Frau And Loathing


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From top: Enda Kenny and Angela Merkel in Berlin yesterday; Economist David McWilliams and his tweet this morning

This morning, economist David McWilliams spoke to Seán O’Rourke on RTÉ Radio One.

They discussed Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s visit to Berlin, to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel and their talks on the implications of Brexit on the Common Travel Area (CTA) between Ireland and the UK.

Mr Williams explained that while other EU countries should have an interest in Ireland and Britain’s CTA arrangements, they should not have a ‘commanding or a deterministic position on it’ and that Ireland should confidently assert this position.

To make his point he recalled the Dublin Regulation, which was signed in Dublin Castle in 1990, and essentially meant any asylum seeker who arrived from outside the EU had to apply for asylum in the first EU country they reached – placing the biggest burden on Italy and Greece.

Mr Williams suggested that this regulation, in a way, allowed the EU to avoid collective responsibility when it comes to responding to asylum seekers.

The interview opened with Mr O’Rourke asking Mr McWilliams about the tweet he posted this morning (above) concerning Mr Kenny’s meeting with German chancellor Angela Merkel.

Seán O’Rourke: “What prompted you to ask that question?”

David McWilliams: “Well because it struck me, it has struck me over the last six or seven years, Seán that, you know, the whole deal with the European Union that there will be a more European Germany, that’s the essence of the EU, going back to 1957. That Germany would be disciplined and would become a more European country. And, since the crisis of six or seven years ago, what we’re seeing really is what could be described as a German Europe, rather than a European Germany.

And it strikes me as kind of unusual, and a little bit undemocratic that a border between Ireland and Britain, we would have to go over to Germany to seek permission really, in a way as to which way we are going to negotiate. Now I know, the facts on the ground Seán, and we have signed Treaties and this is the implication of that. But it does seem to me a little bit odd that our leader has to go to Germany to seek permission, it seems, or to be given the green light, to have a discussion with Britain on a border between Ireland and Britain in a free labour movement area that has been free, not since 1920 Seán, since about 1420.”

Talk over each other

McWilliams: “I remember, even as a kid in the 1980s, at the height of the Troubles, going to the UK and yes, we had to show passports at Hollyhead but there was always a sense that Irish people could vote in Britain, if we lived there for a while, and this sense that somebody else is going to come in and, in a way, set the terms or conditions, particularly somebody who’s voted by a different electorate seems to me a little bit…”

Sean O’Rourke: “Yeah but here’s the point, David. I mean maybe you’re not being entirely fair to the Taoiseach. Because it’s not about looking for permission, it’s looking to build alliances. I mean he has President Hollande coming here next week and, you know perfectly well that under EU rules, we’re not in a position to now to do separate trade deals with the UK, it has to be done by the European Union, of which we are a part. And surely it makes sense, as you would in any political situation, to try to get people on your side?”

McWilliams: “Of course it makes sense to get people on your side but it would seem to me rather illogical and rather apolitical with a capital P, to have a situation where the border between two parts of Ireland needs to be mediated by people in France? I really don’t think this is actually a particularly logical way to go. And nor is it good for the people either on the south side of the border, or the north side of the border.”

“So, again, I suppose what this is exposing are these deep fissures in, these kind of chasms within the EU, where the pooling of sovereignty Seán, which is probably a good idea, OK, leads to complications and incompatibilities when specific issues come up which absolutely pertain to certain countries, over and above.”

“And I’ve always said that it would be illogical for the negotiations between Ireland and Britain, which they will be, to be dictated by the concerns of Poland or Lithuania or Latvia or other countries. And I suppose that goes to the essence of the problems of the EU now. Because, as you get bigger, Seán, you cannot mask over the cracks in a way in which you hope to do so. So, as you get bigger you’re always going to have these regional differences so therefore, for example, the relationship between Russia and Lithuania, which is existential to Lithuanians, is probably of no real consequence to us.”

O’Rourke: “Yeah but, again coming back to our border issue. Yes, it is the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland but it’s also the border between the EU, or will be, and a non-EU country. Now that’s why the Lithuanians and the Poles and the French have an interest in the…”

McWilliams: They have an interest, no doubt, but they should not have a commanding or a deterministic position on it. And you and I must agree on that, Seán?”

O’Rourke: “Yes, but I suppose it’s part of a wider, it’s part of a wider EU context in which trade arrangements are made and also regulations about the movement of people. And nobody has yet, maybe you’ve come across it, or maybe you’ve got your own idea, come up with post-Brexit, the solution to the problems?”

