Wednesday 21 August 2019

Editorial: 'It's time for us to focus on opportunities from Brexit'

'We must also seize many new opportunities in a post-Brexit world' Stock photo: Yui Mok/PA
'We must also seize many new opportunities in a post-Brexit world' Stock photo: Yui Mok/PA
Editorial

Editorial

The time has come to embrace the power of positive - but realistic - thinking about Ireland's fortunes in a post-Brexit world. Doubtless, difficult times lay ahead as even the most benign, or soft, Brexit will never be as good as the United Kingdom remaining part of the European Union.

But we have weathered other past storms in relation to the UK's fractious relationship with the European trading bloc upon which we have pinned our future hopes. In 1979 Ireland joined the European currency grid, the exchange rate mechanism, and broke with the pound sterling for the first time in the State's history.

There were doom-laden predictions about the strain this would put upon trade with the UK. But things evened out and life went on.

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In 1999 Ireland chose to go with the newly launched EU single currency. As the euro began life on international money markets there was considerable anxiety about ongoing Irish-UK economic relationships. But, even before we could get used to new euro notes and coins in Ireland in 2002, it was abundantly clear that the economic sky was not going to fall in on us.

Granted, the latest parting of the ways between Ireland and the UK in relation to the European Union has much bigger implications. And true, the medium to longer term prognosis for Ireland is very challenging as a result of Brexit.

But once we gear up, and tackle the many issues involved, the outlook should be far from gloomy. That is because ultimately Brexit - even a Brexit botched by the UK under Boris Johnson - is a chance for Ireland to become a more independent, self-reliant, forward-looking nation.

Let's recall that we joined the then-European Economic Community in January 1973 as a total client state of the United Kingdom. For the previous decade Dublin political leaders had been bluntly told on many occasions that "if the UK membership application was not successful, neither would Ireland succeed in joining".

Five decades on, and the story is much different. Ireland has prospered in the EU, it has received a deal of farm, regional and social supports which helped build a good standard of living. In 1973 Irish trade was very unhealthily dependent on the UK - but now mainland Europe and countries farther afield, thanks to various EU trade deals, are becoming ready markets for Irish exports.

Ireland must adapt quickly to a post-Brexit European Union from which our often most reliable ally is gone. It is time to build a range of multi-faceted alliances, which will require more commitment to, and interest in, policy areas until recently deemed beyond Ireland's interests.

The Taoiseach has begun this process by attending meetings with representatives from Nordic and Baltic member states along with the Netherlands. The country has an embassy in all of the 26 other EU member states and our diplomats must up their game and optimise Irish visibility and influence. Nobody should underestimate the difficulties ahead after Brexit. But we must also seize many new opportunities in a post-Brexit world.

Irish Independent

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