One of Ireland’s most prominent and most ambitious MEPs Mairead McGuinness, a vice-president of the European Parliament, says the UK’s Brexit plans border “are more than the UK wanting to have its cake and eat it, it’s an attempt to have its cake and eat ours (too)”.
Fine Gael MEP Ms McGuinness was the keynote speaker at last week-end Béal na mBláth ceremonies in West Cork to mark the 95th anniversary of the killing of Michael Collins, commander-in-chief of the Irish army in an ambush by the anti-treaty IRA in August 1922.
In her speech she said Britain’s exit from the EU in 2019 will cause a more radical change in its relationship with Ireland than the 1916 Easter Rising or partition ever did.
In an address to several hundred people that received international coverage she was scathing about not just the UK’s plans but also about those, particularly Sinn Fein, who are seeking to use Brexit as leverage towards a united Ireland.
“In as much as the 1921 treaty signed by Michael Collins shaped the future of our nation, the new ‘treaty’ between the UK and the EU will shape our future.
“If the shape of Brexit is a hard one, then the separation will be more definitive and absolute than anything envisaged by those involved in the foundation of the state, including Michael Collins,” she said.
But, she warned, “there are those who would use Brexit as a weapon to reunite our country. That is misguided. The path to reunification is already set out in the Good Friday agreement”.
As expectations rise in Ireland of another General Election sooner rather than later – possibly next year – Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams has been proffering his party as a potential coalition partner but only in return for a commitment from the larger party to work towards a United Ireland.
Ms McGuinness said people should be in no doubt about the potentially dramatic political consequences of Brexit for Ireland – it would, she said, have a more profound effect on day-to-day relations between London and Dublin than either the War of Independence or Ireland’s exit from the British Commonwealth in 1949 when it became a Republic.
Brexit has already destabilised the hard-earned normalization of life in Northern Ireland and in the Border counties, she said.
Every time a Brexiteer in the UK calls for it to leave the Customs Union “another brick gets placed back in the Border wall”, she said.
“Brexit has reopened hardly-healed wounds of division and deepened the polarisation of politics in Northern Ireland.
“The decision of the British government to accept the support of the DUP to remain in power has added sharply to that polarization,” she said.
“Michael Collins knew the importance of compromise but he also found out that it’s not achievable if one party sticks rigidly to its position and is not open to the concerns of the other.
“Our challenge is to be as brave as Collins was. We cannot and do not turn our backs on the UK as near neighbours and trading partners but as they choose to retreat behind their borders and go it alone, we remain global as a full, active and engaged member of the EU,” said the former journalist
“The UK has the capacity to stop this unwelcome development by remaining, at the very least, in the Customs Union,” she said.
But the instability and uncertainties surrounding Brexit shouldn’t stop people thinking about the future of Europe and the EU, she said.
Energies and efforts
“Brexit, as profound as it is, must not be allowed sap all energies and efforts.
“We need to start looking beyond Brexit to what type of Europe we want to see in the future.
“Scepticism and indeed cynicism about the EU was certainly fuelled by the economic crisis and mistakes were made giving rise to justifiable concerns among citizens which must be addressed in any discussion about the future of the EU.”
She said it is “regrettable, indeed reprehensible,” that there is no functioning Assembly in Northern Ireland to give voice to the many concerns of citizens, of community groups, of business leaders and the farming community in Northern Ireland.