John McDonagh (JM) and Martin Galvin (MG) speak to award winning journalist and author Ed Moloney (EM) via telephone from Dublin about the Brexit vote and its ramifications. (begins time stamp ~ 37:33)
MG: Ed, you’re with us. We we able to get through! Ed, the first thing I wanted to – this is Martin Galvin. Welcome!, Ed – you’re very welcome because we had trouble getting through on the phone lines but perhaps you could explain: This whole issue of Britain withdrawing from the European Union (EU) had more to do with inter-party politics within the Conservative Party. It was just a stunt to try to unite the Conservative Party that has backfired on David Cameron and elevated someone else within his party. But this is something that he concocted just to hold his party together as an election stunt, something which he thought would never happen because he never expected to be re-elected with a majority instead of a coalition government as he had before.
EM: The background was that Europe has expanded in the last few years way beyond the original six or seven members to include a lot of eastern European and former Soviet satellite countries like Poland and Ukraine and Lithuania and Latvia and Romania and under the rules of the European Union there is free movement of labour so you had an influx of people from these, to what would be to British eyes, more strange European countries with even stranger languages and stranger food and so on and so forth and it sort of stimulated a big anti-immigrant sentiment within very large sections of the British population, particularly in England. And that was all articulated by a party called the United Kingdom Independence Party which is a very extreme right-wing racist party very much like, I suppose, modeled on the right-wing parties that exist in France and now in Germany, and some people are also drawing parallels with the rise of Donald Trump – he’s appealing to exactly the same sort of audience – an anti-immigrant audience.
Add on to that the pressure to deal with refugees from Syria and you had enormous pressure and divisions opening up inside the Tory party and this was done, and you’re quite right, I mean Cameron assumed that they would win the referendum quite easily and that the results of that would be that this threat from the racist right-wing, both within his own party and this United Kingdom Independence Party, or UKIP as it’s known, would dissipate and he’d be able to restore law and order within his own party. Well, that didn’t work out as we now know. There was a much stronger ‘leave’ vote than people had predicted and the result is this extraordinary result on Friday morning.
JM: Ed, I wanted to talk about the Twenty-Six County’s reaction before this vote. When I was over there a couple of weeks ago there wasn’t all that much coverage of it – about what would happen if they did pull out of that and that what would happen with the border and now I’m listening to various reports and they were saying that Brussels will now control the border and tell the Twenty-Six Counties: This is how you’re going to treat the border now because you’re now a European country that borders a country that’s not in the European Union. Now, can Brussels come in and say to the Twenty-Six Counties: Listen, this is how you’re going to control this border now?
EM: Well yes, they would be able to do that because the Republic of Ireland, the South of Ireland, has agreed to join this organisation and be a member of the organisation and like any club you agree to abide by the rules. And if the rules are set by the majority and the majority says this is the way the border with a non-EU country should operate then they only have two choices: One is to accept that or to reject it and hold their own referendum on whether to leave the European Union, which is very, very unlikely I think, there’s such strong sentiment here in favour of Europe that they will go along with whatever Brussels tells them to do. They’ve joined the club and this is the rules of the club.
MG: Ed, David Cameron has now resigned. What do you think this means for – well, his Secretary for The North of Ireland was one of the people, Theresa Villiers, who was one of the people who was most vocal in supporting the of the idea of getting out of Europe, what sort of policies would you expect from his successor?
EM: Very right-wing policies, I think. Boris Johnson will, you know he’s a very ambitious guy and he’ll go with the flow and the flow in the Tory Party after this result will be very much to the right, and some of his colleagues, close colleagues, in this campaign to withdraw from Europe, and I’m thinking in particular of a guy called Michael Gove with whom I’ve clashed swords at least once and I wrote about it on my blog, is a neo-con of the most basic sort. And his attitude towards Ireland and towards the peace process is that it’s all a trick by the IRA and they want to go back to war as soon as conditions improve and he has no sympathy for the peace process at all so Messrs. Adams and McGuinness will have a tough time if that government is formed which I think it probably will. I mean the predictions are that Boris Johnson will succeed David Cameron. He’s the favourite according to all the pundits and Michael Gove will be his Number Two and they will have a very right-wing law and order-type approach to Northern Ireland. They will be unsympathetic to the peace process, unsympathetic as well to Sinn Féin and so there could be tough days ahead for that party in relation to their dealings with the British.
