Nonchalance Bordering On Indifference



From top: UK Prime Minister Theresa May and Taoiseach Enda Kenny; Derek Mooney

Instead of passively waiting for our near neighbour to tell the EU their opening position Enda Kenny must act now to set out our vision of a post-Brexit border.

Derek Mooney writes:

If Enda Kenny intended his nonchalant response to Theresa May’s Brexit speech to convey the image of a Government that is perfectly prepared and in complete command of the situation, then the ploy has not worked.

Instead, his under reaction and this is all in line with what we had prepared for approach only makes his government look like it either does not grasp the enormity of the situation or – even more alarmingly – it is behaving like Tennessee William’s Blanche Dubois, and must depend on the kindness of strangers.

It is an impression that is not eased by reading the transcripts of the Leaders’ Questions exchanges between An Taoiseach and Michéal Martin and Mary Lou MacDonald last week.

On several occasions during his replies, particularly to the Fianna Fáil leader, An Taoiseach said: “We are at the start of this process”.

But we are not at the start of this process. The clock started on this messy and complex business within minutes of the announcement of the UK referendum result early on the morning of June 24 last. We are well into this process with the Article 50 negotiation talks ready to start in just under ten [10] weeks.

I cannot believe that the Taoiseach seriously meant to suggest that he and his officials needed to wait until the British Prime Minister was ready to formally set out her Brexit strategy, yet that seems to be the impression he was content to give.

In the Government’s formal response to May’s speech it “welcomes” the fact that Prime Minister May “…made clear that her priorities include maintaining the common travel area and avoiding a return to a hard border with Northern Ireland.”

She does indeed say that in point 4 of her Twelve-Point Brexit strategy. But she also said a lot more. Point 4 comes between Point 3; where she says that she will ensure that:

“…no new barriers… within our own Union are created” and Point 5; where she bluntly says that: “Brexit must mean control of the number of people who come to Britain from Europe.”

There is the problem: how can you have something that is clearly a border when it comes to keeping EU citizens out of the UK (Point 5) but it is not between the two islands (Point 3) and yet it is not a border when it comes to allowing the traditional common travel area to continue (Point 4)? It is the Schrödinger’s cat of borders?

Leaving aside the physical incongruity of it being a non-border border – a situation made more improbable when you add in the complexity of the UK not being in the customs union, but kind of being associated with it (Point 9) – and just look at the politics of this conundrum.

May has made a firm commitment to her voters in England that she will stem immigration. Won’t this domestic political imperative trump her broad wishes on our Common Travel Area? Especially, as Dr Kevin Cunningham pointed out on Twitter, when a NatCen (UK) social research survey from last November shows that 45% of British voters support introducing passport checks between the UK and Ireland with only 29% opposing it. An Taoiseach is being naïve if he genuinely thinks Point 4 can be taken at face value.

This situation is made even more complex, as Fianna Fáil’s Darragh O’Brien pointed out last week, when you factor in that Prime Minister May did not make any mention of the special status of Northern Ireland.

After Brexit it will be a region with a million or so Irish – and by extension EU – citizens who will find themselves outside the EU despite their will and without representation – a matter I will return to later.

I have no doubt that officials in the amalgamated international, EU and Northern Ireland division of the Department of An Taoiseach (sounds like a non-ICTU trade union from the 70s, does it not?) have been working on contingency positions to address many of the permutations that the UK could have taken: in/out of the single mark, EFTA, customs unions yadda, yadda…, but that has been on top of their usual daily work dealing with Northern Ireland, the EU and the rest of the world, items that probably generate enough work to fill a normal day.

Instead of passively waiting for our near neighbour to tell the EU their opening position, we should be putting more senior officials to work on Brexit on a full time basis and start setting out in detail both the major difficulties that Brexit poses for us in terms of our economy, our trade, our security and our day to day relationships with Northern Ireland and Great Britain and the measures we propose to address them. To do otherwise is a false economy.

This is a first rule of lobbying – don’t just go with a list of gripes, go with a researched and structured set of solutions. Make it as easy as you possibly can for the powers that be to give you want you need.

We have more skin in this game, North and South, than anyone else with the possible exception of Scotland. We are not merely one of 27 on the EU side of the negotiations – though we clearly are on the EU side of the table – we are unique among those 27 in having to live daily with the consequences of Brexit.

These consequences will be considerable, as the economic integration of the North with the rest of the island has risen considerably since the Good Friday Agreement, as pointed out by the Bruegel think-tank.

The retention of the Good Friday Agreement in any post Art 50 negotiation is a sine qua non for us as it sets out the relations between these two island on three individual strands – within Northern Ireland, between the North and the South of this island and east-west between the two islands.

While some of the key negotiating figures on the EU side, including Michel Barnier and Guy Verhoefstadt, have already indicated that safeguarding and protecting the Good Friday Agreement is a priority, they cannot hope to understand or grasp the finer details of its provisions better than our most senior officials.

There also needs to be a voice for the many Irish citizens in Northern Ireland who, as I pointed out earlier, are also EU citizens. One of the benefits of that EU citizenship, is the right to be represented in the EU Parliament. While it is not a right we all may equally appreciate – I suspect the prospect of having it taken away may awaken some to its value and significance.

The Irish government should be arguing for continued representation for Northern Ireland in the EU and the retention of its three MEPs – rather than allowing Mrs May to set the agenda for how a large number of Irish/EU citizens are represented and championed post Article 50.

