Written on: 5. 1. 2012 in the category: Uncategorized

We will always be clinging to someone else’s coattails

It’s hard to imagine a better example of a winning argument than that of the Eurosceptics such as Anthony Coughlan and Mary Ellen Synon who for years were maintaining, through closely marshalled economic facts, the fundamental flaws of the Greater Europe vision.

The eurozone is now on life-support; gangrene is rotting its extremities; toes go black and stink. Yet the debate — if such an energetic word may be used about Leinster House: the Dail drums or the doldrums? — is still largely defined by simple nationalistic imagery, such as that used recently by Lucinda Creighton. “We do not want to somehow revert to clinging on to the coattails of the United Kingdom in terms of how we deal with international and European affairs. That would be a regressive step which would be hugely damaging to our economy and to our national interest.”

Well, we’re always going to be on someone’s coattails. Small nations usually are. I should have thought we have tested the European experiment to the point of ruin, though perhaps the message has not still not sunk home to our political classes, who clearly still do not understand the scale of Armageddon consuming our domestic economy. This is even before the euro slides even deeper into the gaping abyss. Only an act of ideological faith, rather than clinical assessment of economic and geographical realities, would lead anyone at the moment to urge closer integration with Europe.

I say all this with the passionate querulousness, the dogmatic uncertainty and the ardent indecisiveness of a shuttlecock bouncing in the waters off Cape Horn. I remember rejoicing at Maastricht, and yet urging people to vote No to Lisbon. I cannot tell you how often I have changed my mind over Europe, an innumeracy that largely results from my having only twenty digits. So let us remove emotions from the equation. Let us not project into the future. Let us deal with the present. Let us face facts.

Who do we do most business with? With Euroland, or Anglophonia? Well, the latter, actually: moreover, the UK and the US are also the prime investors of capital into Ireland. Those countries are also where our young people are, yet again, emigrating to.

There are other non-political truths, such as these; do Irish newsagents resemble British, or French or German newsagents in the magazines they sell? What about the television we watch? The soccer-teams we support? Or the music we listen to?

These questions, of themselves, are not decisive, but merely factors to be considered. Membership of the EU was hugely beneficial for us — but EU policy was not intrinsically benignant, so much as pragmatic, prudent and most of all, political, as it single-mindedly followed the vision of a united Europe. This obsession, pursued without regard to economic realities on the peripheries, has now brought us to national insolvency, and reduced us to being a chronic debtor-nation. Yet this appalling fact does not prevent the Government from borrowing yet more money to pay for a public service we cannot afford. Instead of cutting salaries overnight, the government took the easy option — the Choke Park one — of giving public servants and judges a deadline before taking early retirement, so enabling them to walk out with vast capital sums and huge pensions, to be paid for by some fictional future generation, while those of us in the private sector face pension-penury.

So: does it make sense to stay within a fiscal union that has brought us to this pretty pass? Or does it make sense to seek another future? The temptation is the seek the third option, my own preference: the rabbit-in-the-headlights approach.

Either way, our minds are not clarified by emotive imagery, such as “reverting to the coattails of the UK”. That brings to mind the other much-favoured metaphor about us, that “we are punching above our weight”. This cliché applies only when a solitary flyweight is shadow-boxing in an otherwise empty ring. Certainly, the moment that Germany put on the gloves, we promptly agreed to reimburse German banks for their insane investments in the Irish property market. Ah yes. The Mouse That Squeaked.

We have never been really independent. We have always needed other countries to take our surplus children, or to defend our seas and airspace, or to supply us with the capital to grow. Dependency is normal for a small island — though we might in passing ask, why, since we are not much smaller than England, are the economic and demographic histories of the two countries so very different?

You will notice no columnar decisiveness here, no searching journalistic insights, no penetrating sagacity. Moreover, I have no dreams: indeed, I distrust dreamers. The only thing I can suggest is that after you’ve carefully weighed the realities of your daily life, do you think that our future still lies within the eurozone? Or is it to revert, not just to anyone’s coattails — for sartorial subsidiarity of some kind is always to be our fate — to a destiny defined by culture, habits, geography and trade, somewhere between the UK and the US? Or is there, maybe, some third option? Help.