The EU’s most obedient colony

Ireland has debased itself with its uncritical cosying up to Brussels.

Brendan O'Neill

Brendan O'Neill
chief political writer

Topics Brexit Politics World

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There’s a bizarre article in the current issue of The Economist calling the Republic of Ireland a ‘superpower’. ‘[T]he world’s most diplomatically powerful country’, no less, at least on a ‘per-head basis’. The piece points out that Irish officials now inhabit some of the highest offices in the institutions of global power. Ireland’s finance minister, Paschal Donohoe, is the new president of the Eurogroup, home of the Eurozone’s financial elites. In June, Ireland was elected to the UN Security Council. The former head of Ireland’s central bank – Philip Lane – is now a big cheese at the European Central Bank. And, of course, ‘the EU’s position on Brexit was shaped by Irish diplomats’. ‘How Ireland gets its way’, the headline says.

What makes this ode to Irish power bizarre is that the second part of the article, following all the rather creepy gushing over members of the Irish elite getting cushy jobs with the Euro-elites, makes it pretty clear that it is all a myth. Ireland isn’t a superpower, diplomatic or otherwise. Indeed, the headline to The Economist piece might say ‘How Ireland gets its way’, but the subheading halfway through the article – which transitions the reader from the guff to the reality – rather more mysteriously says: ‘Letting other people have your way.’ What? What this seems to mean is that Ireland ‘gets its way’ by actually letting other people get their way – especially people in Brussels, whom the Irish political and cultural elites seem almost cravenly keen to flatter and assist. There’s a word for a country that behaves like this, and it isn’t ‘superpower’ – it’s ‘colony’.

In the second part of The Economist piece we get to the truth of Ireland’s role in the European Union. Now the article refers to Ireland as a ‘star pupil’. Hold on, I thought it was a superpower? But actually it’s a well-behaved child? The mag of the capitalist class offensively judges Ireland to be a ‘star pupil’ because of how faithfully it has cut public services and reformed other areas of its economic life at the behest of the Troika – the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund – that bailed it out of its banking crisis in 2010. Ireland enacted economic reforms – economic reforms demanded by external powers, remember – with ‘masochistic relish’, says The Economist, making it a ‘star pupil’ in comparison with ‘other countries in a similar position’ (Greece, Italy), which ‘complained’. In the space of a couple of hundred words, Ireland has gone from being a ‘superpower’ to being an obedient, even masochistic enacter of foreign powers’ will.

What’s more, The Economist reminds us that Ireland is currently being hounded by European institutions over its corporation-tax policy. Ireland, in order to entice the big tech companies to set up their European operations in its territory, has a corporation tax of just 12.5 per cent, the second lowest in the EU. The European Commission hates this tax policy and has exerted extraordinary pressure on Ireland to change it. In 2016 it insisted that the Irish government collect €13 billion in back-taxes from Apple – something Ireland did not want to do. Just this month, the European Court of Justice annulled the EC’s demand and said Ireland did not have to pursue Apple after all. However, as The Economist makes clear, ‘A crackdown on Ireland… is still brewing’. The EU is even planning to ‘bypass [the] veto’ that each member state enjoys on tax policy in order to force Ireland to do something it doesn’t want to do: change its democratically instituted tax laws.

Some superpower. A country that cannot freely determine its own economic policies is not a superpower. A country deeply indebted to foreign forces (Ireland still owes an eye-watering €180 billion to the EU) is not a superpower. A country that the opinion-formers of the capitalist class can pat on the back for being a ‘star pupil’ because it has masochistically slashed its economic ambitions to please big banks in other countries is not a superpower. Such a country is not even truly sovereign. The truth about Ireland in the modern era is that it has allowed much of its political and economic life to be recolonised, to be bent to the whims and needs of an external power – not Britain this time, but Brussels.

