Ireland facing most ‘significant September’ since 1922 as Brexit looms
Economist Jim Power tells Béal na Bláth Collins event that UK looks set to leave EU with no-deal
Ireland has no option but to continue insist on a backstop in the Brexit withdrawal agreement in order to prevent the return of a hard Irish border, economist Jim Power has said. File photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times.
He told the annual Michael Collins Commemoration at Béal na Bláth in Co Cork that Ireland was facing into its most “significant September” since 1922 when the fledgling Free State was struggling for survival in a Civil War that claimed the life of Collins a month earlier.
Mr Power said that with a no-deal Brexit looking increasingly likely on October 31st, he had recently started to question the wisdom of Ireland’s continued insistence on the backstop but now saw no alternative.
“In recent times, I have questioned myself about the dangers inherent in the Irish government’s unfaltering adherence to the backstop and after much soul searching, I reach the conclusion there is no other choice based on what all the parties now find themselves,” he said.
“A better solution would have been a border in the Irish Sea and a special EU status for Northern Ireland. That option was ruled out by UK government early in the process, largely at the instigation of the DUP.
“Hence we are left with the backstop option- the Irish government must stand its ground and hopefully the EU will continue to back us all the way.”
Recalling Collins’s courage in going to London and signing the Treaty because he believed it was in Ireland’s best interests even though he knew he was signing his death warrant, Mr Power lamented a lack of similar strong leadership among the current political generation.
“In any society, strong leadership from people with vision and ambition is essential - while it is easy to be overcritical of our political leaders, because ruling in a democracy is not easy, one does get a sense that Ireland still lacks the strong leadership that a modern and dynamic economy and society should possess.
“‘New Politics’ and the ‘confidence and supply’ arrangement does not make it easy and is an impediment to strong leadership and policy formation,” he said, adding Ireland’s political leadership too often abdicates responsibility and decision making to non-elected bodies.
He instanced the Citizens Assembly and while it had been universally lauded for what it had achieved in the marriage equality referendum and the referendum on repealing the eighth amendment, it nonetheless provided elected politicians with an excuse to abdicate responsibility.
Noting that Collins had very strong views on economics and developing a functioning economy, Mr Power said it was appropriate to begin a debate on whether the current political leadership have created a country that Collins would have been proud of
He said Collins clearly believed in the necessity of developing an economy in order to generate the resources necessary to make a society function properly and in that regard he recognised the potential of Irish agriculture and the need to develop foreign exports.
But Collins also stressed that people should share in that prosperity on the basis of what each contributes to it and while such a view might be considered controversial today but it was a view that modern Irish society would do well not lose sight of.
“Society needs to look after the less well off but sections of Irish society today very often ignore the notion that, with rights, come responsibilities. All of us who are able should contribute to society and look after those who are not able, but everybody has responsibilities.”
Collins never lived to see his vision of Ireland achieved and it was after years of ruinous protectionism when Seán Lemass implemented the First Programme for Economic Expansion in 1958 that Collins’s vision for Ireland started to be realised, he noted.