Thursday 21 February 2019

Brexit could alter Ireland's political landscape

Middle Ireland would benefit from experience of both Enda Kenny and Bertie Ahern

Emmanuel Macron
Emmanuel Macron
Jody Corcoran

Jody Corcoran

The Brexit mood music sounded melodious at all points across the country last week - but then reality kicked in, thanks to our friends at the International Monetary Fund.

But first, Prince Charles and his wife arrived on the latest leg of his European tour to assure us that the future had not yet been written.

He did not tell us something that we already knew: the future could be grim, quite grim indeed.

Which raises an interesting question: Who will be Ireland's Emmanuel Macron?

The European Union's chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, meanwhile, addressed the Oireachtas to invite proposals from Dublin on how to alleviate the impact of Brexit.

As Bertie Ahern has said of Europe's negotiating team: "They have a lot of things to do, you know.''

He was referring to the scale and complexity of the challenges ahead, specifically for team Europe.

Barnier and Ahern sing from the same hymn sheet: ultimately, it will be up to Ireland to make the case for Ireland, however the mood music may sound now.

In the Seanad last month, Ahern also said Ireland needed to set out a vision: "I think that clear vision paper is not done over the next two years, I think it is done over the next two or three months," he said.

That has since been done. Well, sort of…

But the truth is that no authority here or elsewhere can predict with certainty the impact of Brexit, other than a "hard" Brexit will have a more negative impact than a "soft" Brexit, and a hard Brexit it looks set to be.

The IMF had a stab at it last week, though: Brexit represented the "most pressing and far-reaching challenge for Ireland"; while the impact to date had been modest, the overall effects over the medium term were expected to be "negative and significant".

The risks were most acute for traditional sectors that depended on trade with the UK, with potentially "sizeable consequences" for activity and employment outside of the main urban centres.

So, the agriculture and tourism sectors in particular, within rural Ireland, are most likely to bear the brunt.

The special issues related to the border with Northern Ireland had also been recognised, the IMF pointed out.

Cue elements of the media here presenting images of Prince Charles shaking the hand of Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams.

Official Ireland's obsession with the peace process continues unabated, when really it is trade east-west and not south-north that will be most adversely affected.How to measure that impact? The Department of Finance, with the ESRI having a stab at that: overall the "hit" to economic growth could be, at worst, close to 4pc and total numbers at work could be 40,000 below what it would otherwise be in 10 years.

We are looking at a possible return to the worst days of the economic crisis.

As Prince Charles has said the future is not written, but the political implications of an approximate return to such dark days could be seismic. It is no exaggeration to say that Fine Gael and Fianna Fail could be routed were an election to be held in such a circumstance. Not necessarily for anything either has or said or done, but as a consequence, in the words of Micheal Martin, of the UK's assertion of a narrow vision of sovereignty which developed in the 19th Century and directly led to the two bloodiest wars in history.

Back to our friends in the IMF: "At the same time, ongoing changes in corporate taxation at the international level and discussion of further reforms in the US and the EU contribute to uncertainty given the sizeable role of multinationals in the economy and their substantial contribution to the tax base." There is no published "vision" of Ireland without the multinationals in this uncertain environment related to calls for a retreat from global integration, although efforts are underway to strip out "leprechaun economics" from the official figures, which should allow for somewhat more informed economic analysis and policy-making.

In such a post-Brexit doomsday scenario, however, Sinn Fein may yet rise to fill the political vacuum, at which point Official Ireland's work will be complete.

Or is there a Macron on the horizon? There may be, but his name is not Leo or Simon, and as Willie O'Dea has elsewhere implied, neither is he to be found in Fianna Fail.

For all the talk about vision and plans, important though they be, the best that can be done at this stage is to hope that such a figure will not be required, and that the doomsday scenario everybody can outline, but few can predict with certainty, will not come to pass.

Meanwhile, Middle Ireland would do well to keep their experts close, be they Enda Kenny or Bertie Ahern and others, and their as yet unseen enemies, closer still.

Sunday Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Don't Miss