Akron Irish: Brexit
By Lisa O’Rourke
Just saying the name Brexit evokes similar feelings in me that I have when I encounter the English cardboard-like breakfast cereal with the eerily reminiscent name, Weatabix. Is this really natural? Is this good for me? Who had this idea in the first place?
The British vote to leave the EU on June 23, 2016 left those questions and many more. And like many other current events, Brexit was a thing that cooler political heads never believed would happen. Stories have surfaced since that illustrate just how cool and calculating the “mastermind” planners of Brexit were, and conversely, how unconcerned they were with the ramifications of a leave vote.
Many people here have at best, a passing interest in the political machinations of Great Britain. There is undoubtably more interest in the wardrobes of the royals than the Brexit vote. Ireland does not share that ambivalence.
They watched in shock and dismay as the “leave” votes came in. We were there at the time, so I know that for a fact. We were in the North and witnessed the menacing placement of pro-Brexit signs right along side little Union Jacks, in long rows on stretches of road. It appeared that the pro-Brexit vote was comfortably in-sync with the right-wing thinkers in the North.
England and Ireland are the European Hatfields and McCoys. They don’t like each other but they have been living in a cool negotiated peace since the Good Friday Agreement.
The European Union has made them economic bedfellows as well. Some Irish farmers export almost exclusively to England.They even have some resentment of the EU in common. Big centralized governing agencies like the EU generate annoyance within individual countries due to their attempts to fit uniform policy on some very different cultures.
Ireland has had its own shaky relationship with the EU. It began, like many relationships, with the EU pleasing and helping and then trying to control too much, leaving the Irish bristling at some of the “nanny state” regulations as much as any other country.
Some of the rules seem draconian to the Irish, like very strict driving restrictions aimed at curbing Irish road fatalities, well-intentioned ideas that go too far at times. However, the Irish also realize, that like England, they are a lonely island, a disconnected rock in the middle of the Atlantic.
England is the European economic conduit to Ireland; the route through which goods and services flow. Sure, some things travel by air, just like here, but trucking routes go through England via ferry to and from Ireland cheaper. After all, you can see Scotland from the North of Ireland and the ferry ride between the two countries is only forty-five minutes long, compared with seventeen hours to Cherbourg, France.
The economic damage that Brexit could inflict on Ireland is considerable, and it is impossible that it will not have a negative effect on the economy. Currently, since the English government is unable to establish a plan for a negotiated separation from the EU, it looks like what will happen is a “no deal” Brexit; think ugly divorce.
A leaked UK document estimates that “no deal” Brexit will cost Ireland an estimated 7% of their economic output, compared to 5% for the UK (NY Times, 2/24/19). Since the UK never adopted the Euro and still uses the English pound, there are already currency exchanges between countries that trade with the UK. The currency exchange rates will surely compound, as will tariffs, and Ireland will bear the brunt of it, with a raise in prices coming and going.
Money is one thing, but that is little comfort without a peaceful life. Peace is the scariest potential loss in the Brexit deal. Even though the North and the Republic do not share a currency, the fact that they are in a common market has eliminated the financial incentive for a hard border between the two countries. A hard border means the presence of check-points and a formal passage between countries, like the US and Canada.
Currently, the border is a soft one, acknowledged but not enforced, like going from Ohio to Pennsylvania. The twenty-one-year-old Good Friday Agreement eliminated the border politically. There was a feeling between the negotiators at the time that the border itself was part of the problem.
The physical partition came with a psychological one. Brexit will change that, and a hard border just can’t be a good result for Ireland, and everyone knows it. With this in mind, the Irish Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, has done everything in his power to throw some tacks in the road to Brexit, and he has been criticized in England as a trouble-maker. And why not? He has absolutely nothing to gain by Brexit and everything to lose.
In preparation for Brexit, Irish police are positioning themselves along the border in the boundary counties like Monaghan and Cavan. The same offensive maneuver is surely happening in the North. It looks like an escalation after all these years and seems to precipitate an inevitable slide to sectarian violence. The people who have the misfortune to live along the border will have to endure checkpoints every time they cross, possibly several times a day as they attempt to go about their business. The divide highlights the “us and them” mentality that the soft border blurred.
Great Britain has a habit of leaving a big imperial footprint wherever they go. The partition of Ireland is part that legacy. The injury that Brexit will inflict in part, is not deliberate, but an indifferent consequence of geography. Ireland is unlucky in this deal to have an ocean on one side and England just the far side of the Irish Sea.
There is irony in the timing of Brexit. The two big moments in the 20thcentury between the two countries were at Easter; the Easter Rising and the Good Friday Agreement. Now it is mid-Lent with Brexit due to begin on March 30th. The other two were decisive moments of change and this moment mirrors the dull, limping gloominess of Lent.
In hindsight, Brexit looks like a bellwether of the global trend of thought, a demonstration of the frustration of people tired of globalization and pretty sure that they aren’t getting a fair shake on their end of the bargain. There is evidence that validates those thoughts, like the widening socio-economic chasm, but the means don’t mean the end, they might just be mean.
Lisa O’Rourke is an educator from Akron. She has a BA in English and a Master’s in Reading/Elementary Education. Lisa is a student of everything Irish, primarily Gaeilge. She runs a Gaeilge study group at the AOH/Mark Heffernan Division. She is married to Dónal and has two sons, Danny and Liam. Lisa enjoys art, reading, music, and travel. She enjoys spending time with her dog, cats and fish. Lisa can be contacted at ol*****@ic****.com.
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