Friday, 9 December 2011
The end of independent Ireland
While the outcome of this week's EU summit is uncertain, one thing is sure; neither Mr Sarkozy or Mrs Merkel will turn round to ask the Irish prime minister - Enda Kenny for his opinion. The only time the leaders of France and Germany will speak to him directly will be when they ask him to sign the final agreement. Ireland isn't even a bit part actor in this drama, it is in the audience like the rest of us.
When it is Enda Kenny's turn to hold the pen, he will sign away the last vestiges of Irish independence. Henceforth, Ireland will be a province of a highly centralised and undemocratic European state. The Irish parliament will have powers broadly similar to that of a municipal council. Monetary and fiscal policy will now be determined in Brussels and in Frankfurt. In legal matters, the final Court of Appeal will be in Strasbourg. Ireland will have no ability to determine policies in a wide range of issues such as agriculture, fisheries, industry, and foreign affairs.
As a Brit looking across the Irish sea I can't help wonder what the fuss in Ireland was all about. According to the Irish national myth, it struggled for 800 years to break the yoke of English oppression. During the height of the First World War, a small gang of nationalists rose up and the subsequent violence destroyed the heart out of Dublin. After much bloodshed, Britain and Ireland signed an agreement that granted dominion status to Ireland in 1921. Over the next 20 years, Irish governments repeatedly reneged on that agreement, and unilaterally declared a republic in 1949. For its part, Britain took these treaty violations with remarkable grace.
In the late 60s, inter communal violence again broke out in Northern Ireland. Britain expended huge amounts of money trying to keep the peace. Hundreds of young British men died there. Thousands of Irish men and women perished in a pointless ethnic struggle that lasted decades. Despite all that misery and pain, in political terms, the Good Friday agreement returned Ulster to where it started; a province with its own parliament within the United Kingdom.
The troubles in Ireland ended in the mid 1990s, just as the the Irish housing bubble on both sides of the border was starting to explode. (Better house prices than bombs, I suppose). By the time, the bubble finally burst Irish nationalism was a spent force. The Irish state was bankrupt, the economy was ruined and migration, the age-old curse of Ireland, had returned. The utter demoralisation of the Irish people meant that Mr Kenny's could take a trip to continent to sign away Irish independence and no one in Ireland cares. Debt and recession had transformed Ireland into a small largely irrelevant colony in the fringes of the Europe.
Perhaps, British tactics in Ireland were a little too militaristic. Instead of sending an army, the Brits should have sent over a boatload of mortgage brokers and bankers. If in the early 20th century the Brits are generated a housing bubble and subsequent banking crisis, Ireland would have never left the United Kingdom.