McWilliams: “If you look at the Dublin Treaty. The Dublin Treaty was manufactured in Dublin Castle which is a way of stopping…”

O’Rourke: “This is immigrants now?”

McWilliams: “Precisely. But what it was a way of saying was, geographical certainties and geographical facts are as they are and, therefore, one of the ways in which you deal with immigrants is you’ll actually deal with the place where immigrants first arrive. Ok?”

“So that is a great way of the EU fudging collective responsibility for immigrants, putting it on the shoulders of those who have borders. So there’s a very clear precedent, Seán, you and I know this, for arrangements, consensual arrangements, and ideas that actually take into consideration the facts on the ground which are geographically, we have a border with Northern Ireland which happens, very soon, to be a non-EU country.” 

“So, this notion that we are in some way handless going into negotiations and there is no precedents or flexibility and you might call them fudges, I might call them flexibilities are what I would say, logical arrangements, seem to me to be a little bit a) ideological for Eurocratic fanatics and b) illogical for people who deal in the real world of politics. ”

O’Rourke: “So is the answer then to, if you like, dilute the influence and the role of the European Union. I mean like..”

McWilliams: “Well absolutely, absolutely, absolutely. The influence and the role of the European Union is going to be so ludicrous as to demand border posts with the UK when both Ireland and the UK suggest not to do so. Well then clearly it must be diluted.”

Listen back in full here

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53 thoughts on “Frau And Loathing

  1. Eoin

    Why is a German politician dictating to us?….are you seriously only asking this question now McWilliams? The Brits have figured it out and left already!

    1. 3stella

      They already control our budget. Any one in the Reichstag will be able to find the up coming one behind the photocopier.

    2. Well, tat's that

      What were you spouting when Bill Clinton rolled in and practically made the Northern Ireland Peace Process happen? Yankie doodle dandies should mind their own business? Get real, international consultation and opinion is always needed so the best possible decision can be made.

      1. classter

        He was a small part of a huge enterprise, though admittedly other Irish-Americans also played hugely significant roles.

    3. Sheik Yahbouti

      “Seismic shift, lads” who can forget it? Angela, that’s who. She forgot his name as soon as he was kicked out of the (metaphorical) bed. Our Dear Leader may have a Masters in bum kissing, forelock tugging, and ringing the NASDAQ bell like a trained chimp, but I don’t think it has yielded a whole lot – unless you count hideous, horrible embarrassment.

      1. Sheik Yahbouti

        Lads, quelle story? I wrote a post which featured the A and the R and the SE, which was magically transformed into “bum”, which makes me sound pretty twee (a lot). What may be done to remedy this on a site for supposed adults?

    1. Spaghetti Hoop

      And only one ‘l’ in Holyhead McWilliams.
      Where, contrary to your statement, passports were NOT required in the 1980s. Only required for continental Europe.

      1. notahipster

        Seconded SH, and I’ve been a regular on the Holyhead route since the mid-70s. Time was when as an Irish or UK citizen you didn’t need a passport to fly between Ireland and the UK. Legally, you still don’t. That was an ID procedure introduced by airlines, as Freedom of Movement between the two countries long preceded EU treaties. I’m now thinking what other stuff DMcW makes up…….

        1. Spaghetti Hoop

          We were probably on the same ferry; St. Columba. Yes, Irish folk with passports were either going somewhere, or had gone somewhere fancy.
          DMcW is not the only one that spews out the kind of hyperbole above to make a point. Some people when they get near a mic will exaggerate the feck out of their anecdote just for gravitas.

  2. whut

    it was more Kenny being so incompetent that he was like “boss boss what will i do?” and Merkel’s response was a bit “you firgure that out, its no concern to me”

  3. Eoin

    I’m pretty sure I can remember him being a cheerleader for money printing/ quantitative easing and the alleged trickle down effect. Now in his latest article he’s complaining about how the money didn’t trickle down but went up. As other economic people said would happen, when he was championing it.

    1. classter

      There are different ways to carry out quantitative easing.

      Arguably it was necessary (and the US which did more of it recovered more strongly, more qucikly) btui one can still complain about the negative side-effects, particularly if you believe it could’ve been executed better

  4. Delacaravanio

    This is surely not the same McWilliams who advocated Brexit as an economic opportunity now criticising it when the natural and probable consequences of it come to bare?

