Brexit: In theory it’s good to talk — and this is a listening class

Informative, inclusive, but vague, at times bordering on bland — that could sum up the first all-island civic dialogue on Brexit.

Yes, many arguments and voices previously unaired may have found a place to speak out — issues around child protection, the environment, and third-level education were all raised, for example. But the problem with Brexit is it is very difficult to come up with solutions to what is at present a theoretical problem.

Communities can prepare, to a certain extent, for an earthquake but until it hits there is often no way of anticipating how powerful the tremors will be.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny yesterday hinted that Brexit could be seismic and would pose the “most significant economic and social challenge of the past 50 years”.

Mr Kenny also admitted that Brexit, like the EU itself, is an “evolving process”, so yesterday was largely a listening exercise.

“If all of us here were asked to make a decision on Monday next week on Brexit, we are not in a position to do so because the process is evolving,” he told the packed hall in the Royal Hospital Kilmainham.

While it is clear Ireland will aim to protect the movement of goods and people, and Government is certain there can be no return to a hard border with the North, we really have no idea what lies ahead until British Prime Minister Theresa May decides to trigger Article 50 and negotiations begin.

Even the triggering date is up in the air, with Mr Kenny guessing it could be Decem-ber, January, or February.

What yesterday’s event did prove, however, is the extent to which Brexit will impact on every element of society. It’s just that the how and when still need to be figured out.

Everyone turned up for the first in a series of similar events; from members of the Islamic community to the YMCA, Keelings to Scouting Ireland, EirGrid to the GAA, Disability Action to the Irish Senior Citizens Parliament.

All except the North’s first minister and DUP leader. Arlene Foster snubbed an invitation, dubbing the event a “talking shop”. Maybe she was right — speaker after speaker stood up to address niche concerns and lobby for their own particular area.

But venting can be a positive. Although the solutions may not be available at present, at least the anticipated problems have now been well aired. All of those who spoke raised the importance of protecting Ireland — both sides of the border — in the context of Brexit.

Grainia Long of the ISPCC said gangs who target young people and children “like rivers don’t recognise borders”. She said: “We need to ensure that we don’t miss a single opportunity to build on the co-operation that is already in place.”

Eddie Punch of the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association said Europe needs to tread carefully on dealing with Brexit and was certain that “Ireland’s interests must be centre stage”.

Martin McGuinness, the North’s deputy first minister, claimed Brexit would have “profound implications” — but the exact details and implications were lacking.

More talking ahead, it seems, but sometimes it’s good to talk.

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