I once challenged Ray Bassett at a public meeting over his use of the word ‘Ireland’ when he meant ‘The Republic of Ireland’ , on the grounds that I didn’t think I’d married a foreigner when I married a Mayo woman. He smiled and held up his hands in apology. The title of his new book – Ireland and the EU: Post-Brexit – suggests he was humouring me.
Despite that, I find myself well-disposed to the former Irish ambassador to Canada: he has the courage and the staying power to swim against the current. Because the DUP apart, you’ll go a long way in Ireland north or south to find someone who thinks Brexit was a good idea.
The truth is, most of us have decided the EU’s a good thing for Ireland because it has helped develop the peace process, has developed the road network north and south, and it’s a bracing thought that we’re respected partners in a conglomeration of states, rather than afterthoughts in the shadow of the UK. The terms and conditions of EU membership? Most of us are too busy or too lazy to check them out.
Bassett isn’t, and has. In detail. The book has four parts, with a confetti-shower of footnotes supporting all assertions. Here are a few of the things he examines:
- The Irish bail-out by the EU rescued the south from the 2008 crash but at enormous cost.
- Over the decades the Irish state changed its attitude to the EEC/EU, moving from frowning suspicion to loving surrender.
- The euro was a bad idea that didn’t work out and the Dublin government joining the eurozone was a long way from smart.
- The south of Ireland is far too heavily dependent on multinationals and Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), and one of these years the FDIs could fold their tents and move on.
Bassett doesn’t mind using sacreligious words. Like Irexit. Yes indeed – Ireland exiting down the same path that Britain has taken (Someone lift Auntie Maggie into a chair and get smelling salts.) One section is titled ‘The EU Propaganda Machine in Ireland’ where he notes ‘While calling for a balanced debate in Britain, the [the Irish vested interests] never seem to recognise that no such thing exists in Ireland.”
And he’s right. Despite his encyclopaedic knowledge of the EU and its relations with Ireland, you’ll view many an RTÉ Primetime before you’ll see Bassett or any other critical point of view featuring in a discussion.
“It is always very striking that at any meeting involving pro-EU groups, the audience is extremely well-heeled. There is scant presence of the average citizen. This mirrors the position in England, where the affluent were mainly pro-EU, while working class areas were predominantly pro-Brexit`’.
Again and again throughout the book, Bassett does this: confronts us with facts that expose the weaknesses of the EU, the dangers of its embrace, and the many reasons why we should at least be sympathetic to the UK, as it struggles free of what he sees as the EU’s strangle-hold.
He’s like the really bright student who keeps challenging the teacher’s views, again and again providing a contrary but convincing argument which the teacher and even the rest of the class do not want to hear.
From where Bassett stands, Ireland would be better out of the EU, it should engage in honest debate with views such as his own, and the establishment in Ireland should stop trying to smother the voice of those such as himself, while insisting that the EU is obviously a Good Thing.
Where he falls short, perhaps, is the ferocious power of race memory in the Irish people. At gut -level we’re convinced it’s a zero-sum game: if the Brits are in one corner, we’re in the other, and we can’t wait to get at them, fist and boot, with the help of our charming EU chums.
I still don’t agree with Ray Bassett about the EU and Ireland, but I’d think twice before getting into a rational debate with him as to why.
Buy this book. It’ll be good for your understanding of the EU and the UK, if bad for your blood-pressure.