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« ‘England - Britain - has not gone mad’ | Main | Seat belts and the nanny state »

Whatever happened to Ireland’s rebel spirit?

The Irish are even more obsessed with Brexit than we are.

After I flew into Cork last month I spent the first 30 minutes in a taxi listening to an RTE phone-in on the subject.

Callers were unanimously opposed to Brexit and it was doing my head in until the taxi driver announced that his sympathies lay with Brexiteers like me.

Over dinner that night I found myself in conversation with two people, both Irish, who insisted, like some of those callers, that Brexit was all about immigration.

“Nonsense,” I said, indignantly. “Yes, it may have been a factor but for millions of people Brexit is primarily about sovereignty.”

The following day my Forest colleague John Mallon posted a thoughtful piece on the subject on his blog. He concluded:

The sin the Brits appear to have committed is their stated desire to be free to run their own country.

John is one of the very few Irishmen I have met who has taken the trouble to understand why so many Brits want to leave the EU.

On a previous visit, for Forest’s Golden Nanny Awards in Dublin in November, I got in conversation with several people who were openly dismissive of Brexit and our reasons for voting to leave.

Even Chris Snowdon, who was there as our guest and is normally the most equable of people, turned away in disgust at what he was hearing.

I can understand why many people in Ireland are concerned about the impact of Brexit on their country – the economy in particular – but that doesn't justify the lack of respect bordering on hostility for the outcome of a democratic referendum in a neighbouring country.

When Ireland voted on the Lisbon Treaty in 2008 and 2009 it never once occurred to me to mock or criticise the Irish people for either result, although I did raise an eyebrow at the decision to hold a second referendum to get the result the EU and the Irish government wanted.

As a British citizen and a resident of the UK it was none of my business how they voted.

I should add that I’ve been a regular visitor to Ireland for 15 years - mostly on business but sometimes on holiday or to visit friends - and I always enjoy going there.

Brexit however has revealed a chippy, anti-British attitude I thought was largely in the past.

A common theme, which I stumbled upon on social media, is the laughable idea that supporters of Brexit want to recreate the British Empire.

The vote to leave the EU, so the narrative goes, is a reflection of our colonial arrogance.

It may not be a direct comment. Sometimes it can be something as small as ‘liking’ a tweet that includes a snide or derogatory remark about the UK or those who voted for Brexit.

But those ‘likes’ speak volumes and I was genuinely shocked by the identity of some of the people behind them. Several I knew personally.

As I say, I accept there are genuine fears about the impact of Brexit on Ireland, but instead of working with the British government the taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, has been the neighbour from hell, never knowingly underselling the potential perils.

The Irish prime minister has described Brexit as a major threat to Ireland, its economy and citizens' rights.

Leo Varadkar said it was something that could have major implications for peace and security on the island.

One might forgive him if it wasn't for the hypocrisy.

Here's what Brendan O'Neill, another Irishman and one of the heroes of the effort to save Brexit, had to say about "Varadkar’s meddling in British politics".

Writing in the Spectator last month (Leo Varadkar is being played like a fiddle by Brussels), O'Neill commented:

A few decades ago, Irish people would march through the streets of London to holler at the British government: ‘Hands off Ireland!’ As an Irishman, I wish Irish people would now take to the streets of Dublin to say to Leo Varadkar’s government: ‘Hands off Britain!’

For Varadkar’s meddling in British politics, his and his minions’ attempts to scupper Britain’s break from the European Union, is profoundly anti-democratic. What we have here is a foreign leader interfering in Britain’s domestic, democratic affairs. It was wrong when the British did that to Ireland, and it is wrong for the Irish now to do the same to Brexit Britain.

Which leads me to the ultimate irony.

Previous generations in Ireland fought to be independent of Britain yet today the Irish seem happy to be subservient to the politicians and bureaucrats in Brussels.

(The same is true in Scotland where the Nationalists demand independence from the UK but are happy for Scotland to be shackled forever to the EU.)

Meanwhile Brexiteers are mocked and patronised.

Yesterday, for example, an article published by the Guardian also appeared on the Irish Times’ website.

Contempt, derision and middle class snobbery oozed from every line.

In my innocence, I didn’t expect many people to be in a central Portsmouth Wetherspoon’s at 10.30am on a Friday morning. But there they all were, in their droves: passionate supporters of Brexit, there to hear the pub chain’s founder and chairman, Tim Martin, make the case for Britain leaving the EU with no deal ...

Martin’s case was unconvincing to the point of tedium: a half-argument that ignored what a no-deal Brexit would mean for British exports, and too blithely dismissed all those concerns about supply chains, and chaos at UK ports, let alone what a no-deal scenario would mean for the island of Ireland ...

It is quite an experience, watching people repeatedly yell at each other about trade tariffs before they have had their lunch ...

On and on it went.

England’s rebel spirit is rising and it wants a no deal Brexit’ read the headline.

But the question no-one seems to be addressing is, whatever happened to Ireland’s rebel spirit?

The manner, for example, with which the smoking ban was introduced and even celebrated was a revelation to those of us who thought the Irish would resist or simply ignore it.

No such rebellion - passive or otherwise - took place. Tellingly there was far greater opposition to a public smoking ban in the UK.

