Monday 22 July 2019

What else did you expect Ms Foster?

Our View

After World War One erupted and in the run up to the 1916 Rising the mantra 'England's difficuty is Ireland's Opportunity' was one frequently voiced in Irish nationalist circles.

Now 100 years on and amid the economic fallout from the UK's Brexit vote the famous slogan has reared its head once more.

At her party conference on Saturday DUP leader Arlene Foster - who campaigned for the UK to leave the EU - accused state agencies in the Republic of trying to poach business from Northern Ireland.

The most obvious question that arises from Foster's incendiary comments is, quite simply, what did she and other Brexit advocates in Northern Ireland expect would happen when they left the EU?

Of course Ireland is trying to benefit from Brexit.

Well before the Brexit vote actually took place the Irish Government and the IDA said that in the event of the UK voting to leave the EU Ireland would seek to tempt multinationals with a presence in the UK to up sticks and move their European operations to Ireland.

That is absolutely the correct policy and whether the multinational in question is located in Birmingham or Belfast is irrelevant.

As an English speaking nation that is to remain part of the EU's common market the Republic of Ireland now has an enormous advantage over the UK and Northern Ireland when it comes to attracting foreign investment.

The notion that a sovereign state - a concept that in this case seems alien to Arlene Foster when it comes to the Republic - should deliberately put itself at a disadvantage in order to advance the cause of a neighbour who has shunned Europe is patently ludicrous. One cannot imagine the Northern Irish First Minister and her party willingly turning their noses up at a potential investor so jobs could be created in Tralee or Wexford.

Most of Northern Ireland's voters wanted to remain in the EU but Foster and her pro-Brexit followers got what they wanted, against the wishes of the Northern Irish majority. Foster and company made their bed now they have to lie in it.

When it comes to Brexit the island of Ireland is in a difficult position and many complex matters - particularly how the borders will operate - will need to be negotiated.

However that should not mean that the Republic has to put itself at a disadvantage and prostrate ourselves for the benefit of our UK neighbours, many of whom appear to think that - by sheer dint of our geography - the Republic should roll over for its former colonial masters. The notion that the UK's border controls could be moved to ports and airports in the Republic is a particularly offensive notion that has emerged as a result of that mindset.

In the coming months as the complex Brexit negotiations get underway in earnest the entire EU - including the Republic of Ireland - need to take an extremely hard line stance on the UK.

The UK cannot be allowed benefit from Brexit at Europe's expense - whether by trying to limit foreign investment or by putting any restrictions on the free movement of goods and people across EU borders. The UK voted to become a European pariah. Many Brexiteers are only now starting to realise the reality of Brexit and what it means for their country.

They may not like the monster they have created but they are stuck with it. We, and the rest of Europe, are not. The Republic cannot allow itself to be bullied by the UK because of our historic links to Britain. The UK may be one of our bigger trading partners but it is far from the only one and perhaps its time we started casting our nets a lot further. If that involves a little poaching so be it.