Things that Ireland needs to do post-Brexit

My 6 Point Plan for Ireland

Now that Brexit is imminent, there are three choices facing Ireland. Firstly, we can continue to do what we are doing at present which is to remain 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 other countries in the EU.

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 and very few other markets or trade advantages. Foreign companies that wish to be based in the EU would quit Ireland and leave many people unemployed.

The last option, and the one that I advocate for in this article, is for Ireland to realign itself and move politically, economically and culturally closer to the other EU member states.

EU statistics

The EU with a population of 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 World Trade Organization (WTO). The euro is the second largest reserve currency as well as 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 best economy.

6 point plan for Ireland after Brexit happens

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

Much has been said about Ireland needing to keep the Common Travel Area with the UK. In many ways the CTA is moribund. Firstly, there is no legal agreement for the CTA. It was just a tradition that was left in place after 1922. In Irish airports, all passengers are asked to show passports or identification. This is not the case in airports in the UK where Irish passengers can walk through to the boarding gates without any identity checks. Furthermore, Irish airlines, such as Ryanair, insist that passengers show a passport when boarding an international flight from Ireland to Britain. Really if the CTA was properly enforced, they would not be allowed to do this. I think most people are grateful that airlines undertake such security measures in this era of terrorism.

It is a bit rich of the Irish state to harp on about maintaining the CTA when in reality it is not functioning as they claim it to be. What really matters to Ireland is the need to keep the border in Ireland as open as possible. The UK is leaving the EU’s single market, including the customs’ union, so this means that the border will definitely enforced. It will no longer be an Irish-British border but an EU-British border. People will have to show identification papers and vehicles will be stopped to be examined for customs. No matter what the Irish government says about this, the reality is that there will be a very hard border. One of the solutions could be for people in the north to get Irish passports and use these to quickly pass over the border instead of being subject to a full immigration control.

As the border will become hard, this is an opportunity for Ireland to enter the Schengen area. Most EU states are in the Schengen area but it also includes non-EU states such as Iceland, Norway and Switzerland. If Iceland as an island can be in the Schengen area, then there should be no reason why Ireland cannot also join it. The European Commission is proposing that people entering the Schengen area will have to pay €5 upon entry. Even though it is not a large amount, Ireland does not want to be in the same category as other countries such as Russian, China, Serbia etc. Having free travel like this will be to the economic benefit of Ireland.

Switch to the right side of the road.

In Ireland, traffic drives on the left side of the road. This a colonial hangover from when all of Ireland was in the UK. Now that Brexit is about to happen and Ireland will have to realign itself and become less economically dependent, one of the best ways to make this change is to switch driving to the right side of the road. Ireland is in the minority in this matter. 75% of countries in the world drive on the right side. It will be economically and culturally better for us to be with the majority of countries in the EU and drive on the right side.

Tourism campaigns could be launched in the EU and in North America to encourage people to visit Ireland when we switch to the right side of the road as they will be more willing to rent a car and drive in Ireland. Driving on the left side of the roads scares a lot of people as driving on the right side scare Irish people when they have to do it.

Change plugs

Ireland uses the same electrical plug as the UK. Again this was due to the economic links with Britain. Now that the Irish economy will be less connected to the British economy and will remain part of the larger EU economy, Ireland would be wise to change the electrical plugs that are used in Ireland to the two-pin plugs found in most of mainland Europe. It would allow for seamless use of electrical devices for consumers, tourists and businesses. Irish electrical devices’ importers would have to source their products in the EU rather than from the UK where they would have to pay tariffs and customs on devices imported from Britain.

Intensive language learning

The English language may be the most important language for business in the world but with the departure of the UK from the EU, English is in for a steep fall and loss of power. Currently, English is the second most spoken language in the EU after German. When the UK leaves, English will fall down to 17th place out of 24 official languages. It will be behind the likes of Bulgarian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, etc. With less than six million native English speakers in the EU when the UK leaves, the English language is going to be less important and German and French will re-emerge as the main languages.

