News UK General Election 2015

Thursday 29 September 2016

John Downing: What the British election means for Ireland

Published 08/05/2015 | 09:06

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron and his wife Samantha return to 10 Downing Street after Britain's general election, in London, May 8, 2015. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth
Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron and his wife Samantha return to 10 Downing Street after Britain's general election, in London, May 8, 2015. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

David Cameron’s certain return to head the British Government poses big immediate problems for Ireland.

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The biggest issue is an early “In-Out” referendum on British EU membership with huge implications for Ireland who joined alongside the UK in 1973. Cameron promised this and must swiftly deliver.

If British voters opt to quit the EU it would be a disaster for Ireland.

Over one third of Irish trade is with Britain. We could see a return of the Border with Northern Ireland which de facto disappeared after the 1992 EU Single Market. Ireland could lose an important like-minded ally within the EU.

At a minimum there would be months of tedious negotiations working out every detail of new British-Irish arrangements if Britain leave the European Union.

There is also the prospect of Cameron making some sort of arrangement with the North’s DUP led by Peter Robinson for their support. A very slender majority for Cameron in Westminster makes this a real prospect.

The price of support from the late Ian Paisley’s party is up to £1bn in welfare and other grants for the North. But it also means a new deal on the flashpoint issues with nationalists of flying the Union flag and more leeway for Orange parades.  Both of these problems could again stoke up an already volatile situation in the North.

The better news for the Coalition is that Enda Kenny and his Fine Gael colleagues in government will definitely see potential benefits in a return to power for Cameron and his Tory party.

Both Kenny and Cameron drove relentlessly tough economic policies over their government terms and claim credit for “fixing” their respective economies.

Cameron’s win is an endorsement of “economic competence.” Kenny will hope for the same. It could be a subliminal message to Irish voters.

The drubbing of the junior partner, the Liberal Democrats, will not encourage Joan Burton and Labour. Could they be facing a similar wipe-out?

Time will tell all on that one.

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