We need to get lucky twice to soften the blow of Brexit
"We need to be lucky twice. We need to be lucky in that the Brits don't go for a hard Brexit. And we need to be lucky in that the final settlement allows us to breathe inside whatever the EU is going to look like."
This sombre quotation from an Irish EU Commission official closes Tony Connelly's marvellous book, Brexit and Ireland: The Dangers, the Opportunities, and the Inside Story of the Irish Response. Connelly has been RTÉ's European Editor since the early noughties and his knowledge of all matters European is highly respected in the halls, salons and press rooms of Brussels, Strasbourg, Luxembourg and London.
His book is certainly a tour de force... it represents as comprehensive an overview of the Irish export economy as you are likely to find. Written in rapid-fire journalese, it is an eminently accessible page turner. The book seldom flags even as it navigates the morass of acronyms and bureaucracies that litter the landscape of his topic.
Connelly hangs the book on stories of real people. He opens the chapter on fisheries with a gripping and poignant account of the last tragic hours and moments of the ill-fated trawler, the 'Tit Bonhomme'. The vessel sank near Union Hall in West Cork on January 15, 2012, with the loss of three lives.
One crew member, Abdelbaky Mohamed, an Egyptian, survived but his brother Wael perished along with Kevin Kershaw, a young Dublin apprentice and the skipper Michael Hayes. After the tragedy Caitlín Ní Aodha, Michael's widow, took over the fishing licence, bought a new boat and while she herself does not go to sea, its crew of five net prawns for the Italian market.
Access to British waters is vital for Caitlín and her livelihood. The book is peppered and enlivened with such stories.
The conundrum of the 'Irish border' is like the ghost at the feast, it stalks every corridor, it sits in menacing silence at every table and confounds every solution.
The Border problems posed by Brexit for the dairy industry are illustrated on the farm of Nigel Heatrick whose 250ac holding between Glaslough in Co Monaghan and Middletown in Co Tyrone straddles the border. On his beef and dairy farm the 200ac portion in the south produces beef and dairy while the 50ac in the north is a beef operation. His 50 cows in the south supply 1,000 litres a day to LacPatrick in Monaghan. The tanker collecting his milk crosses the border twice on the way there and twice on the way back.