Brexit and the English Connection:
In cynical geopolitical terms, Ireland exists as the Western European equivalent of Belarus. An English speaking cultural appendage of Anglo-America surviving off FDI and with a monetary policy set in Brussels. For all the fanfare celebrating the first Dáil in 1919, Ireland in 2019 has none of the proper structures of a functioning self-respecting nation state. As Belarus is poised to be swallowed up by Russia, so stands Ireland astride two geopolitical rivals the EU and UK/US.
Brexit has shown us a serious Irish overdependence on Britain, reminding otherwise inattentive Dublin politicians that the partition of this island is very much real and impacts the ability of our nation to be autonomous. For example, the British RAF is the effective air force of Ireland with bilateral agreements between Dublin and London to defend Irish airspace because the Irish air force is incapable of doing so. The Irish army is currently haemorrhaging recruits and is miniscule despite its commitments to increase defence expenditure from the current 0.35% of GDP.
While anti-Brexiters are quick to point out Irish trade to the UK has reduced vastly over the years, they forget that 85% of our trade to the EU passes through the UK. When English Tories mock Irish independence, citing it as a mere renegade province of the UK, they do so with the understanding the Irish state survives at the mercy of foreign powers. We have no one but ourselves to blame for this.
The dirty secret of the 26 county state since independence has been the fact that despite the tricolour flying over Leinster House, we existed as satellite state of the UK and now of the EU and America. The Irish state has required British trading links to survive, in particular the ability to export our population through emigration.
For the Dublin leadership, the nightmare scenario is one where tariffs rise between the UK and Ireland, jeopardising the very viability of the state in a way never seen this side of the wartime Emergency. The equation of global interdependence was supposed to increase Irish autonomy but now Brexit flips this dynamic. The business model that the Irish economy is based around is the Anglo-Saxon Atlanticist one: Low tax and export-based economy with flexible labour markets. This is in contrast to the more statist European design.
In Ireland we are wilfully unaware of geopolitical matters. The daily drip of Brexit coverage from the Irish commentariat fails to understand the wider historical and geopolitical trends facing us. Atlanticism is the unspoken doctrine of an Irish business community heavily invested in the connection with the United Kingdom and the United States. If a situation arises in the aftermath of Brexit whereby this connection is endangered, expect a rapid realignment in Irish politics brought about by those with a stake in maintaining the English connection politically and economically.
For most of modern Irish history this country’s political compass has not been based on the Right-Left dichotomy but on one’s stance regarding the national question and position towards England. The 1930s Economic War commenced by De Valera tore Ireland down the middle, jeopardising the trade link with the UK and spurring on a short lived fascist movement in the form of O‘Duffy’s Blueshirts. Brexit promises to radically alter Irish politics, potentially causing the unwinding of the political and economic truisms of Ireland once thought to be impeachable.
The Return of Southern Unionism:
The question of Brexit and the rapid liberalisation of Irish life present us with an interesting dichotomy. The Irish state and wider cultural power structures have been attempting to smother the last remaining aspects of Irish national autonomy and distinctiveness. This comes at a time when national identities and borders are becoming increasingly relevant as globalisation stumbles.
Almost as soon as the original revolutionary founders of the state had handed over reigns of power, a new managerial elite sought to overturn the nationalist ethos of the state seeing it as economically calamitous. Without a successful Gaelic revival, Catholicism was arguably the last main differentiation between Ireland and the Anglosphere, thereby offering a barrier to liberal consumerism.
An Ireland that defines itself as post-Catholic if not explicitly anti-Catholic has struggled to conceptualise itself as anything other than a globalist slave state, given the lack of an alternative worldview for the 21st century. Irish identity as we knew it crystallised in the 16th century as Gaelic and Catholic, competing for survival against the incursions of a Protestant England.
If Brexit bites hard and the EU falls into disarray, we may see a serious constituency within Ireland (particularly within the Irish elite) wanting realignment towards Britain if not overt unionism. What differentiates Ireland from Sussex if we have a similar economy/language/culture and are without religious differences? Surely alignment with the UK and US is better than the economic stasis found in the Eurozone?
These arguments, whether we like them or not, will begin to be floated should the above scenario play out. It is easy to forget that a serious percentage of the Irish population was disgruntled with separation from England post-1922, and a hundred years on from the foundation of the Free State those views can be articulated without guilt.
Should the free flow of goods and people between Ireland and the UK be jeopardised we can expect trepidatious factions within Irish life to mobilise to protect their interests. This may come in the form of an outsider populist movement of small to medium business owners affected negatively by Brexit, or it may come from the more anglophile sections of Fine Gael.
The old shibboleths of Catholicism and republicanism were at least able to justify themselves. The post-Catholic Ireland of Leo Varadkar may find it a lot more difficult to define and rationalise its own existence as an independent entity. Now that the barriers of history and tradition are gone, if it is materially better for Ireland to join the UK or a federal European state, why shouldn’t we? By undoing the foundations of Irish identity we find ourselves in murky waters where the very existence of an Irish nation comes into question.
The Doctrine of ‘Sinn Féin Amháin’:
Liberalism was sold to Ireland as exorcising our collective past and transforming us from an economic backwater to a centrepiece of the modern world. We can see it now as a Faustian pact whereby we sold our heritage for short lived material gain. Far from turning Ireland into a pillar of the globalised world, we became even more provincial than the Ireland of our grandparents – politically reliant on Europe, and economically reliant on foreign capitalists.
Before this, we at least had a distinct ethno-religious culture grounded in the Irish people itself rather than the latest viral trend from the English speaking world. The implosion of the Irish economy in 2008 as well as our current overexposure to transient multinationals shows that our present economy is based on foundations of sand.
As we face disturbing prospects post-Brexit, perhaps it’s prudent to rediscover an older doctrine regarding Ireland’s place in the world. The doctrine was that of ‘Sinn Féin.’ Not the contemporary party, but the ideology that motivated both the Irish revival and political revolution of 1916 to 1922.
It was a doctrine that fused the national syndicalism of Liam Mellows with the Gaelicism of Pearse, and won by the guerrilla tactics of Collins. Central to it was the notion the Irish nation constituted a single organic unit and that any material prosperity we could hope to attain came in the form of undoing the centuries of political and cultural conquest and carving our place in the world.
In many respects the doctrine transcended the barriers of Left and Right. Cynics may say that it is outmoded for the modern era, independence resulted in partition, emigration, and sectarian carnage in the North. This, in their eyes, delayed Ireland’s progress for most of the 20th century. Nationalism in Ireland was never and is not an abstract ideology of flags and anthems, but an issue with real consequences. In the 19th century we faced the Famine and economic ossification because we had no state of our own, missing out on the industrial revolution. Similarly the Irish in the 21st century could pay the price of not being masters of their own destiny through globalism and all it entails.
As the dust begins to settle on a post-Brexit Ireland we may be faced to choose between the Anglo-American world or the European Union. Perhaps we Irish have it within in us not to be a nation of imitators but to fly the flag on something of our own creation that will ultimately guarantee the security and wellbeing of our children and grandchildren. Contrast that vision to the jaded desire for Ireland to be just another political satrap of international liberalism. We can and should set our sights so much further.