Future looks cloudy from south of The Border

Posted By: June 25, 2016

Deaglan de Breadun. Irish News (Belfast). Saturday, June 25, 2016

IT IS fair to say that the political establishment in The South is in a state of shock after the Brexit referendum result.

True, there was increasing concern prior to the appalling murder of Labour MP Jo Cox. But after that terrible event there was a sense that public opinion in the UK would be alerted to the dangers arising from the growth of right-wing sentiment and pull back from the brink.

Wiser heads, more experienced in the British mindset and way of doing things,  said that pro-Brexit opinion might have become more muted but it hadn’t gone away, you know. People had gone quiet but were still determined on voting themselves out of the European Union.

A senior Irish government official I talked with, in advance of the referendum, said the consequences of a vote to leave would be very serious for The South and were a matter of grave concern to the powers-that-be.

No wonder that members of the government, including Taoiseach Enda Kenny, travelled north and to Britain to push for a strong Irish vote to remain.

Looking back on it now, it was too little too late. It is easy to be wise after the event but the government and the political establishment in Dublin should have been pressing the alarm bells much louder, a very long time ago.

There is little point in recrimination, however. We must make the best of the situation that exists.

It looks like very bad news for the farming community. Vast amounts of Irish beef are exported to Britain but now the UK supermarkets may choose to import beef from, say, the US where the wholesale price is about 40 per cent lower than in the EU – and it’s even cheaper in South America. However, US beef can be injected with hormones, a practice banned by the EU.

There is also grave concern that we have lost a major ally in our negotiations with the EU. The UK has been a very significant presence and in most instances a close ally at the conference table. But in two years’ time that will no longer be the case.

There are also serious worries about the impact on the peace process in The North. EU money has been very helpful in sustaining the peace through its funding of various activities. It is hard to see the British treasury stepping into the gap.

In recent years, the border between north and south had been diminishing in importance. You barely knew when you had crossed from one state to the other. But there is a good deal of scepticism about the pre-referendum claim by Secretary of State Theresa Villiers that nothing will change in this regard.

After all, this will be the only land border between the UK and the EU. It seems inevitable that some form of  regulation will be introduced. Customs posts had disappeared but may now have to be restored.

Apart from the delay and inconvenience that may ensue, there is also the possibility that they could become a target for attack by dissident republicans.

There is concern also about the common travel area between Ireland and Britain. That might also change and passports could be required for Irish people at points of entry.

The south joined what was then the European Economic Community on the same day as the UK, 43 years ago. There was a feeling that, if the British were going in, there was no way we could possibly stay out.

Nobody has suggested it yet, but there is a possibility that, in the longer term, we might have to reconsider our own membership. That is not on the agenda at the moment but remaining as a member of a club that does not include our nearest neighbour and best customer may prove unsustainable. Indeed, there is a minority view that emulating the UK’s example would be good for us.

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin is calling for referendums north and south to get rid of the Border.

No doubt this will help to strengthen the party’s republican credentials but most people will not see it as particularly relevant at this point in time.

The future looks cloudy and uncertain and an intense national debate will be required to ascertain the correct way to proceed.

The government may assure us that detailed preparation has been undertaken for a Brexit victory but, given the way they mishandled a straightforward issue like the introduction of water charges, their words may not inspire widespread confidence.