The prospect of an in-out EU referendum driven by David Cameron’s desperate attempts to keep the Conservatives together on Europe while fending off the threat from the UKIP right is a nightmare scenario for the Irish government.
Dublin often takes comfort from hiding behind Britannia’s skirts in Brussels when the British take all the flak for opposing tax and other financial harmonisations in a belligerent stance that also benefits Ireland.
With Nick Clegg trading away yet another of the Lib Dems principles and doing a U-turn on his previous opposition to a referendum, if Cameron outperforms the polls and scrapes together a majority with the centre party, the Ulster Unionists on the right, and the expected two to four UKIP MPs on the hard right, that moment of destiny for the UK could come far sooner than expected.
While Cameron has promised such a vote in 2017 after he has supposedly renegotiates Britain’s relationship with the UK, UKIP has said it will demand the vote as early as this autumn in return for propping-up a Tory administration.
Despite all the economic arguments to the contrary, the groundswell of Brussels bashing opinion is now so intense, and so enflamed by a Euro-hating tabloid culture agenda, a No vote is a real possibility once the politicians loss control of the decision, despite what most polls say now.
While a British exit would prove a short term boost to Ireland as the only English- speaking financial hub in the EU, the medium- and long- term prospects would be so negative if our largest trading partner left, the Government has made it clear it will not butt-out of the internal UK campaign as it did over Scottish independence, but publicly wade-in on the side of staying in the EU.
With the DUP likely to win eight or nine seats, they would play a crucial role in keeping a Cameron administration alive and have already asked for a major financial injection to the North as part of their price for letting the Tories stay in power.
However, they would also seek an influential say in the peace process, as they did in the mid-1990s when they helped prop-up John Major’s shaky government after he lost control of his Euro- sceptic wing.
Though the Irish diaspora has tended to disproportionately back Labour in the past, Dubliner Andy Murray, 44, who is venue manager at the Camden Irish Centre, feels times have changed.
“Labour nearly bankrupted this country, we’d be mad to think we can trust them again. That is why I’m backing the Conservatives,” he said. Care worker Mary Cuddihy, 55, from Waterford, had other ideas: “The Tories have always treated the Irish like muck under their shoes, Labour may not be perfect but I could never vote for Maggie Thatcher’s lot.”
Historical parallels also abound with the surge of the SNP as the last time the UK was so under threat was 1910 when the Irish Parliamentary Party supported the then main progressive party, the Liberals, and secured the Home Rule Bill, before it was overtaken by the blood-drenched events of the Western Front and Easter Rising.
Now it looks clear that any Labour minority government, or formal coalition with the Lib Dems, would survive day-by-day on the tacit support of an SNP, which, though careful not to say so now, will inevitably push for a second independence referendum in its Scottish elections manifesto next year.
Ironically, Sinn Féin’s refusal to take its seats aids the DUP’s drive for influence as it reduces the threshold for a Commons majority from 326 to 323 and even three seats could make all the difference in this knife-edge election.