    Then again that’s his style: he advocated the bank guarantee before pissing and moaning when it was called in and the banks had to be capitalised. The single biggest economic mistake in the history of the State.

    He’s the kind of idiot who would implore you to climb Everest without oxygen only later, when you’re rapidly wasting away, to call you on the radio from base camp to tell you how stupid an idea it was to go into the death zone without oxygen.

    1. MoyestWithExcitement

      “This is surely not the same McWilliams who advocated Brexit as an economic opportunity now criticising it when the natural and probable consequences of it come to bare?”

      It’s not, no.

    2. C Sharp

      You are misrepresenting him here on both fronts.

      He didn’t advocate Brexit, he advocated getting our act together quickly to take whatever advantage of it we can if it comes about, something we need to do to offset the potentially catastrophic economic damage.
      He is right about that – if we keep shtum out of fear of upsetting either the EU or UK then France and Germany will take the potential advantage from under our noses as our biggest trading partner moves further away from us than they have ever been historically.

      He also only advocated the bank guarantee on the night before it happened, when it was already an economic sh!t storm that he had called when most of the country and establishment had their heads in the sand, dizzy on false wealth, and castigated him for it. I am not entirely sure what level of cover he wanted this guarantee to grant, but I’m pretty sure the senior bondholders getting cover was a later decision made by the government, under pressure from the ECB, with no input from McWilliams. He became a convenient red herring when this decision bore the unwelcome fruit that it did.

      As usual, it is not a simple he did / he didn’t.

      1. delacaravanio

        In respect of the bank guarantee, success has a thousand fathers, failure is an orphan. If the guarantee had been successful McWilliams would still be dining out on it. And you can’t say he didn’t have an earlier impact on policy when he repeatedly boasted about how he fatefully had Lenihan knocking on his door in the early morning, eating garlic. Who knows what he actually said to Lenihan that night, but I’m sure it was another horrible misreading of the facts coupled with a “shock and awe” style solution that would never work.

        As for Brexit, it can’t be denied that he made light of the risks of it in order to put his typical contrarian spin on things. Take this very issue of border controls: In his column “We will do just fine if there’s a Brexit” (Sunday Business Post, 22/2/16) he wrote:. “…an open border between both our countries has survived intact, even at the height of the Troubles. This won’t change.” Later, in the same article, he wrote: “There is lots of talk about a new border with the North – this is nonsense and doesn’t stand up to a jot of common sense.”

        Now, post-brexit, looking at this very scenario of border controls being introduced, McWilliams is pointing out that the issue of border controls is as much an issue for the rest of the EU as it’s one of the UK and Ireland alone because he “knows the facts on the ground and we have signed treaties and this is the implication of that.”

        He’d piss on you, tell you it’s raining, and then turn around and tell you how he had been telling you it was piss all along.

        1. C Sharp

          That early morning you refer to is the early morning / middle of the night of the guarantee.
          The biggest gripe about the guarantee was the bailing out of bondholders not originally covered by the guarantee.

          Its perfectly logical to advocate capitalising on certain aspects of the Brexit fallout while bemoaning the potential downsides, in fact it makes more sense to do both.

          In terms of the border, well none of us want to believe that’s coming back, and that should be the governments position, so backing that position up even if it means getting Merkel’s back up seems reasonable as an Irish person.

          The rest of the above seems a bit ad hominem concerning McWilliams to be honest.
          Economics is an uncertain science (sorry Friedmanites), expecting certainty from an economist is a mugs game.

          1. delacaravanio

            McWilliams claimed that Lenihan came to him on 17/9/08. The bank guarantee was announced 29/9/08. Read a little before you go spouting off.

        2. C Sharp

          Do my research is it delacaravanio?

          2 weeks, big deal, the point stands, he did not advocate bailing out bondholders, which seems to be the bee in your bonnet. He was one of the few railing against that sh!t until it was too late to avoid catastrophe. The guarantee did not cause the problem, it just didn’t fix it.

    3. Andy

      Pretty sure that’s one and the same.

      The same lad who was writing in the papers that the opportunity lied in the govt setting up some sort of agency to target the operations of US companies in the UK in the event of Brexit. He got tons of airtime with this latest wizz-kid idea. The guy is a genius.

      Some sort of Industrial Development Agency focusing on getting foreign investment directly into Ireland. Perhaps we could call it the Industrial Development Agency. Although we’d have to close down the similar, but not David McWilliams founded, IDA which was established in 1949 and already has local offices in the US and the UK (and across the globe) and has been instrumental in gaining FS, Tech and Pharma jobs over the past 3 decades. It could be the exact same thing, just so long as David gets credit for it.


