Thursday 27 October 2016

It's friendly neighbour 'Pascalle' back home in Tyneside

Published 10/06/2016 | 02:30

Paschal Donohoe speaks on the referendum in Newcastle. Photo: SR Projects
Paschal Donohoe speaks on the referendum in Newcastle. Photo: SR Projects

Paschal Donohoe stands on the famous High Level Bridge on the River Tyne, opened by Queen Victoria in 1849, and points out a building in the far distance.

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"Built by European funding," he confides. "But of course, I can't say that in my speech."

The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform is in the UK on a hastily organised visit to encourage a 'Remain' vote in the forthcoming Brexit referendum.

He is keen there should be no preachy tone, or accusations of meddling surrounding our Government's quiet involvement in this campaign - which is being run along the lines of 'friendly advice from a neighbour'.

Which could be arguably more irritating than a straightforward plea for the UK to stay.

Privately, however, the Government is quaking in its boots at the possible implications of a Brexit - hence a plethora of ministers being dispatched on missions across the water.

Newcastle is a city close to the minister's own heart and he requested to come here to deliver the message. It was his first taste of life outside Ireland, with an internship with Proctor & Gamble in 1994.

He returned to live here for another two years up until 2001.

It also happens to be where Paschal met his wife.

An initial stop-off in Edinburgh was "positive", now he was off to convince the Líonra Irish Business Network over lunch at the Discovery Museum in Newcastle, organised by Maurice Duffy, the Irish based-CEO of Blackswan consultancy.

He gives a French flair to the minister's name, welcoming him as 'Pascalle'.

John Molloy, director of Knock Airport - originally from Co Mayo but living in Newcastle for the past 18 years - is deeply concerned.

"We want to see more access to Europe, not less," he declares.

'Pascalle' launches into his speech, taking in the trade uncertainties and border implications.

The EU provided the framework for the peace process, he reminds them.

"As a neighbour, I'd ask you to be conscious of the point of view I, as your neighbour, am respectfully offering," he ends.

The room seems split.

Seamus Doran, originally from Co Down, tells how he came here because he narrowly escaped being killed in an IRA car bomb at the age of 12.

His family back home have made him aware of the border implications of a Brexit. "Personally, I'm an outer," he admits afterwards, explaining that as a lawyer, he knows of the difficulties in extraditing migrants who have committed serious crimes.

The next appointment, at the Newcastle Irish Centre, sees 27 members of the community turn up.

Local MPs Pat Glass, Shadow Minister for Europe, and Chi Onwurah, Shadow Minister for Culture - both with Irish family links - make a convincing case for a 'Remain' vote, along with Paschal. If they leave, Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage and Iain Duncan Smith will take over, says Pat.

Former footballing great Mick Martin, with 51 caps for the Republic of Ireland - and who still monitors the play of young Irish players - says he is largely convinced they should stay. "I wouldn't like to see the Border put back up again," he says.

Joan Meaney, originally from Cork, tells how she came over here in the 60s and got a nice job in Harvey Nichols. "If I tell my friends to vote yes, they'll do it," she twinkles. There is one last matter of the utmost importance. 'Pascalle' is whisked off to be shown the centre's secret stash of Tayto and Cidona.

Irish Independent

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