Tuesday 20 February 2018

EU: how could you not love it?

  • Brexit: Farming On the Edge (RTE1)

Brendan Joyce and George Lee
Brendan Joyce and George Lee
Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

George Lee is in Connemara, standing in what seems like the most exquisite picture ever taken of this fabled landscape. You think that it can't be real, that he must have stepped into this artificial creation, this ultimate tourist brochure image.

But it is really Connemara, and it is really George, here at the edge of Europe appropriately enough for a programme called Brexit: Farming On the Edge.

In case there is any doubt about it, George assures us that "these rugged hills in Connemara are among Ireland's most breathtakingly beautiful landscapes."

"But..." (yes the "but" was always coming) "for hill farmers, trying to eke out a living from this barren terrain is a tough business."

He is not afraid to keep it simple, is George. Indeed, later he will remind us that they speak the same language as us in Britain. And then he talks to one of these hill farmers, Brendan Joyce, whose family has worked these lands for 10 generations.

Again there are lovely pictures of George and Brendan and a herd of black-faced sheep, and George is explaining to the viewers that hill farmers depend heavily on funding from the EU to keep going. He talks to Brendan about the work he does to conserve the environment, to look after the stone walls and to safeguard the bio-diversity of plants and animals unique to these habitats.

Now George likes to stick to his brief, which in this case was the potentially disastrous effects which Brexit might have on Irish agriculture. But something about his understated style led me to a higher awareness of what is at stake here.

Perhaps it was only the actual presence of George in this hill-farming land, which gave me a true sense of what should be obvious to everyone, all the time - that basically, the EU is the greatest thing that was ever invented in the history of the world.

What does the EU do? Well, one of the things it does, is give money to farmers in Connemara to fix the stone walls and to "safeguard the bio-diversity", whatever that is. Every morning there are people waking up in Ireland, planning their day which will consist to some extent of a bit of safeguarding of this thing called diversity. And getting paid for it, by the EU.

How could anyone not love this thing? How could anyone figure that the lunchtime extravagances of a few Eurocrats, as they forgive themselves for their disgraceful mismanagement of various bailouts, could ever outweigh the majesty of an organisation which can see its way to sponsoring the maintenance of stone walls in remote parts of Ireland?

What else is there, that could even conceive of such a thing? What are Nigel Farage and his billionaire friends going to produce that would be better than this? Have we become so accustomed to it that we can't marvel at the grandeur of it - at the sight of a flock of black-faced sheep in Connemara who owe their existence mainly to some scheme dreamed up by these really boring people in Brussels?

Certainly we are worried that it all might end for us, due to Brexit, and so it is necessary at this point to recall that shortly after the referendum in 2016, I explained that "there will be no Brexit" - or at least there will be something that is so similar to whatever has always been there, whatever they call it, in effect, there will be no Brexit.

Apparently George Lee didn't get that memo, though the No Brexit Brexit is now acknowledged as something of a 50-50 proposition at the very least in most articles, where once there was just one article.

Yet I know that that is not what George does. And in truth his style is better suited to the ominous tones required for a programme of this kind, for a grave warning that all civilised farming life is about to end.

In his quietly apocalyptic way, he did enable me to see a picture even more spectacular than anything to be found in Connemara - the glory that is "Europe".

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