Sunday 22 September 2019

John Downing: 'Leo Varadkar must give us the truth, not hope 'something will turn up''


Taoiseach Leo Varadkar
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar
John Downing

John Downing

Let's start with all the cards on the Brexit table face-up. The time has come to address the Government's failure to prepare our people for what looks like an increasingly likely economic calamity via a no-deal Brexit on October 31.

For the past three years this topic has been nothing but grief, heavily characterised by a sinking feeling of relative powerlessness in Ireland, as the UK's political leaders blundered about with few clear ideas about what they wanted from this quixotic enterprise.

Given the impossible hand they were dealt, the Government - led first by Enda Kenny, and later by Leo Varadkar - did rather well. The Irish diplomats and other senior officials are as yet unsung heroes.

The backstop, as agreed in December 2018 (and which key EU leaders still back), was an excellent piece of work. The untiring efforts to keep Ireland's Brexit needs on the EU agenda are also very praiseworthy.

But events are now hurtling onwards as we are just 62 days off the final and dreaded no-deal Brexit deadline. All the Irish leaders have a very limited chance of helping avert that huge economic carnage, and we must avoid blaming them for what happens on the EU stage.

But none of that exonerates Leo Varadkar and his ministers from an alarming failure to speak frankly, coherently and effectively about the dangers ahead, and how Ireland can face them.

Thus far we have been given a mixture of signals, varying from the very grave official warnings of calamity evidenced by European Affairs Minister Helen McEntee bluntly announcing on the radio yesterday that we were deeply involved in no-deal planning.

In recent weeks this has been alternated with a variety of statements, some based on Charles Dickens's lovable creation Mr Micawber, who always expected "something to turn up" and rescue him from his perilous lack of money to meet his debts.

In 'David Copperfield', Wilkins Micawber was eventually rescued by good fortune from the debtors' prison. In the more mundane and brutal world of international politics and economics, Ireland cannot bet on such a fortuitous outcome.

It is time to get real and tell people the unvarnished truth. It is quite simply time everyone was prepared for the worst, for serious disruption in daily life, and the longer-term risk to livelihoods, health and well-being.

There is even the ever-present threat that the Brexit fallout will compound existing world economic problems and return us to the grim days which kicked off in 2008.

Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe is putting the finishing touches to his Budget, due for presentation on October 8. It will be a Brexit no-deal Budget - but he still refuses to give us any outline of its contents.

It is time to stop standing on ceremony and high time to tell the Irish people the plain, unvarnished truth.

Irish Independent

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