Ireland needs to change its attitude to language learning and have an educational policy that ensures that all students can speak four languages fluently. A small country like Luxembourg has such a policy and it works. It is not because people in Luxembourg are any smarter than Irish people, they just have a clear policy – everyone has to learn four languages.

People often think that English is so powerful that everyone knows it but only 5% of the world’s conversations each day are in English. While it could be argued that many business people in the EU speak English so therefore Irish business people do not need to learn another language, this does not tell the true story. While the European business people may well speak English, it is much better if an Irish person approaches them in their native language. The business relationship will be much better as a result. It is simple common sense to know this.

The government could also get the French TV5 and German DW television channels broadcast free on Saorview to help with language learning.

More staff in Irish embassies in Europe

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade should increase the amount of staff in each Irish embassy across the EU – particularly in large markets such as Germany, France, the Netherlands, Poland, Italy – to assist Irish businesses and farmers find new customers. The market is there for the taking. With the UK out of the EU, mainland Europe businesses will be looking for businesses still in the EU that could replace products and services that were previously sourced in the UK. This is why language learning is so important so that Irish businesses can make the connections and learn about markets.

Irish food products are found across the EU. Mainland Europeans love Irish dairy products such as butter and yoghurts. Irish meat and sea food such as smoked salmon and crab are sold in many countries. Irish alcohol products such as whiskey and beer are well known and loved across the EU. Now that there is a salad shortage, Ireland could step up to the plate and compete with Spain in growing salad vegetables as Ireland does not have the weather problems that Spain suffers from. Irish consular staff should be spreading the word about Irish food as much as possible.

Ireland and the English language

As the UK was the EU state that nominated English as an official language of the EU, when the UK leaves, the English language will no longer be sponsored by any EU state. The horrible reality is that English is so powerful that the EU cannot afford for English to completely disappear. The word on the street is that the other EU states will ask Ireland to nominate the English language as Ireland’s official language choice. Ireland needs to be very careful about this so that the Irish language is not jettisoned instead of English. Perhaps the rules can be changed so that a member state can nominate two official languages. In that case Ireland will have Irish and English.

If this is so, Ireland should use this situation to get some concessions and deals. Ireland should not roll over and nominate English without any reward in return. Ireland should use this as a bargaining chip. Perhaps the best reward that Ireland should seek is that the Common Fisheries Policy is reformed so that Irish fishermen can capture and keep 60% or 50% of all fish in Irish seas. At present, Irish fishermen can only catch 4% of fish in Irish waters!! This is an utter disgrace. When the UK leaves, the British will also be claiming their fishing rights in the seas around the UK and this means that there will be no right for EU fishing boats in the UK’s seas.

Ireland needs to be very strategic about nominating the English language. Ireland should not be bullied into nominating English as another official language. Ireland can say “We have the Irish language. We can survive with Irish”. The EU will not be able to function without English so Ireland should use it bargaining position on this matter as much as possible to the benefit of Ireland.

It is worth bearing in mind that it is more important for an EU member state to have its national language used inside the corridors of power in the EU than having its national flag on display outside. By having their national language designated as official languages of the EU, small states such as Ireland, Slovenia, Malta, Estonia etc. are not ignored and their languages are given equal status with the large languages. Countries like Austria, Cyprus and Luxembourg can be ignored as they all share languages with a larger neighbour.

English is not the flavour of the month in the EU as it is the language of Brexit and Donald Trump. Already the EU leaders such as Jean-Claude Juncker are using English less and less as a means of showing that the EU is changing as a result of Brexit. Ireland would be wise not to rely too much on it being an Anglophone country as people in the rest of the EU might feel that Ireland is also of a similar mindset to Trump and the Brexit supporters.

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.

There are other things that could be looked at such as changing the legal system in Ireland from a common law system to a civil law system. While this could be an option, it is not as important as the points outlined above.

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 chose to stick with the UK, we will probably go backwards.