leader Michel Martin looking particularly shell-shocked when he appeared before the media at Leinster House to provide his assessment.

At that stage, he hadn't helped Fine Gael pass a single budget. Now he has allowed four through the Dil with limited fuss.

The UK didn't use the time well but Mr Kenny did. He took off on a tour of European capitals, telling horror stories about Irish history.

The fact we call what happened on this island over three decades 'The Troubles' suggests we like to play down the hurt and anguish - but on this occasion Mr Kenny talked about dramatic violence and bodies lying in streets. To this day, the conflict in Northern Ireland is the bloodiest in the history of the EU.

Five days after the referendum in June 2016, the Irish Independent's frontpage headline read: "Ireland demanding package from EU to stop Brexit damage."

The report outlined Mr Kenny's plan to tell EU leaders that Ireland had suffered the equivalent of a political and economic earthquake.

The next day's headline was: "Brexit showdown: Kenny banking on Merkel's support."

Getting the German chancellor onside was key to ensuring other countries joined our battle.

Of course, it wasn't all straightforward.

This was a time when the row over water charges was still raging, Mr Kenny's leadership of Fine Gael was under constant scrutiny and day-to-day politics was still a thing.

In early July, the Irish Independent was prompted to run a very rare frontpage editorial calling for stability.

"Now that the numb shock created by Brexit has abated, the pain it inevitably entails will be felt most acutely unless we keep our composure and protect our flanks," it read.

"There are more than enough external risks with which to contend without creating our own internal ones. In this time of crisis, we cannot afford an unstable government."

As a clearer picture of the Brexit threat emerged, the EU did back Ireland and in turn TDs found a way to work together in the national interest.

In many ways that ability of both the Irish political establishment and the EU to come together stunned the British.

Some tried to undermine it when Leo Varadkar took over as Taoiseach, saying he was inexperienced and much more aggressive to deal with than his predecessor.

It's true Mr Varadkar was catapulted onto the international stage and mistakes were made.

The most obvious one was in December 2017 when the Irish Government was preparing to declare victory.

A press conference was called and reporters huddled outside Government Buildings for hours before eventually seeing the sound system and lecterns being dismantled.

The original Irish protocol agreed with Theresa May back then is not so different from what is on the table now - but the DUP sensed the glee in Dublin and brought proceedings to a swift halt.

It was a sharp lesson in 'delay, confusion and the DUP' for the Taoiseach.

Over time Mr Varadkar became the 'Brexit bogeyman' for the UK press. 'The Sun' referred to him as a "dope" and advised him to "shut your gob". Now, many people at home might agree with that assessment but they don't like other people pointing it out.

And the Taoiseach's team was quick to realise that being called "Lenny Verruca" in the 'Daily Mail' was doing wonders for his popularity in Ireland.

Perhaps the key to the Irish success is that even when the players changed after Mr Kenny stood down, the plan remained consistent.

Their line about there being no hard Border was so definitive that it actually showed we were vulnerable to the lack of a plan B.

There can be no denying now that if the UK crashed out last March our economy was in no way ready for the impact.

The human impact would have been devastating and Fine Gael would almost certainly be out of government by now.

It's said you make your own luck and maybe that's the case, but it was definitely lucky that Theresa May sought an extension and that EU leaders saw fit to give it.

Ireland has used up massive political capital since the Brexit vote. In one way it suited the EU to use this country as a justifiable stick to beat the UK with.

However, you can be sure that we will be reminded of it in the future.

For now the narrative from French President Emmanuel Macron and others will be that the European project stuck by a small nation in a time of trouble. This is true.

Irish people are unlikely to ever forget the solidarity shown during our moment in the limelight. But likewise, EU nations are unlikely to forget the risks they took in standing up to Boris Johnson on our behalf.

One senior EU source said recently: "This will never be linked to tax rates but it would be nice if Ireland showed some similar solidarity on that issue."

In the meantime, we should use this breathing space to try to repair Anglo-Irish relations.

As has so often been said, there is no such thing as a good Brexit for Ireland.

Unfortunately, there are years of difficult trade talks ahead between the UK and EU.

Having fought a running battle over the past three years, now would be a good time to turn over a new leaf and be its guy on the inside.

The EU may not always be our friends, but we're stuck with the UK as neighbours.

Irish Independent

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Kevin Doyle: 'Why we should aim to heal rifts with the UK after years of turmoil' -

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October 19th, 2019 at 1:46 pm

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