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Opinion: 'If we choose to stick with the UK, we will probably go backwards'

There are three choices facing Ireland post-Brexit, writes Seanán Ó Coistín.

Image: Shutterstock/Cranach

WITH BREXIT IMMINENT, there are three choices facing Ireland. Firstly, we can continue to do what we are doing at present which is to be in the EU but try to continue having as many links to the UK as possible.

Secondly, Ireland could follow the UK and leave the EU. Or thirdly, Ireland could move closer to the rest of the EU.

We can’t have it both ways

The first option leaves Ireland in a position of weakness as it means that we want to have it both ways. Ireland is strongly dependent on business with the UK and therefore hopes for the least amount of change to that situation. This is neither wise nor realistic. It is not in the interest of the UK to offer Ireland many favours nor is it wise for Ireland to be seen by the rest of the EU wishing for an exemption to the future EU relationship with the UK.

The second option of Ireland also leaving the EU would be utterly ruinous for Ireland on so many levels. If the UK is going to be negatively affected by leaving the EU, Ireland would suffer multiple times more by also leaving the EU. We would end up back where we were in the 1930s – completely economically dependent on Britain. Foreign companies wanting to be based in the EU would quit Ireland and leave many people unemployed.

The last option is for Ireland to realign itself and move politically, economically and culturally closer to the EU.

EU statistics

The EU with 500 million people has the third largest population in the world after China and India. Even though the EU accounts for just 6.9% of the world’s population, the EU’s trade with the rest of the world accounts for around 20% of global exports and imports.

The EU’s economy of $16 trillion is larger than the USA’s economy. The EU is represented as a unified entity in the WTO. The euro is the second largest reserve currency and the second most traded currency in the world after the US dollar.

Ireland is part of the EU, it is part of the single market and it uses the euro as its currency. It would be economic suicide to leave the world’s biggest economy.

6 point plan for Ireland after Brexit

1.    Leave the Common Travel Area (CTA) and join the Schengen area.

No matter what the Government says, there will be a hard border in Ireland. This is an opportunity for Ireland to join the Schengen agreement as Iceland did.

2.    Switch to driving on the right side of the road.

75 % of countries in the world drive on the right side of the road. Ireland is in the minority. We should make the switch to the right side to become part of the European mainstream.

3.    Change plugs

Ireland should change its electrical plugs to the two-pin plug found across much of Europe. It will be better for consumers, tourists and businesses. Irish importers would be able to import electronic devices from the EU rather than from the UK.

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4.    Intensive language learning

Ireland needs to regear its education policy so that everyone in Ireland can speak four languages fluently. Luxembourg is a small country that has a clear education policy – everyone learns four languages. Ireland can do the same. In fact, it must to be able to do that to have better relations with other EU states.

5.    More staff in Irish embassies in Europe

More officials should be sent to work in Irish embassies across the EU to promote Ireland for business and other exchanges. The embassies should assist Irish businesses to travel across the EU to find new customers.

6.    A reward in return for the English language

The English language in the EU is going to be downgraded. The EU will probably ask Ireland to designate English as another official language. The Irish Government should not roll over and do this unless it gets a major deal in return such as reform of the Common Fisheries Policy so that it is fairer to Irish fishermen.

With these six points, Ireland’s relationship with the rest of the EU will change and be better. It would be folly to try to act as if nothing has changed and that Ireland can still have such a tight economic dependency on the UK. If we stick to that approach, Ireland will suffer and not reap the rewards from being part of the largest economy of the world.

No matter what, changes have to happen. It is up to the Irish people and Government to be bold and not feel restricted or bound by the past. If we do, Ireland will move forward. If we choose to stick with the UK, we will probably go backwards. 

Seanán Ó Coistín works for the EU in Luxembourg. He studied History and Politics in the University of Limerick and stood as an independent candidate in the 2004 European elections. His comments are personal and do not represent the views of any EU body.

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