Friends in high places will let us down again

Putting our faith in our so-called ‘friends’ in Europe is a disaster waiting to happen, as they will not think twice about letting Ireland swing once more over Brexit, says Political Editor Daniel McConnell
Friends in high places will let us down again

PICTURE this. You are back in school in a class of say, I don’t know, 28 children.

You are not one of the big kids. No, in fact you are one of the smallest kids in the class.

But you are well-liked, you like to tell yourself. A cheeky chappy who uses your smarts as opposed to your brawn to survive.

Then all of a sudden, the guy you have been sitting beside since the start of school comes in one day and says he’s leaving, bringing the number in the class down to 27.

He’s leaving because he doesn’t like the others in the class and now he wants to make a fresh start somewhere else.

He is a big boy. A bit awkward and spiky and extremely arrogant, but has been by your side as long as you can remember.

You two haven’t always gotten on.

He used to bully you a lot, and very harshly too. But in recent times, things have been better.

These days, you share your lunches sometimes and you feel better with him by your side.

You go to his house for play dates and he comes to yours, and the two of you get on great.

So the shock of his leaving is hard to take.

It has not only caused you some upset, it has angered many of the other big boys and girls in the class, who have taken the hump at his decision to leave.

The other big boys and girls have promised to treat him harshly after he leaves.

Now, you have pleaded with them that your friend’s leaving hurts you more than anyone else and that you really need to be minded.

But, the rules of the schoolyard are brutal and you are not heard. Worse, you are ignored and the will of the big boys and girls rules supreme and to hell with you.

So why, if the laws of the school yard can be so brutal, is our Government acting in a way that shows it thinks the rules of European politics are anything different?

Since the vote to leave on June 23 became clear, the position of the Irish Government has centred on two main points.

Firstly, there will be no special bilateral deal with the UK, as we will negotiate as part of the block of 27 EU countries.

Secondly, the Irish Government cannot set out its stall as to how we will combat Brexit until London shows its hand.

Both strategies are deeply flawed and will leave Ireland horrendously exposed to the forces of the bigger boys and girls.

On the first point, Fine Gael’s blind devotion to the European project has allowed them to convince themselves that our friends will ensure our best interests will be looked after.

Last week, Fine Gael MEP Mairead McGuinness went on RTÉ Radio 1 and was at pains to tell us how our best bet is to put our faith in our EU friends to see us right.

The EU’s lead negotiator, Frenchman Michel Barnier, is well aware of Ireland’s position and he will ensure we are sorted, she said.

I’m sorry, but Mairead and her Blueshirt colleagues are fooling themselves.

Just think back to Europe’s treatment of us during the crash and how well our friends looked after us.

A store in Newry, Northern Ireland, was offering equal value to euros for its goods priced in pounds in December, which worked out as a substantial saving for people from the Republic. Picture: AP
A store in Newry, Northern Ireland, was offering equal value to euros for its goods priced in pounds in December, which worked out as a substantial saving for people from the Republic. Picture: AP

Forcing us as a people to swallow the €64bn cost of our bank crash, to the benefit of big German and French banks, while also blocking our attempts to burn bondholders typified just how our friends looked after us.

Dara Calleary, then a former junior finance minister in the Brian Cowen government during 2008 and 2011, saw first-hand how rough the treatment from the great and good in Europe can be.

“I firmly believe the European institutions walked away from us in our time of need,” he said.

The commission, in its dealings with us, and particularly in its dealings with Greece, in the way it rammed home an austerity programme which did not stand for anything in terms of cuts but re-engineered society, was wrong and removed from the principles of the European Union and its establishment, principles that hold today.”

Speaking to me for my best-selling book, Hell at the Gates, Calleary said he was present in key meetings on behalf of the then minister Brian Lenihan in 2010 when Europe, and in particular the ECB, bounced Ireland into the Troika bailout.

He pulled no punches as to how we were treated by big boys like Jean Claude Trichet of the ECB and Dominique Strauss-Kahn of the IMF at a key meeting of European finance ministers on the eve of Ireland’s enforced bailout in late 2010.

“Trichet was a prick and Dominique Strauss-Kahn was a bigger prick. He was actually the worst that day; they were going around saying Ireland is fucked,” he said.

“Strauss-Kahn was in agreement with Trichet in that Ireland, little Ireland can go piss.”

Former junior finance minister Dara Calleary has had little good to say about Jean-Claude Trichet, left, or Dominique Strauss-Kahn for how they treated Ireland during the bailout. PIcture: AFP
Former junior finance minister Dara Calleary has had little good to say about Jean-Claude Trichet, left, or Dominique Strauss-Kahn for how they treated Ireland during the bailout. PIcture: AFP

Make no mistake, if they feel it is in their interest, France and Germany will not think twice and will squash us like a bug, just like they did in 2008 and in 2010.

And with our closest neighbour now gone from the table, we stand more isolated than we ever were before.

IN A Europe that has become increasingly a club for the big boys, Ireland’s fate is now far less certain than before.

Given that reality, on the second point, we cannot simply wait until Britain’s prime minister Theresa May and her deeply divided cabinet get around to deciding which form of Brexit they want.

Last week, Ireland’s controversial commissioner to the EU, Phil Hogan, got himself into some trouble by essentially calling on his former Cabinet colleagues to get the lead out and figure out exactly what form of Brexit is in Ireland’s best interests.

Without question, the return of a hard border between North and South is not preferable, nor is any curtailment of ease of movement between Ireland and the UK.

But just how you achieve that is not yet clear.

And beyond that, the Irish Government appears to have no ideas, which is deeply concerning.

That is why comments from first-time TD Kate O’Connell were so very welcome.

She urged ministers who wish to succeed Enda Kenny to show their “mettle” by standing up and questioning the Taoiseach’s leadership.

“I do think it is important that we send the future over rather than the past,” Ms O’Connell said, adding that the party should not “blindly accept because of Enda Kenny’s experience that he is the best man for the job”.

“It might not necessarily be a good thing. And they see him coming in Europe and they know what he is about,” the Dublin Bay South TD said.

We are right to question what is going on, and we are also right to demand more from our elected leaders, who are quite simply failing us.

So, while Mr Kenny is insisting that remaining in the EU is the best course of action for Ireland, Ms O’Connell and Mr Calleary are correct to cast doubt on that.

Putting our hopes as a country into the hands of our so-called friends in Europe is simply a disaster waiting to happen.

They will think it nothing to let little Ireland swing once more.

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