JM: (station identification) We’re speaking with Ed Moloney who’s over in Ireland and the blog he’s talking about is The Broken Elbow. I recommend it highly to go there and read what Ed has been writing about. Ed, one of the reactions now is Sinn Féin – Sinn Féin is calling for what’s known as a border poll. Now, this is the same Sinn Féin that can’t get Long Kesh to be made into some sort of a museum – they can’t get 1916 monuments put up in the Six Counties or get funding for it but now they’ve made this grandiose gesture that they want a border poll even though Enda Kenny said it’s not happening, the British government said it’s not happening but this is now what they want.
EM: Yeah. And to my mind it was just entirely a gimmick and I think it was also dictated by the knowledge that the result in Scotland where the Scottish voters overwhelming supported the EU and membership of the EU in contrast to the English, means inevitably there is going to be a referendum there about their relationship with the United Kingdom and with the English and it’s more than likely this time round that Scotland will go its own way and become an independent state and will join the EU separately as it were. So England will have a European power on its border. And faced with the knowledge that that was going to happen what was Sinn Féin going to say to that except to parrot what the Scots were saying which is: Well if they’re having a border poll or likely to have a border poll then we want one as well. But everyone knew: A) it wasn’t going to happen and B) even if it did happen the result would be predictable. I mean I think Martin McGuinness was demanding an all-Ireland border poll which is even less likely to happen because the Irish government down here would move heaven and earth to prevent something like that happening because they’re quite happy with the status quo, Good Friday Agreement, etc etc. They don’t want that disturbed at all so that’s a non-starter. So it was really a gimmick. And astonishingly of course the stupid media pick it up and run with it and it’s taken seriously – I even noticed the New Yorker today was taking that seriously and it’s just absolute nonsense and everyone knows it to be nonsense and it’s died away as you would expect it to die away in the last day or so.
JM: It’s amasing the turn of history, Ed, where Sinn Féin, back in the ’70’s were voting, even for the southern part of it, not to go into the European Union and now this is the whole big thing: Oh! We have to remain within the Union North and South. I mean, it’s just hard to keep up with all the nonsense that they’ve been…the flip-flops they’ve done on policies.
EM: Yeah, the U-turns would make you dizzy I guess and there’s been just so many of them that it’s impossible to count just how many reversals and changes to… I mean they’re morphing into sort of like a Fianna Fáil party if you’d like: pro-business by and large, pretty conservative on most issues, toeing the line on all important matters like European Union and stuff like that so that means abandoning a lot their Republican and even their Nationalist politics as they go along so quite an extraordinary sight. I mean you know, I’ve been over here for the best part of a month and a half now and you really do notice these changes much more than you do three thousand miles away, you know? That Sinn Féin are now treated by the media as if they’re like a normal, ordinary party and their history is sort of not talked about really you know – their past – it’s only a few people who are sort of like continuing to cover that, you know?
