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Will Irish eyes smile on a Brexiteer?


I’M IN the throes of planning a short break to Dublin with girl friends of long standing – we were at school together. We’ve done a lot of Europe already: Prague, Nice, Barcelona, Edinburgh, Berlin, even Zürich. We couldn’t agree this year on Budapest (my suggestion) so we finally settled on Dublin. The others assure me the city is vibrant, rich in Celtic culture and awash with Guinness.

So why do I feel a wee bit uneasy? Our jaunt is planned for after Easter, so not too expensive. But that also happens to be – theoretically – post-Brexit. I’m aware of little undercurrents of anxiety. Will the passports still be valid? Will the queues at immigration take for ever? Will we be welcomed by Mr Varadkar’s Europhile citizens, who might just be feeling a bit peeved about post-Brexit economic fluctuations? My chums think I’m bonkers. The Irish are lovely. And just remember, as native-born Scots, we’re probably all a bit Irish anyway.

I’m not so sure, having just read what the Guardian has printed about what the newly globalised Irish think of the British (well, the English actually) in the wake of Brexit. Here it is:

* * *

The comment slipped out after a long, geeky conversation about Brexit’s potential impact on Ireland’s trade, employment, banking and consumer confidence. ‘You know, we’d almost forgotten how good it felt to stick it to the Brits.’ The speaker shrugged and grinned. ‘Old habits.’

This was not a grizzled Sinn Féin party activist in West Belfast, but a young business professional in a cafe near the Dublin headquarters of Facebook and Google – the heart of new, globalised Ireland. Yet here was an admission – a declaration – of schadenfreude echoing down from a centuries-old resentment at the colonial master who came and stayed for 800 years.

I hear it from officials, shopkeepers, academics, truckers, artists and students: the Irish government is right to insist on the backstop, and if that gives Britain’s ruling class an aneurysm, well, grab some popcorn and enjoy the spectacle.

A tendency to enjoy the neighbour’s discomfort had faded in recent decades. John Major and Tony Blair earned respect for the Good Friday agreement. The Irish economy took off. There was a sense of a fresh start in Anglo-Irish relations.

In the centenary year of Ireland’s war of independence, Brexit seems to have turned the clock back.

But it hasn’t, not really. There is some relish at Westminster’s convulsions – the parliament of Oliver Cromwell reduced to Benny Hill. But the overwhelming emotion is worry that Britain will crash out of the EU without a deal, wreaking havoc on Ireland’s economy and destabilising Northern Ireland.

And there is also sadness. A once-valued diplomatic partner, a neighbour with whom Ireland shares myriad cultural commonalities, is turning away. Glee at Westminster dysfunction is, it seems, an attempt to extract solace from a sense that Britain doesn’t care about breaking Irish hearts.

‘Brexit has damaged so many ways of doing business,’ says Eunan O’Halpin, a history professor at Trinity College Dublin. ‘There is a sense that with the British unless it’s written down, you can’t trust anything they say.’

* * *

Plus ça change. It’s back to the borderlands years again, so brilliantly described by George Friedman in his book Flashpoints. Some elements of national or even local psyche, and long not-entirely-buried popular memories will never be quite erased. The European Union has not made its member nation states love each other the more. It has only subdued them through heavy-handed economic and regulatory constraints. The old memories fester on.

I’ve no doubt there are lovely things to see in Dublin: Trinity College, the Book of Kells, the Abbey Theatre, the Brian Boru bar. I think the survival technique might be to assume an aura of willing European-ness. Not too hard for my girl friends, Remainers all. Not maybe so easy for me: a Swiss resident, ‘refugee’ from the EU, and fervent believer in national sovereignty, freedom of speech, and the good old ways.

But hey! Who am I kidding? Brexit happening on 29th March? Get real!

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Janice Davis
Janice Davis
Janice Davis is a grandmother and former girls’ grammar school teacher

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