by Frank Schnittger
Fri Jul 24th, 2020 at 09:46:56 AM EST
In Ireland we are used to insulting, malevolent, and utterly ignorant commentaries on our affairs in the British tabloids in particular, but also in "respectable" broadsheets like the Telegraph, and supposedly sophisticated magazines like the Spectator.
"Lttle Leo" was portrayed as the EU's Lapdog doing their bidding at the behest of Macron or whoever was the EU bully-du-jour. He was running scared of Sinn Féin and adopting their policies. He was regularly told to shut up and stop interfering as Great Britain went about its Great Brexit business.
In the past week two articles in the British media have offered a startlingly different perspective. The Editorial in the Guardian "an enviable beauty is born", was the less surprising. The Guardian is often more sympathetic to Irish (and Remainer) views, and even features Irish Times columnist, Fintan O'Toole, on occasion to offer an Irish perspective.
But if anything, it was the Economist which was the more gushing this week:
The Economist:How Ireland gets its way
An unlikely diplomatic superpower
On a per-head basis, Ireland has a good claim to be the world's most diplomatically powerful country. Its finance minister, Paschal Donohoe, last week won the race to become president of the Eurogroup, the influential club of euro-zone finance ministers, despite the French and German governments backing another candidate. In June Ireland won a seat on the un Security Council, fending off Canada, another country often flattered by comparison with a bigger, sometimes boorish, neighbour. Barely a decade after a financial crisis saw Ireland bailed out, Philip Lane, the former head of Ireland's central bank, is the main thinker at the European Central Bank. In Brussels, Ireland's commissioner Philip Hogan is in charge of trade, one of the few briefs where the European Commission, rather than EU governments, is supreme. And the EU's position on Brexit was shaped by Irish diplomats.
Reaction in Ireland has been more bemused than flattered. Two swallows don't make a summer, and we have had enough experience of Perfidious Albion doing its worst not to take such praise at face value. Finn McRedmond, a Northern Irish journalist living and working in England, has an article up in the Irish Times arguing that Praise for Ireland says more about the state of Britain. Apparently the UK is going through an identity crisis, and many are looking enviously at our seeming success within the EU and on the world stage.
But many of the comments below are very cynical about this view. Firstly, they decry the Irish Times' continuing focus on all things British at the expense of a broader coverage of European Affairs. The prevailing consensus seems to be that it is time to stop obsessing about what the British do and don't think and write more about what is happening in our European neighbours - where our future lies. That in itself is an indication that Ireland is shaking off its post colonial obsession with our erstwhile rulers and wanting to move on to take its place among the independent nations of the world.
One regular commentator, OxBOD, a computer systems developer and Green party member, (whom I have exhorted to write for the European Tribune!) has this to say:
As FOT [Fintan O'Toole] observed about the Brits, they never felt "in charge" in Europe so the natural assumption was that they were being dominated. Imperial history taught them, international relations were a zero sum game.
So naturally it follows Ireland is either trodden under foot or a tiny superpower. From a country obsessed with "world beating" DIY ventillators, contact tracing - it naturally follows - Ireland the country that just "beat" them at the sea border - must be one of those "world beating" - "best in class".. meh
We would be well advised in this country - to focus on just continuing to try to be a normal European country. Putting the legacy of violence, economic doldrums, theocracy, emigration as far behind us as we can. There's no need to overstate, or overindulge. It is perfectly normal for European member states to get a seat on the security council. Its not a permanent one. EU membership, not some intrinsic Irish diplomatic cute hoorism has delivered up the sea border.
The Brits have notions, leave them to those notions. We have enough real problems without adding to those problems with new notions of our own.
The Tiger years shows you exactly where notions get you. The celtic Tiger was a teachable moment for us. Brexit unfortunately for the Brits, will be and is proving to be a teachable moment for them.
Its not enjoyable, its not in our interests, it will get worse before it gets better.
Buckle up !
Coming late to the party, and at the bottom of the comments pile, I have added my own two pence worth to the conversation:
Am I the only one here who regards Finn as a British journalist writing mainly about Britain - what she knows best - and occasionally for an Irish audience? You can't blame her if she obsesses about Britain. It is her home. You can blame IT Editorial decisions about the relative amount of UK as opposed to European content here, but don't expect Finn to write about Italy. It is not her specialist subject.
It is easy to make too much out of two very positive articles about Ireland's diplomatic achievements in a sea of red top abuse. But it may signal a change of tone. The UK establishment's response to the border issue was to ignore it. Little Ireland really didn't matter all that much, and the Brexit deal would be made between the Big Boys in the UK, Germany and France. The initial UK reaction to Ireland's diplomatic success in keeping the land border open was one of outrage. How dare little Ireland thwart Great Britain's Brexit dream. Little Leo was told to sod off.
Now I doubt Britain will make the same mistake again. The UK establishment respects power and was surprised Ireland could wield so much of it via its connections in Europe and the USA. So lets accept this praise it the generous spirit in which it was given and move on to the very real litany of problems we face, ones that, collectively, would test the mettle of any political establishment to overcome. Pride comes before the fall. We made that mistake in 2008 and don't need to make it again.
And in the meantime, IT Editors, please give us more informed content on the rest of Europe. We badly need a better understanding of what is going on there. It is where our future lies.
I am not given to conspiracy theories, and the two positive stories may be just that, two positive stories published entirely independently by two reputable publications. But in my darker moments I also smell a rat. Such praise has to be either patronising or worse; we are being set-up to take the fall when the Brexit trade deal talks bread down, as they almost inevitably will. Ireland will have used "its immense influence in Brussels" to stab Great Britain in the back. Then the enormous damage which will be done to the Irish Agricultural industry (over 50% of our Beef exports go to the UK) will be all our own fault, and a salutary lesson in what happens when you get too big for your boots.
And so the unaccustomed praise for Ireland may be as misleading as the usual savagery of ignorant insults. It is not Ireland which wants the Brexit trade deal talks to break down. Much of our agriculture and rural economy depends on there being a deal which averts the often 50%+ tariffs which would apply to our exports under WTO rules.
But those in Britain who would use Ireland as a Trojan horse to gain back-door access to the Single Market without the costs of EU membership also need to know that our influence in Brussels is ultimately very limited. If the German car industry can't force Angela Merkel to make a deal, there is little chance Ireland can.
Any deal will have to be in the best interests of the EU as a whole, and that doesn't include giving a non-member benefits continuing members, including Ireland, have to pay dearly for. The Guardian and the Economist may well be disappointed, if they think Ireland can swing a good deal for them. And no, we are not going to let ourselves be set up to take the fall when the shit hits the fan and all Brexit dreams of "the easiest trade deal in history" come tumbling down. That, dear Boris, will be all of your own doing.