Monday 16 January 2017

Could a Brexit be Ireland's opportunity?

Published 14/05/2015 | 02:30

British Prime Minister David Cameron and Taoiseach Enda Kenny in Downing Street, meeting beneath a portrait of Margaret Thatcher
British Prime Minister David Cameron and Taoiseach Enda Kenny in Downing Street, meeting beneath a portrait of Margaret Thatcher

There is an acute sensitivity in Ireland to how we behave towards powerful foreigners. "Tugging the forelock" is an expression that is often used in this regard. That charge is made when there is a perception that an Irish person (or government) is insufficiently assertive towards a foreigner (or a foreign government), or - worse still - appears to be behaving subserviently.

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In recent years, in the context of the crisis in Europe, the charge has been made frequently in relations to burning bank bondholders, the EU-IMF bailout and other related matters. Those making the charge have often advocated aggressive unilateral responses.

More often than not, tough-talking advocates of such courses of action grossly overestimate the power a small country such as Ireland wields in the world. They understate the dangers of overplaying one's hand, which can easily result in things turning out worse than a more restrained approach. And they fail to see that recognising one's own weakness is not in itself a sign of weakness, but is, on the contrary, a sign that one understands the hard realities of power relationships.

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