  5. kellma

    For some reason this conversation with Mc Williams is like a parody of the Vicky character from Little Britan. “yeah but no but…” I know it’s childish but my instant reaction was “ah shut up will you….”

  6. Mrs s

    It beats me why anyone still listens to McWilliams.

    His perspectives are always based on weak anecdotes and deliberate contrariness.

    I used to think that Julian Mercelle was a cheap version of McWilliams. Now McWilliams and his platitudes are making the bold Julian sound like the guy with the data and insight.

    1. B Hewson

      Tall poppy syndrome and all that.

      What about the point he is making ?

      Why do we need to ask Germanys permission about a border with Northern Ireland. He is correct. Germany can have an opinion, but they should not decide. It is between Ireland and UK to decide what we do.

      Suppose Germany says put in a border and we don’t. What then?

      1. delacaravanio

        “Suppose Germany says put in a border and we don’t. What then?”

        It’s not a decision for Germany alone. Remember, it was the UK who voted to leave.

    2. ScaryLady

      Dear David
      If you must take this “why oh why” approach – knowing full well how much Ireland has benefited from EU membership over the years – just go and write for the Daily Mail or join your local golf club.

      But please remember that there’s very little as boring as a middle-aged professional contrarian.

      1. MoyestWithExcitement

        Isn’t it mad* how so many people who claim to be his critics attack him personally as opposed to disecting his arguments?

        *not actually at all mad nor surprising

  7. fluffybiscuits

    You mean the Council of Ministers (made up of directly elected ministers) and the European Parliament (made up of directly elected officials) cannot do anything about it! What the EU is undemocratic!!

  8. some old queen

    Why all this bitching at David McWilliams? He is 100% correct. Germany and the rest of the EU will have an opinion but if they insist on a hard border then Ireland is gone too.

    Kenny did not have to trot in and ask plead for special considerations, he CHOOSE to do so. He is not the person to be arguing Ireland’s position no matter how well connected he is there. In fact I would go as far as saying that FG are not the party to be doing it either because they are far too biased towards the EU to be objective and people simply don’t trust them.

    The sooner an election is called the better. Some of you may not like to hear this but IMO the only party who is going to put Ireland’s interests first in any Brexit negotiations is SF.

    1. Sheil Yahbouti

      Some Old, I do not disagree with you. Facts, however unpalatable, are facts. FG are great as the big boys in the very, very, small pond. Internationalist and able negotiators? You havin’ a laff?

      1. some old queen

        Indeed that is the situation at present but the very idea of land borders between north and south Ireland will booster SF’s popularity to the point where they may become the second if not largest party in ROI.

        My point is that nothing stays the same and given the political upheaval all over Europe, anything is possible.

  9. jimmy russell

    ugh only a few bigots are questioning europe they want their own version of a brexit so they can close all the borders europe is the best thing to ever happen we have a huge community of nations of vastly different sized economies and they all have our best interests at heart, we need to take steps to shut down seditious talk about europe otherwise racist could gather and begin discussing our position in europe

  10. Mulder

    Very few folk like economists but equally Enda is not too popular either and the Germans do not care about him.
    Why should they as he is on his way out.

  11. Andy

    Does anyone think Germany, France, Italy etc would care if Ireland left the EU over a stupid land border with the UK? Thereby removing one of the tax avoidance country with access to the EU? They’d all jump at the chance.

    Shortly afterwards there’d be tarrifs imposed on Irish exports to the EU – Apple, Google, FB, their other tach buddies, most of the Pharma & IFSC type industry would soon be shifting their jobs & production off to France, Germany, Belgium or whoever offered them the sweetest tax deal. And with that goes lots and lots of high paid & more importantly high taxed jobs. Why do people the speculation about the City of London wouldn’t apply to all the MNCs in Ireland?

    1. some old queen

      Does anyone think Germany, France, Italy etc would care if Ireland left the EU?

      Yes they very much would. Ireland is the poster child of austerity and the contagion fear both internal and external to Germany is huge. France has Front National on the sharp ascendancy and Italy has roughly the same ethical banking question as Ireland eight years ago except, they are too big to be bounced.

      Summary: Germany needs poorer countries to balance the Euro and prevent it turning into the Deutsche Mark II.

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