‘Soft Border’ v Self Interest

Sheila Lawlor

Friday 23rd March 2018: Ireland’s Real Problem is the EU not the Border, says Politeia’s Director, Sheila Lawlor*.

Just over 100 years ago a handful of volunteers seized  Dublin’s strategic buildings in Ireland’s  1916 Easter rising to proclaim the Irish Republic. They came from different strands of Ireland’s romantic and political movements, were bound by different loyalties, had a number of different aims. But in their demand that Ireland should be self governing, in their declaration of the right of the people of Ireland ‘to the unfettered control of Irish destinies, to be sovereign and indefeasible’, and in their proclamation of the Irish Republic as ‘a Sovereign Independent State’, they were at one.

Why then has Ireland not only sacrificed its hard fought sovereignty to the dominance of the EU but seems determined to play politics with the hard won stability of its border with Northern Ireland, ignoring, in the process, the rights of the people of Britain to determine how and by whom they are governed?

Despite emerging from a bloody guerilla war against British troops and  a civil war prompted by the 1921 Treaty establishing the state, Ireland  settled down under its founding ethos. Well into the 20th century the right of the people of Ireland to determine by whom and how they were governed remained the central vision bequeathed by its founding fathers to politicians and people. As Ireland took its place as a sovereign, democratic nation, it was not only a love of sovereignty it shared with the British. Its governing institutions and courts were modelled on those they replaced. Its legal system was based on Common Law. Its problems too were inherited from a past sometimes the result of the country having been excluded from the benefits of enlightened government. That they were overcome, including that of the border with six Ulster counties planted in the 17th century with Scots Presbyterians and former soldiers which remained under the UK, was a tribute to the hard headed realism or its leaders;  the reality was that the border for decades was  in practice ‘soft’ – other than for militants determined to make it otherwise.

Once Ireland joined the European project to follow the UK into the then EEC, the importance to the Irish of self determination and sovereignty evaporated –  a change reinforced by its subsequent membership of the Eurozone. So too did the sense of identity, of national self worth based on sovereignty and independence hard won. Instead, the Irish ruling elites, no less than those elsewhere in the EU, were corrupted by the lure of the trappings with which Brussels favours those in power, the easy money it hands out to pet projects, the sense of self-importance to which it plays. Irish politicians, no less than others, are prone to it. As in other countries these lifestyles are more often than not paid for by the poor.  Little wonder that Irish leaders from  both ruling parties, along with its bankers and big business, have like others across the EU, for decades belonged to and cow-towed to Brussels.

The Irish version of the  EU project has become more pervasive than its English counterpart. The loss of national self determination has been accompanied by the mindless march of the leftist progressivism to which Ireland’s intelligentia, media and thought leaders, no less than those in other Anglo Saxon countries, has fallen since the 1960s and 1970s.  As in the UK those who value constitutional freedom, a sense of country and community, tradition or who believe in the importance of an inherited past developed over generations are dismissed as uneducated or unthinking backwoodsmen, their values are to be sneered at as being out of kilter with the picture of progressive Ireland which has broken with the past, for which the EU today is a potent symbol.

In such a story of amnesia, the politics of the border was bound to fizzle out. The much hailed ‘Good Friday’ agreement as the maker of peace was probably behind the curve as far as Ireland itself was concerned. Sinn Fein moved to park its party in Dail Eireann combining the politics of the new Ireland with its socialist fervour, and now has around 14 per cent of the Irish vote.

For Ireland’s Coalition partners, Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, Brexit poses a danger to their hegemony, political as well as economic. They fear, as do other European leaders, that their people may want to follow suit.  They are therefore even more committed to ramming the ‘new Ireland’ down the neck of the voters, and with the cocktail of modern rights driven clichés  determined to play the border for all it is worth. That battle being fought by their henchmen in Brussels, is directed as much against the voters of their own country as those of the UK.

*Dr Sheila Lawlor is Director of Politeia. Her background is as a 20th century British political historian and her academic publications include Churchill and the Politics of War and Britain and Ireland 1914-23. Her Politeia publications include Ruling the Ruler: Parliament, the People and Britain’s Political Identity (2016) and ‘Parliament and the Popular Will: Where Power Lies’, in Triggering Article 50: Courts, Government and Parliament (2017).


Dr Sheila Lawlor

Dr Sheila Lawlor is Politeia’s Founder and Director of Research. Her background is as an academic historian of 20th century British political history, having started her working life as research fellow at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge and Churchill College, Cambridge. Her academic publications include Churchill and the Politics of War 1940-41 and for Politeia she has written on social, economic and constitutional policy.

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