Miriam Lord: Joan Burton’s terrifying tale of Brexit horror

The José Mourinho protocol is invoked as Enda becomes the man who unites Ireland

 Then she  ups the fear factor. Joan looks across at the Taoiseach: “You will be alone with 27 other heads of state . . . ” File photograph: Cyril Byrne

Then she ups the fear factor. Joan looks across at the Taoiseach: “You will be alone with 27 other heads of state . . . ” File photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

The setting was all wrong. Joan Burton shouldn’t have been in the Dáil chamber yesterday. It was far too warm, well-lit and had no atmospherics. She should have been with her political buddies in a remote forest clearing on a dark night, drinking beer and telling ghost stories around the dying embers of a campfire.

Because Joan, like Podge and Rodge, likes a scare at Dáiltime. By Chrisht, but she managed to scare the Brexshit out of everyone anyway, even if it was in the middle of a sleepy afternoon on Kildare Street.

She told a tale of Enda Kenny, 27 prime ministers, a terrifying future and the José Mourinho protocol.

Imagine them, shivering in the creeping chill, gazing into the smouldering remains as Joan’s voice drills through their brittle nerves and into their souls.

Enda, Micheál Martin, Gerry Adams and the spirit of Mourinho.

Martin and Adams got the Brexit yarns going.

“There is a need to convey to people the gravity of what is involved here over the next decade,” warned the Fianna Fáil leader. “The economic model we’ve known for nearly 50 years will have fundamentally changed as a result of Brexit.”

Tales of “goodwill and bonhomie” at meetings between Enda Kenny and Theresa May meant nothing, he said. Something bad is coming down tracks.

The fire splutters. Enda sticks a marshmallow on a toasting fork and holds it to the flame. “I don’t want to see personnel with cats outside Dundalk or outside Newry,” he shudders. Or perhaps he says “caps”. It’s hard to hear over the chirping of the crickets.

There can be honeyed words in horror stories too. “Meaningless soundbites” from the British prime minister, intones Gerry Adams, worried that the Taoiseach has become spellbound by May’s “stuff and nonsense” about seamless and frictionless borders.

“There can be no soft Border . . . and there will be a hard economic Border,” he wails. In the event of Brexit, the Taoiseach has to “ensure the land frontier between the European Union and the British state is not on the island of Ireland.”

‘United Ireland’

Looking at his face in the campfire glow, Enda knows what the Sinn Féin leader is thinking. “What you want is a situation where you have, de facto, a united Ireland where you have all traces of any Border removed out beyond Fair Head – that’s what I gather from what you’re asking.”

Into the sea with it! That’s what Adams wants.

“Do you not want that?” he asks the Taoiseach.

“Of course I do!”

For a moment, it seems the moon has outfoxed the cloud, briefly illuminating the countryside. But it’s the firelight reflecting off smiling Gerry’s teeth.

Now it is time for him to summon up the spirit of José Mourinho, the “special one”. Northern Ireland is our “special one” and the Belfast Agreement is there to prove it. It must be given “a special designated status within the European Union”.

The Taoiseach stresses that he doesn’t want to see the sort of Border we had in the past, but we have to see what level of customs union membership the UK wants before determining how to proceed.

Suddenly, the wind gets up. The light fades. The crickets go silent.

Joan is talking. She invokes the “full Mourinho”.

“Special status is needed for the entire island of Ireland,” she says.

As Ireland will be most affected by Brexit, it is “inconceivable” that our interests should be lumped in with the concerns of the rest of the EU member states during negotiations.

Fear factor

Then she dramatically ups the fear factor. Joan looks across at the Taoiseach.

“You will be alone with 27 other heads of state . . . You will all come together on the final meeting of the final night, presumably through the night, judging by previous meetings. You will be on your own, probably allowed one senior diplomat in the vicinity and you’re going to be the decision-maker.”

There is scarcely a sound, save the knocking of Micheál and Gerry’s knees.

Various member states will have alliances going on among themselves, trembles Joan. “I realise you’re very respected. You’re very well known among the group of the 26 other countries, but there’s an old saying in diplomacy: countries don’t have friends, they have interests.”

The former Labour leader says Ireland, the whole island, should have its own dedicated Brexit strand. “Otherwise we’re simply part of the 27 versus the UK.”

Enda versus the rest. Sense the terror.

His calming voice breaks through the darkness. He is visiting each prime minister to explain “just how critical is it for us”. He is pressing for special status for Ireland because we are the special one. He will be lobbying for the Mourinho protocol in the negotiations.

Northern Ireland voted to remain. So Theresa May won’t be batting for them.

So we have a full British withdrawal and Enda Kenny emerges as Mr United Ireland in the negotiations. Gerry Adams must be wondering how this happened.

Enda confirms it. He’s the man.

“Yes, I will be one of the 27. There are no officials in there with you.”

Not even the one.

Nothing to be scared of.

Nothing at all.

Thanks, Joan. We’ll sleep well tonight.