Today, April 2nd, I attended a CIS lunch and lecture by Consul General Adrian Farrell.
The event came at an interesting time for those following Brexit– while negotiations have progressed since they began in June last year, little light has been shed on the Irish border issue (something that I’m sure Mr. Farrell, his nation, and Northern Ireland had hoped would have become clearer by now). Mr. Farrell spoke on the issue of Ireland’s border with the UK’s Northern Ireland, Ireland’s global economy, and what these two aspects mean for Ireland’s relationship with the EU and Great Britain.
The Good Friday Agreement between Great Britain, Ireland, and Northern Ireland celebrates its twentieth anniversary this year.
Both Mr. Farrell and OU’s Dr. Smith called attention to the anniversary and how effective the agreement has been in bringing peace to both Ireland and Northern Ireland– Brexit threw a wrench in it. In 1998, diplomatic efforts ended the bitter violence and opened up economic prosperity and security for those on the border. Since then, the open border has allowed for businesses to freely sell goods and trade materials and for citizens to shop and work on both sides. Most importantly, though, it has seen the first generation of citizens of both Ireland and Northern Ireland to live peacefully with one another.
Brexit could hinder, if not completely ruin, the economic and and social integration that was painstakingly achieved twenty years ago. It all depends on the deal reached by negotiators– as a part of Great Britain, Northern Ireland must follow the nation in its new non-European status. If Great Britain ends up outside of the EU customs union and single market, then a hard border (requiring stops and regulations) between Ireland and Northern Ireland would most likely be reinstated. This will hurt small, family businesses in both parts of the island, and could even throw a wrench in the peace efforts since the ’98 agreement.
Ireland has every intention of resisting the path taken by its neighbors and staying in the EU.
Mr. Farrell was quick to establish this fact. Ireland’s trading economy and outward-looking attitude demand a continuation of the European integration that they have flourished under since 1973. The fear of the “domino effect” of Euro-skepticism that Britain may have sparked on the European continent holds no place in Ireland, though; four out of five Irish voters would prefer to stay in the EU. The reasons for this are both economic and social, as I mentioned above. When it joined the EU several decades ago, Ireland was one of the poorest European nations. It is now a powerful global economy and a net contributor to the EU economy. Its small domestic economy relies on trade outside of its borders to flourish. Furthermore, the free movement of people in the EU allows Irishmen to train or study abroad and bring their qualifications back to Ireland; the inverse benefits the nation as well– foreign-born students and workers can go to Ireland for a time and even stay there to contribute to its economy.
Perhaps out of this global economy or even as the source of it, Ireland possesses a very different attitude towards globalization and European integration than that of Great Britain. The Irish, claims Mr. Farrell, value the multicultural, fluid, and complex sense of identity that the European Union promotes. It does not view Brussels institutions as burdensome, but rather, as beneficial. Even outside of Europe, Ireland is actively seeking to enhance its connections and engagement on the world stage, working to open several new consuls in a wide array of locations.