It isn’t only the publication of the capitalist elite that is heaping praise on the obedient schoolchild of Ireland – so is the key publication of the liberal elite: the Guardian. This week it published an editorial describing Ireland as a ‘new nation’, and even saying that ‘an enviable beauty is born’ – a riff on Yeats, who famously wrote ‘A terrible beauty is born’ following the 1916 Easter Rising against British rule. Yet where Yeats’ ‘terrible beauty’ was a nation struggling for independence, the Guardian’s ‘enviable beauty’ is a nation that willingly sacrifices its sovereignty to multilateral institutions and is happy to be a supplicant of Brussels. The Guardian loves the ‘new Ireland’ because it is leaving behind its pesky old nationalist politics – nation states are so passé, don’t you know – in favour of being a ‘firm believer in multilateral institutions’ (‘unlike Brexit-deluded Britain’, the anti-democratic Guardian adds).

Like The Economist, the Guardian praises Ireland’s ‘immense’ diplomatic power, only to make clear a couple of paragraphs later that no such power exists. Modern Ireland is an ‘enviable beauty’ because it has ditched the irrational politics of nationhood, apparently. ‘Ireland’s old nationalist politics… have moved on’, says the Guardian: ‘Ireland is prospering by doing things more rationally and in ways that are firmly rooted in the state’s membership of multilateral institutions.’ So the politics that defined Ireland for near-on a hundred years – the politics of making a nation that is in control of its own affairs – has been superseded by the ‘more rational’ pooling of Irish sovereignty into global institutions which, to remind ourselves, can tell Ireland what to do. This is the end of the terrible beauty.

There is so much dishonesty in the discussion of contemporary Ireland. There are Orwellian levels of dishonesty at times. An indebted, bossed-about nation is referred to as a superpower. A nation that doesn’t even have full control of its economic future is referred to as having ‘immense’ influence. And most dishonestly of all, Ireland is said to be the author of the EU’s Brexit policy. ‘Ireland’s influence over the EU’s Brexit stance is immense’, says the Guardian. ‘The EU’s position on Brexit was shaped by Irish diplomats’, says The Economist. This is untrue, and everyone knows it is. In truth, the EU has used Ireland as a weapon against the British people’s democratic vote to leave the EU, marshalling Irish concerns to try to weaken Brexit and stymie Britain’s demand for greater independence. Ireland is best seen as a patsy of the European Union.

It is, in many ways, a tragic story. We recently celebrated the hundredth anniversary of Ireland’s First Dail, the parliament of the revolutionary Irish Republic that sat between 1919 and 1921. Before that we celebrated the hundredth anniversary of 1916. These were historic efforts to establish a properly independent nation. In the words of the 1916 hero James Connolly: ‘A free nation must have complete control over its own harbours, to open them or close them at will, or shut out any commodity, or allow it to enter in, just as it seemed best to suit the wellbeing of its own people… and entirely free of the interference of any other nation. Short of that power no nation possesses the first essentials of freedom.’ That isn’t Ireland today. Today’s ‘enviable beauty’ differs from the early 20th century’s ‘terrible beauty’ in that it lacks full control over its borders, its economic policy and even its political priorities, which for the past three years have been dominated by the EU’s anti-Brexit obsession.

Ireland has debased itself. It has sold off its sovereignty for some economic support and a few positions of influence in multilateral institutions. The Irish elite’s feverish support of pooled sovereignty and of the EU project more broadly is really a way of absolving themselves of the burdens of national independence and of disguising their continual failure to make good on the republican promise of 1916. None of this is openly discussed, far less critiqued, in elite circles in Dublin, of course. The level of Euro-conformism in Dublin’s political, media and cultural establishments is staggering. They even celebrate the absence of Euroscepticism in Irish public life as a sign of success, when really it confirms that free, open debate has been stifled in this obedient colony of the EU, where groupthink now rules. Ireland grew up a hundred years ago; it is time for it to do so again. Stop being a pupil and become the master of your destiny.

Brendan O’Neill is editor of spiked and host of the spiked podcast, The Brendan O’Neill Show. Subscribe to the podcast here. And find Brendan on Instagram: @burntoakboy

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Topics Brexit Politics World


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