Enda faces a set of interlocking and mutually incompatible dilemmas regarding Ireland and the post Brexit EU. In the negotiations he faces a number of problems.
Most important of all is the north, from a political and economic perspective. The carefully crafted political edifice of Stormont is a horrible mess. But compared to a low grade civil war it is plato’s republic. The core of the political settlement is that both sides accept each other as having multiple identities – northern Irish, british , Irish and European. The war has stopped and the economy, if lopsided, is growing. All of this is threatened by the pique of the English electorate. Any border with the EU and a nonEU country needs to be strongly and vigorously defended- an area with freedom of movement of trade, money and people needs that. So the question is whether that will happen at Newry, and infuriate the nationalists, or at Larne with the unionists infuriated. Having campaigned, for some inexplicable reason, for Brexit, the DUP should logically seek a hard land border. This is not going to happen. But a UK which ran from the EU for fear of migrants will need a hard frontier, so it has to be at the point of exit of NI. That gives the lie to the statement that the north is as British as Finchley. A Northern Ireland that remains in the residual UK will become poorer and more violent. There is not a chance that a hard right government will replace the quantum of EU funds. The poorer the state the more prone to civil strife it will be, reigniting the embers of conflict. So what is Enda to do? Secretly the notion of a united Ireland terrifies most of us down here. Economically it would add to the mess we are still in. Keeping the lid on and reducing the heat via economic development is key in any negotiations around Brexit. The old ideas of a federal Ireland may need to be brushed off and it made clear to the EU that large structural funds are required in that event.
The common travel area is perhaps the next most important issue. It is important not just because of travel – try getting off island without some sort of official ID – but because of work. Leaving aside the fractal border with Fermanagh and Derry with people and goods moving seamlessly, there is not a single Irish family who has not had or has not at present a significant experience of life in the UK labour market. The reality is that since independence the two islands have operated as part of the same labour market. This has been the saviour of Ireland. This more so than any inate quiescence has been why we have not had riots in the streets. Our disaffected and underemployed youth merely had to get on the boat or plane to the UK. They don’t go to the north. They go to London and Manchester There they were able to work and live in an environment that was generally much more forward looking and which offered nuch greater upside. The pressures that would have built up, on socioeconomic reform or lack of same, were ameliorated. The EU has, partially, replaced this but a halt to the ability to travel to and work freely in the UK would be a cultural shock as well as an economic one. It cuts both ways of course – an open border would allow for migration of british people out of the rUK to the EU. Will that be welcomed? But how can Enda negotiate a special deal for us when larger and more important countries are being poorly treated? There are nearly x2 poles in the UK as Irish. What message will it send if we align with the argument that we are different to them from a migrant labour perspective? More to the point, what will our European partners want in return for allowing this?
The IDA has for decades been successful beyond measure in attracting foreign direct investment. A part, but only a part of that has been the attractive tax package which we have been able to maintain. It is important to realise that the headline corporation tax rate is only a part of this. Our part in the great chain of not-being, whereby entities can become stateless for tax purposes is another , as is the strong base of services around this evaporation. But we have other draws – we are now the only English speaking nation in the EU, a good beachhead for same, with a well educated and productive workforce. None of that has quite the resonance internationally as LOW TAX!!!! . various European countries have made no secret of the fact that they see this tax system as predatory and want it gone.
So we want to be in a EU which has a single market for goods and services and at the same time be also in a single market with all or part of a nonEU member state that has withdrawn from the EU single market; we want free movement of peoples between ourselves and a country which has withdrawn from the EU because of free movement of people; we want to maintain our (perceived to be predatory) tax regime for corporates which annoys both parties while being treated by both as BFF’s. We want our cake and eat it, then sick it up and eat it again. We cant. Can we?
A extended verison of a column published in the Irish Examiner, 2 July 2016