Ireland better prepare for eventuality of Brexit

Inside Politics: Britain leaving would begin a debate about our role in the EU

MPs Boris Johnson (R) and Michael Gove address workers during a Vote Leave campaign visit in Stratford-Upon-Avon, England. Photograph: Getty Images

MPs Boris Johnson (R) and Michael Gove address workers during a Vote Leave campaign visit in Stratford-Upon-Avon, England. Photograph: Getty Images


Irexit. Gaelext. Hibexit. Eirexit. It just doesn’t roll so easily off the tongue as Brexit. But at some stage in the future we are going to have to coin a portmanteau word to capture it.

Until now, most of the energies of the authorities in this State have been expended on two distinct actions. The first has been giving strong backing at Government level to the Remain campaign. The second has been trying to mobilise the 400,000 or so Irish-born residents in Britain to vote to remain.

When you speak to Government politicians they adopt the pose of sports manager. Specifically when you ask what’s going to happen in the event of a Leave vote, they more or less tell you that losing is not an option.

A spate of recent opinion polls in Britain suggests momentum has swung behind the Leave campaign. With the percentage of undecideds now dropping, it is beginning to look a little ominous.

Unless there is a dramatic reverse over the next week, we in Ireland better start bracing ourselves for the eventuality of a Brexit. In time, we will see the reintroduction of some kind of border controls, including checkpoints.

There is a minority in Ireland that is opposed to the European Union. But even among those who support it, there is a suspicion of Brussels having too much power and control, of the attendant loss of sovereignty that entails, and about a distant and unaccountable Brussels making rules that have a negative impact on people’s lives.

Most recently, there have been controversies over habitat directives on raised bogs and waterways that have angered local communities who feel the directives are over-intrusive. That kind of blowback was witnessed in the difficult referendums we have had over increasing the Union’s powers.

While the anti-immigrant rhetoric has been very evident in Ireland in recent years, I sense it’s not going to stay that way forever. I think a Brexit will begin a debate here about our own role in the EU. Here is the latest report updating this from Denis Staunton and myself.

No more stiff upper lip in the stuffy Upper House

It is rumoured that Michael McDowell was offered a gig as co-presenter of Top Gear with Chris Evans and Matt LeBlanc but turned it down because he wanted to do something exciting with his life. He opted for Seanad Éireann instead.

It feels very strange to say this, but I think the 25th Seanad will be an interesting place. There has always been a few entertainers, a few brilliant Independents and some good party politicians. There has always been an eccentric or two.

But mostly there has always, always been a warehouse worth of four-by-two planks occupying many of the spaces.

This time it’s going to be different. For one, the Government will have nothing close to a majority, although Fine Gael will be the largest party.

What’s intriguing is the large number of Independents there are, not just in the university seats but on the vocational panels as well. The two on whom a lot of expectations will lie are the two new university senators, Lynn Ruane and Alice Mary Higgins, both bringing very different perspectives to the Seanad.

It will also be intriguing to see how singer Frances Black will transition to the world of politics.

It’s the return of the Big Beast, though, that has aroused most expectation among the anorak scribes, for whom McDowell provided a steady stream of controversy and outspokenness on tap during his career as a TD, minister and leader of the PDs.

He is a political animal and could not resist a return. There are rumours that he might be persuaded to become the new leader of Renua (which looks like containing the same amount of life as the PDs).

McDowell and most other Independents have hit the ground running with a Bill to reform the Upper House. It’s essentially the Manning report reheated with the kind of moderate and half-way-house reforms that will give the Seanad some credibility.

The 11 will be on the plinth today, ahead of the first sitting of the 25, nearly four months after the general election.