MG: Ed…Alright. We’re here on Radio Free Éireann, we’re talking to Ed Moloney, a great journalist, author of A Secret History of the IRA. Ed, I want to talk to you, just two things that you’ve just touched on. Number One: Since 1998, Sinn Féin had at that time said that they would agree to a Six County vote, a border poll, and they indicated it would follow that it was simply a matter of time, that working together, that once Martin McGuinness and others would get into Stormont, would work with the Unionists, work cross-border bodies, that there would be a shift among the Unionists, the Nationalist population would grow and there would be a shift among a significant segment of Unionist population that they would support union with the Twenty-Six Counties and that we would then win a border poll, have a united Ireland by consent. And the second thing you talked about, you’ve talked about Fianna Fáil: Fianna Fáil originally, went in, said if we can win elections in The South and use that power that will somehow bring us to a united Ireland. They began as a Republican party – many of its members had fought in the Easter Rising or had fought in the War of Independence, they had been executed in the Civil War, they fought the Civil War and if only they won these elections in The South that was going to somehow produce a united Ireland. Do you see any progress in Sinn Féin, in either of these aspects, in bringing us any way close or opening up a door to a united Ireland or are we getting further away from that goal?
EM: What I do see is that more and more Catholics are content with the Good Friday Agreement, content with the constitutional situation as it exists now which is union with Britain and that’s far from automatically every Catholic is a Nationalist and every Nationalist will vote for Irish unity. I would say that, if anything, sentiment is moving in a different direction. And I’ve always believed that there was always a very large slice of the Catholic population which was happy enough with the way things were, happy enough with the union and that if every single Nationalist in Northern Ireland was as opposed to the union as let’s say Sinn Féin were or even as the Nationalist Party were, the state would never have been viable. I mean the Catholic population was just too large for that to happen. So I’ve always believed that there’s a big slice there, ten-twenty percent of the Catholic population, which is quite content with the union with Britain, and if anything that’s probably growing now because now they see their representatives, they see Martin McGuinness sharing power with the DUP (Democratic Unionist Party) and they’ve got a wee Parliament there and what they would regard, what a lot of the them would regard as progress and therefore even less reason to be unhappy about the union. Meanwhile, there is no sign of any equivalent change in a different direction from the Unionists. If anything they are… you know, you go to Belfast as I did in the last few days or so and the Union Jacks, interestingly, are now flying everywhere. It used to be years ago, before I left, that the flags this time of the year would all be Ulster flags. And that was an indication of sort of like an Ulster Nationalism, Protestant Nationalism, a discontent with London for taking away Stormont and for insisting on equal opportunities and stuff like that in employment laws and so on and so forth and they reverted to a form of nationalism and the symbol of that was the Ulster flag, the one that you see being flown or being used in the European football games at the moment.
But if you go to Belfast, and indeed I noticed this going through other places as well, it’s now Union Jacks and that’s a very symbolic change. That is saying that they are now content with the union, they have more faith and trust in the British. So if anything their pro-union sentiment is probably strengthening rather than weakening. And so the idea that the border poll, which has been around for – this idea has been sort of implicit in the peace process – I think was always flawed – and it’s even more so now, I think.
JM: Ed, one final question: And we’re going to have the irony now of American companies, when they go to invest in Ireland, North or South, where the Twenty-Six County government’ll say: Listen, why would you invest in the North? They’re not part of the European Union. Come here! I mean there was a headline today in the Independent – Morgan Stanley moving two thousand jobs to remain within the European Union to Frankfurt and Dublin – so you could have now the Dublin government squeezing The North making sure no investment goes in there because they’re not part of the European Union.
EM: Yeah, although part of this deal that the parties in The North cut with the British last year which also gave approval to very tough austerity policies also agreed that the level of corporation tax would be the same in both parts of Ireland. So I guess they’re probably hoping that any disadvantages that flow from this Brexit vote in relation to Northern Ireland will be offset by these corporation tax changes but we’ll see. But you’re quite right there will be other benefits or disadvantages from Brexit which we haven’t really calculated yet and the odds are that, generally speaking, it will be a less attractive place for the Monsantos and whoever to invest their money from now on so maybe that will change opinions but that’s a very, very long and slow process – we’ll all be long dead before there’s any sign of those changes having any political effect.
JM: Alright. Thanks Ed, for coming on. And that’s Ed Moloney. You go to The Broken Elbow to keep up-to-date on everything that’s happening over in Ireland and Ed’s over there at the moment. (ends time stamp ~ 55:17)