Derek Mooney is a communications and public affairs consultant. He previously served as a Ministerial Adviser to the Fianna Fáil-led government 2004 – 2010. His column appears here every Monday. Follow Derek on Twitter: @dsmooney

Top pic: Getty

32 thoughts on “Nonchalance Bordering On Indifference

  1. gringo

    Problem is, our politicians and civil servants are so accustomed to following an agenda set in Brussels ,they have lost the ability to formulate an independent policy for this state.They will sit back and wait to be told what to do. EU citizens in the north will have to fight their own corner because they will get no help from our lot.

  2. Cian

    “There also needs to be a voice for the many Irish citizens in Northern Ireland who, as I pointed out earlier, are also EU citizens. One of the benefits of that EU citizenship, is the right to be represented in the EU Parliament. ”

    Erm. this only really applies if you are resident in the EU. If I went to live in Peru I wouldn’t be represented and wouldn’t get to vote. Same in every other non-EU country… which will soon include NI.

    1. classter

      There will, however, now be an unusually large number & concentration of EU citizens living in a territory adjacent to the EU.

      Comparing the 0.75m EU citizens (or thereabouts once Brexit happens) living in Northern Ireland to that of a single individual living in Peru is frankly obtuse.

    1. Rob_G

      The DUP and the gobpoos that sprayed a machine gun at that petrol station are the biggest threats to the GFA.

  3. scottser

    i have no problem with passport controls between here and the uk. we don’t want their nutters and criminals, and i’m sure they don’t want ours.
    i’ve had to deal with sex offenders, non-engaged mental ill-health sufferers, drug dealers, people hiding from child social-workers etc from the uk. the free movement of people between ireland and the uk benefits far too much those escaping scrutiny or prosecution in other jurisdictions.

    1. conspiritor#1

      Personally, I would hide from a child posing as a social worker too. And if the UK do employ children as social workers, aren’t we better off without them?

      1. scottser

        you wouldn’t stand a chance – kids know all the best hiding places.
        and better of without the uk, children or social workers?

    2. classter

      I wouldn;t be willing to accept the reimposition of a border between the 26 counties and the 6, however you feel about it.

      1. scottser

        there probably won’t be one that you’ll notice with troops and roadblocks. just say, you drive on a road with cameras each side recording your car details, taking your facial picture etc. info shared between jurisdictions, drones on smaller backroads logging everyone in and out of the state. anyone dodge gets pulled over by the cops once an alert is issued. whatever border they put in place will be discreet and not overly visible.

        1. classter

          And if they can do that, great.
          Question will be whether that will be sufficient – either to satisfy the UK public or indeed, our partners in the EU.

      2. Cian

        if you’re not willing to accept a border between the 26 and 6 counties… what will you do?
        Deny its existence?
        go out with a hammer and knock lumps out of it?

        1. classter

          Not sure, Cian.

          I suspect that I’m on the mild end of the spectrum in terms of my opinion on such matters.

  4. munkifisht

    Ireland and Enda need to realise that there IS a veto on the table here. It was recently ruled that all nations in the EU must agree to a trade deal before it goes through. Neither the UK or EU will not want there to be some kind of deal, but it is of the utmost importance that Ireland, like Northern Cyprus or one of the many protectorates, receives a special dispensation in the new Europe. We need to load that bullet in the gun, and hold the whole negotiations to ransom.

    1. Cian

      it depends on whether you think that Ireland will be better off with no trade deal (for a few years, followed by possibly a slightly better deal) Vs a mediocre deal (forever).

    2. Rob_G

      Every other EU country that wants to punish the UK with an unfavourable trade deal will also have a veto on any proposed favourable trade deal.

  5. bisted

    …there seem to be few certainties about the brexit outcome but I think we can be pretty sure that discredited FFer advisors will have zero influence…

    1. classter

      True (I hope) but he has a point that Kenny does not seem to be on top of this at all.

      I have zero faith in Kenny’s govt being prepared for all this.

      In the same way that he is clinging onto power, he is clinging onto responsibility for our Brexit prep.

  6. dan

    Re-establishing border control isn’t a bad thing. It would make it difficult for Northern Irish workers to undercut ROI workers which would boost the economy South of the Border. It might make our roads safer as less NI lunatics would travel South.
    There is no Northern economy to begin with so no loss there.

    1. classter

      There is so much obsession about ‘undercutting’ relative to the actual evidence of the economic harm involved.


    kennys plan is to send call a station near the border & get them to send a couple of lads out with a traffic cone for an hour should the worst come to the worst

  8. mauriac

    I haven’t heard this addressed but surely the good Friday agreement is null and void post Brexit?

  9. Andy

    What is it that all this opposition wants?

    I hear lots and lots about how terrible the government plan is yet I’ve heard nothing from any commentator on what it is they actually want the government to get.

    – Is it zero tariffs on the sale of irish goods to the UK? That’s not for the EU to decide, that’s for the UK to decide.
    – Is it no land boarder between Northern Ireland & the Republic? Sure the UK haven’t figured out what they want on that yet so how can the Irish govt do it?

    What exactly do all these talking heads want? Specifics……

  10. sǝɯǝɯʇɐpɐq

    I would like to take this opportunity to apoligise to the Broadsheet Massive for introducing the concept of ‘nonchalance’ last week. It was unbecoming of me, and not in my natural nature. I usually don’t care, but these things happen and then all of a sudd

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