Thursday 29 September 2016

No more inferiority complex - Ireland must forge new place in Europe

Published 27/06/2016 | 02:30

Taoiseach Enda Kenny must try to stay in with the black sheep Britain while simultaneously reassuring the rest of the EU family that he’s on board with their plans. Photo: Tom Burke
Taoiseach Enda Kenny must try to stay in with the black sheep Britain while simultaneously reassuring the rest of the EU family that he’s on board with their plans. Photo: Tom Burke

'Geography has made us neighbours. History has made us friends. Economics has made us partners, and necessity has made us allies. Those whom God has so joined together, let no man put asunder."

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It could have been written about Ireland and Britain but that quote is in fact taken from an address by US President John F Kennedy to the Canadian Parliament in May 1961.

Within months though, Washington and Ottawa were at loggerheads over the Cuban Missile Crisis, proving that in politics rhetoric is often quickly expunged by reality.

Over the weekend ministers, MEPs, Opposition TDs and even cynical economists have stressed the importance of Ireland's 'special' relationship with Britain. The friend we love to hate is in trouble, big trouble, and we want to help. But of course, what we really want is to protect ourselves from their mess.

The European Union is now operating on autopilot, fuelled by shock and blinded by disbelief.

The 'founding six' - Belgium, Germany, France, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands - were quick to demand that Britain pack their bags and leave.

It was a classic reaction based on anger rather than necessity. This may not be a time to tell people to 'chill', but neither is it one to create diplomatic wars.

Over the coming days, weeks, months and years the Irish Government faces a diplomacy battle like no other we have experienced.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny must try to stay in with the black sheep Britain while simultaneously reassuring the rest of the EU family that he's on board with their plans.

One wrong step and the economic turmoil of the past few years could be revisited.

We must find new allies like Belgium, Sweden and Denmark, who will help us fight the big battles on corporation tax and other policy, while also trying not to fight with those countries unless the battle is totally warranted.

"Other EU states are not our enemies, they are our partners. They will be conscious that one member state has just left. They will need to keep the family together, not try to implement polices that have been resisted," MEP Mairead McGuinness said last night.

However, her colleague Sean Kelly reckoned that "initially" some countries will struggle to see why Ireland should once again be the 'special case'.

"Whatever happens with the mainland and Britain there has to be an understanding for us," Mr Kelly said last night.

"There is no point in punishing the UK if that in turn punishes us.

"We've just come out of a tough period and we don't want to be in a position where we're put back again, perhaps perpetually," he said.

At the EU Council meeting this week Mr Kenny must insist that Ireland is at the centre of the Brexit negotiations.

There is no room now for inferiority complexes or underdog status.

Britain was our ally through necessity but we must look to life after them, to forging new partnerships and a new place in Europe.

Irish Independent

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