by Frank Schnittger
Fri Feb 5th, 2021 at 02:09:04 AM EST
Brexiteers generally have been puzzled and annoyed at Ireland's failure to follow the UK out of the EU. They have been especially irritated at the problems the "Irish border" has created for them getting the clean break from the EU that they wanted. That problem would have disappeared had Ireland, too, decided to leave the EU. Nigel Farage even came to Ireland to campaign for "Irexit", and his ex-communications director, Hermann Kelly, got all of 2,441 votes or 0.67% of the total in the Dublin Constituency in the European Elections in 2019.
But it isn't just Brexiteers who find Ireland's apparent Europhilia irritating and annoying. Newton Emerson, a Northern Ireland unionist and Irish Times columnist who voted Remain has just written a column entitled Unionism to squander opportunity presented by EU blunder in which he conflates Irish Europhilia with Anglophobia. Apparently it is inconceivable for even a moderate unionist to think of Irish people who support EU membership as doing so for any reason other than hatred of Britain.
Naturally I felt compelled to set him straight in a letter published in the Irish Times:(fourth letter down)
A chara, - According to your columnist Newton Emerson, the Article 16 debacle meant that "Irish Europhilia, mostly displaced Anglophobia, had met its Waterloo" ("Unionism to squander opportunity presented by EU blunder", Opinion & Analysis, February 4th). There are a number of problems with this statement.
First, Irish Europhilia, insofar as it exists, has got nothing to do with Anglophobia. Indeed, we joined the EU at the same time as the UK, as our economies were so intertwined, and pursuing a divergent path was not a realistic option for us at the time.
Second, membership of the EU has enabled us to develop from a relatively poor backwater on the edge of Europe to a relatively prosperous and outward looking social democracy increasingly integrated with the EU economy. We no longer measure ourselves almost exclusively against Britain.
Third, euroscepticism in Ireland, insofar as it exists, was long led by Sinn Féin and extreme Irish nationalism of a kind similar to the English nationalism that drove the Brexit project. Those who favour the European project are generally against extreme nationalism of any kind.
Finally, a fleeting mistake by the European Commission is hardly comparable to Waterloo. Those of us most engaged in the European project have also been most active in calling for its reform.
This is the first time the commission was asked to lead on a vaccine procurement project, and it clearly has much to learn about responding quickly and decisively in a crisis situation. - Yours, etc,
Newton Emerson is an astute observer of N. Ireland politics and generally a good writer. As a more moderate unionist he despairs of the DUP ever making the most of the political opportunity presented by the Commission's blunder on Article 16 to water down the provisions of the Northern Ireland Protocol. But he also can't resist taking a side-swipe at people in the Republic whose Europhilia he sees as just another form of the Anglophobia he detects in all political discourse here.
The sad fact is that people here are moving on from Brexit. The UK is out of the EU to general relief that that chapter has finally been closed. People no longer compare everything we do with how things are done in England and are much more interested in working more closely with our partners in Europe. What does concern us is that the Commission could have considered invoking Article 16 without consulting with the Irish government or Irish officials working in Brussels.
And it is in this context that two other letter writers today make interesting points: ADRIAN CONWAY asks whether the Commission would have made that mistake if Phil Hogan had still been Trade Commissioner, and Prof CIARÁN BURKE, laments the loss of "Irish Knowledge" in the Commission in the following terms:
Sir, - As the furore over the EU's abandoned invocation of Article 16 continues, Naomi O'Leary proposes that further faux pas may be avoided by renewed Irish engagement in Brussels ("Perils for Ireland in navigating fraught relationship between London and Brussels", Analysis, February 4th).
Noting that familiar faces such as Michel Barnier are fading from the picture, she makes the case for renewed engagement by Irish officials in EU institutions.
This idea undoubtedly has much to recommend it.
In relation to issues such as Article 16, Irish voices within the European Commission's staff are particularly valuable.
However, one of the less reported consequences of Brexit is that the definition of what constitutes an "Irish voice" in Brussels has changed.
When the Brexit referendum put their future employment in peril, UK nationals working in EU institutions scrambled to find themselves a second nationality. Unsurprisingly, many uncovered links to Ireland.
This presented a means for them to retain their employment, and, indeed, to retain influence in Brussels for decades to come.
The majority of this group are English-born, and have benefited from an elite English education, heavy on Latin and Greek, but light on Irish history and politics.
They are in no position to enlighten commissioners as to the delicate issues at play with respect to "the Irish question", and unlikely to don the proverbial green jersey when required.
Moreover, the fact that so many Brits have acquired Irish nationality means that the door will be closed for many Irish citizens hoping to forge careers in Europe, due to a surfeit of officials from a small member state.
Given that European Commissioner Mairead McGuinness's eyes do not seem as sharp as her elbows (having failed to notice the Article 16 problem), this issue is much to be regretted. - Yours, etc,
Prof CIARÁN BURKE,
Ever since the Brexit referendum, demand for Irish passports has been extraordinarily high from British citizens ordinarily domiciled in Britain and with some Irish connections anxious not to lose the benefits of EU citizenship. Many are undoubtedly sincere in their commitment to their new nationality, but that does not mean they are experts in Irish affairs. N. Ireland residents have also taken up Irish passports in huge numbers, as they are fully entitled to do. But whether many of them end up being able to make a career in Brussels remains to be seen.