Ireland must display confidence in face of Brexit, Michael Collins commemoration told

Ireland must display confidence in face of Brexit, Michael Collins commemoration told
Jim Power speaking at the event. Picture: Provision

Ireland will have to display confidence and strength in the face of Brexit and make sure that we do what needs to be done to ensure future growth and prosperity, economist Jim Power told the annual Michael Collins commemoration today at Béal na Bláth in West Cork.

The former chief economist with Bank of Ireland who has also been employed by AIB and Friends First said we "need to understand what sort of future relationship we have with the UK, but we cannot be obsessed about it. "

Power said as a country we are required to be mature in order to prove to the world that being part of an economic and political union with the UK "is not what defines us."

Mr Power said Ireland is currently facing into the most significant September since 1922 and that Brexit is the most "fundamental challenge" that Ireland has faced in generations.

The first economist to ever give the oration told the crowd of in excess of 300 people that in recent times he has questioned himself "about the dangers inherent in the Irish government’s unfaltering adherence to the backstop."

"Amid much soul searching, I reach the conclusion that there is no other choice based on where all the parties now find themselves.

"A better solution would have been a border in the Irish Sea, and a special EU status for Northern Ireland.

"The Irish Government must stand its ground and hopefully the EU will continue to back us all the way. A ‘no-deal’ Brexit, while still very avoidable, would be a catastrophe for the UK economy and UK society."

Power said that Ireland cannot become a victim of an ideological perversion amongst the ruling classes in the UK that has pertained for generations.

"In 1930, Churchill said that ‘We are with Europe, but not of it. We are linked, but not combined’. This strange relationship with Europe, which clearly goes back a long way, has ended the careers of a succession of Tory leaders.

"It will be interesting to see what impact the greater ‘sovereignty’ that the UK gains from walking away from a market of 420 million people will have."

The Michael Collins commemoration at Béal na Bláth. Picture: Provision
The Michael Collins commemoration at Béal na Bláth. Picture: Provision

Mr Power said that whilst at an economic level, a ‘hard Brexit’ would pose immense challenges for the Irish economy, with tourism and the agri-food sector two sectors that particularly stand out, at a political level the challenges are considerably more serious.

"A ‘no-deal’ Brexit does seem to imply a hard border on the island of Ireland and flies totally in the face of the Good Friday Agreement."

Mr Power stressed that in any society, strong leadership from people with vision and ambition is essential whilst questioning the strength of leading politicians in this country.

"While it is easy to be overly critical of our political leaders, because ruling in a democracy is not an easy task, one does get a sense that Ireland still lacks the strong leadership and confidence that a modern and dynamic economy and society should possess."

The oration was told that Power often gets the sense that there is an unwillingness in Ireland to take strong and forceful decisions that a modern, functioning country should take.

Areas that stand out in this regard he said include the failures for so many years to tackle the wrongdoings of the church; the failure to deregulate markets and make them work in the best interests of business and citizens and the failure to adequately address climate change.

"(There is also) the failure to introduce water charges, despite all logic suggesting this was the right thing to do; the failure to give Local Government the resources and autonomy essential to foster rural and regional economic development; the failure to make the provision of public services efficient and effective; the failure to build enough houses to house our growing population; and the failure to make the health service function properly.

We need to ask ourselves the question why we are unable to provide sufficient housing and health services for a relatively small population of 4.8 million people.

"Is it a lack of confidence? Is it a lack of vision? Is it a lack of leadership? Is it a symptom of a public sector structure that does not work effectively? I believe it is a combination of all three."

He stressed that we elect our political leadership to provide leadership and make the hard decisions necessary to create a functioning economy and society.

However, he says that leadership too often has a strong inclination to abdicate responsibility and farm out decision making to non-elected bodies and individuals.

Michael Collins
Michael Collins

The native of Co Waterford said that it is interesting that 2011 to 2013 stands out as a period when there was considerable economic reform, but that coincidentally was the period when the Troika was effectively running the country.

"I would like to see our elected politicians taking stronger and braver leadership roles and doing what needs to be done, rather than abdicating responsibility to others who are not accountable in the democratic system that we have.

"Michael Collins would not have abdicated responsibility for decision making in this manner."

Meanwhile, Mr Power said that asking an economist to deliver an oration at such an intensely political event was "arguably unusual."

"However, it is important to remember that economics and finance featured strongly in the life of Michael Collins."

Michael Collins in his role Minister for Finance in the provisional government proved himself to have orginal thinking when it came to Ireland’s economic development, Mr Power told the crowd.

Mr Power said it is very clear from his writings that Collins had very strong views on economics and the importance of developing a functioning economy.

Simon Coveney and Jim Power at the event. Picture: Provision.
Simon Coveney and Jim Power at the event. Picture: Provision.

"Many of those views are as relevant today as they were a century ago, but they also demonstrate a degree of vision and unorthodox thinking that I suspect would not have been too common a century ago."

Mr Power insisted that Collins did not see economic growth as being necessary for the purpose of being able to boast of vast wealth or of a great volume of trade for their own sake.

Rather, he recognised that economic activity was essential, but that the fruits of that economic activity should create the opportunity for the citizens of the country to be able to generate sufficient wealth to allow people enjoy the fruits of their labour.

"Collins was alluding to the quality of economic activity and the quality of life, generations before it became a popular notion.

"As a country, we certainly lost sight of those imperatives in the decade leading up to the global ‘Great Recession’ of 2007 and the very damaging crash in the Irish economy.

"We came to believe that the quantum of economic growth was all that really mattered, and we made the fundamental mistake of ignoring the quality and sustainability of that growth."

Power said is fascinating that Collins saw the future of Ireland as a small open economy and argued that foreign trade should be stimulated by creating the means to transport and market Irish goods abroad and foreign goods in Ireland.

In many ways, Michael Collins was an economic visionary, but unfortunately, he never got to contribute to that vision being realised.

Instead, Ireland was thrown into a closed, repressive and protectionist environment, that prevented the future from being realised under the leadership of De Valera.

Power said that in the current trend amongst some global leaders for protectionism, lessons should be heeded on the impact that protectionist policies have had in Ireland and elsewhere.

He also lamented the reduction of the status of History in the Senior Cycle.

"The lessons of history should never be forgotten and those who ignore their history are doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past.

"In this regard, it is very alarming to see history removed as a core subject from the Junior Cert Syllabus in the Irish education system. This will be shown to have been a great mistake."

On a personal level he said he it was a major honour to given the oration.

"As a young boy growing up in rural County Waterford, I have memories of my long-deceased father and my maternal uncles and uncle-in-law heading off on an annual pilgrimage to West Cork.

"It is only in more recent years that I have come to appreciate the significance of that pilgrimage and it says a lot about the man we are here to commemorate today, Michael Collins, that many from different generations are still making that same pilgrimage."

The Commemoration at Béal na Bláth is held every August to mark the anniversary of the killing of Collins in a Republican ambush during the Irish Civil War in 1922.

Recent speakers at the oration include President Michael D Higgins, Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed, Vice President of the European Parliament Mairead McGuinness and broadcaster George Hook.

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