Brexit & Ireland: The Dangers, the Opportunities, and the Inside Story of the Irish Response
by Tony Connelly (Penguin Ireland, €20)
Tony Connelly is RTÉ’s European Correspondent based in Brussels. He reports on EU affairs with clarity and precision and he analyses developments as they affect Ireland with insight and detachment.
In other words he does not feel obliged to ‘wear the green jersey’. He is thus ideally placed to write this full-length study of what Brexit means for Ireland.
He does not say it in as many words, but it is clear from his reporting here that it could be an economic disaster in a way that it would not be for the other EU members.
This is especially in agriculture and the processed food industry which has grown exponentially since Ireland joined the EEC in 1973. But the dairy and beef sectors which make up the bulk of our agri-food exports depend to an alarming degree on the free movement of cattle, milk and poultry across the border with Northern Ireland in both directions and the lack of controls and regulations in the transit of products through the United Kingdom to the continental EU destinations.
Bailey’s Irish Cream is just one example. Its Mallusk, Co. Antrim, plant set up in 2003, produces 70% of all Baileys consumed worldwide. But this is the result of thousands of litres of milk from north and south of the Border flowing daily into a Glanbia processing plant in Virginia, Co. Cavan, where the cream is separated. Most of the cream goes north and the rest to the 1974 factory in Dublin.
The Diageo supply chain accounts for 5,000 Border crossings a year for its Baileys, whiskey and packaging. With Brexit there could be tariffs of up to 50% hitting milk coming from the north and on the cream heading to the north.
The author does not just cite statistics. He goes to farms and agrifood plants north and south to hear first-hand the fears of farmers and exporters about the consequences of even a “soft” border replacing total free movement.
As for a ‘hard border’, the fall-out is better not imagined. Even our small fishing industry is under threat of decimation from exclusion from British waters. Our booming bloodstock industry is also dependent on Ireland and Britain enjoying common EU regulations.
The title also mentions “opportunities” from Brexit as London loses EU status and the author shows how Irish officials are working flat out to negotiate the most favourable scenario for post-Brexit.
Their hands are somewhat tied by not being able to negotiate directly with Britain, but as part of the EU bloc. He shows from inside knowledge how skilfully the Irish officials are getting the Dublin viewpoint across to the EU Commission team charged with the negotiations.
Yes, there will be opportunities for Irish exporters to seek new markets to replace British outlets and for financial and other services to transfer to Dublin, but if you read this book you will see Brexit more as a nightmare for exporters and transporters than a vision for the future.