Likewise there has been little or no opposition to other nanny state measures, whether it be the sugar tax or plain packaging.

OK, so these are minor issues for most people but the absence of any serious debate is still shocking.

Since launching Forest Ireland in 2010 we’ve tried numerous times to organise, with third parties, debates and discussions on a variety of issues related to individual liberty.

Few people are interested.

Student unions support campus-wide smoking bans and when we suggest a public debate no-one wants to know.

Groups with names like ‘Liberal Ireland’ come and go, enjoying a brief wave of support before dying on their arse through apathy and indifference.

Consumer choice advocacy groups (with the exception of Forest Ireland) are non-existent.

And the number of genuinely liberal commentators in the Irish media can be counted on the fingers of one hand.

Today, if you want to experience anything approaching a ‘rebel spirit’, you have to cross the Irish Sea to England.

I've no idea why that is and it’s probably not for me to speculate, but if any Irish readers wish to comment I’d be interested to hear your views.

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Reader Comments (3)


I was born in Scotland therefore by birth I am British, we are all one country, the United Kingdom, Great Britain. Whatever part of the UK we are born in we are British. I have never been one to believe the lies and propaganda of the media, politicians etc, I have always followed my beliefs and hopefully I have never been biased one way or the other. Others may think differently of me.

As far as the SNP are concerned they are nothing but fanatics and cannot see the big picture outside of their wee Scottish bubble. We the British public in 2016 voted in a referendum to leave the EU not in any way partly or maybe, we voted to leave totally, therefore as the government have already enshrined this in law, we shall be leaving in March this year. If the politicians betray the public by stopping us leaving totally then this should be classed as treason. I really have no idea what the Prime Minister is playing at, I am hoping that she is going to play a blinder and turn round and state that she and her government have bent over backwards to compromise with the EU however they have been discourteous and not willing to compromise in any way, therefore the UK has no other option than to leave the EU with No Deal. I can only live in hope that this is her plan. Failing all else I know that the British Public as a whole are proud to be British.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019 at 18:44 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Kerr

The Irish and Scottish Nationalists are the real racists. They don't want independence, they just hate the English and see the EU as a way of bringing us down. They blame us for the history of our ancestors. Talk about holding a grudge.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019 at 12:01 | Unregistered Commenterpat nurse

I guess it’s easy for a country to like the EU when they have directly benefitted a great deal from their membership of it, as Ireland has. For years Ireland’s wobbly economy was ably propped up by the EU, who sank countless funds into infrastructure and other large-scale projects to bring the country up to functional scratch. Ireland’s politicians, of course, were only too pleased to sit back and pretend that all this growth and development was due to their own clever management of the economy and certainly weren’t going to let the cat out of the bag as to where all the funds were coming from. But just look at what happened to the economy when the EU extended its boundaries to include new, even poorer, countries from Eastern Europe and where all those funds originally earmarked for countries like Ireland were thence directed. It all but collapsed, resulting in Ireland’s initial being included in the infamous “PIIGS” moniker. Like so many citizens of EU member states, the blame was assigned to Ireland’s politicians who until then had been quietly preening themselves for achieving such economic growth when in fact they had done no such thing. They could hardly, at that point, have turned round and admitted to the Irish public that all along all that lovely growth and development had been courtesy of the EU, could they? They’d have been lynched!

But for the people of the UK, who have – in real terms – seen virtually no benefit from EU membership at all, it’s far easier to dislike it. I’ve often racked my brains to try and think of one, single thing that’s emanated from the EU to this country about which I think “well, yes, that’s something that’s really made my life – or at least the lives of people I personally know – much better,” but I’ve truly never been able to think of a single thing. Remainers are always keen to throw out vague policies which they say we only have because of our membership (“workers’ rights” is always a favourite), but they’re all very theoretical and rarely manifest in any real difference in real life. Have I found that my working conditions have improved immeasurably, that I am working fewer hours, enjoying a better working environment or have I suddenly found that I am entitled to lots of extra days’ holiday? Have I hell! Regardless of all those fancy new “rights” that the EU has supposedly awarded to me, my working conditions haven’t changed one jot. If anything, I now work longer hours than I ever have in my life and my job has become much more rule-bound, bureaucratic and complicated than it has ever been before. And, of course, there’s always the inconvenient fact that Remainers forget – that just because the EU has awarded us all those “rights,” there’s nothing to say that our own Government wouldn’t themselves have awarded them independently, had we never become members in the first place. They might even have awarded us better ones!

But what is perhaps most worrying about the Irish reaction to the referendum result is not that they feel that they would vote differently themselves if faced with the same question as we were, but the fact that they seem totally unable to comprehend the simple reality that just because being in the EU has worked a treat for them, doesn’t necessarily mean that being in it has been working a treat for each and every one of the other 27 member states – particularly those, like the UK, who have been, by and large, shelling out all that lovely lucre, which has then, via the EU, found its way into all sorts of Irish “development” projects. Such a narrowness of vision and an inability to see things from anything other than one’s own perspective is the sign of a society in the grip of deep spiritual and cultural emaciation. That’s what dependency does for you.

Friday, January 25, 2019 at 1:27 | Unregistered CommenterMisty

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