Ireland loves exactly what Britain hates about Europe
An attachment to sovereignty was the first and major reason put forward for Brexit. We in Ireland, however, understand sovereignty in the 21st century as something to be judiciously shared rather than as a tribal token to be protected from the sunlight like Gollum’s ring in The Hobbit. Gollum’s plaintive words, as he looks for the ring, could almost be those of Jacob Rees-Mogg speaking about British sovereignty: “We wants it. We needs it. Must have the precious. They stole it from us. Sneaky little hobbitses.”
…many Brexiteers are driven by the idea that they are putting their country first. But so, of course, do we. The real issue is whether national interests are to be defined narrowly and pursued as if the aim is to be cc
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In Ireland, we support the principle of free movement of people and welcome the “new Irish” who are building up our economy, enriching our culture and making us proud to be Europeans.
Like Grandad, I found myself baulking at the idea that “Sovereignty in the 21st century [is] something to be judiciously shared.” What is it about the 21st century that makes it different from previous centuries? And what’s wrong with being “masters of our own little world”? Why should there be “free movement of people”?
In respect of Ireland, Grandad writes:
How many lives were lost a hundred years ago simply to gain independence and to be our own masters?
I have absolute control over who enters my house. Why should I pass that control over to someone who demands that I let anyone and everyone in to raid my fridge?
This last point is one that I often think should be presented to the open borders crowd. If they think that people should be able to come and go as they like in any country, do they also think that people should be able to come and go as they like in their own homes. Do they leave their front doors unlocked, and a note on it saying: “Step right in. Make yourself at home. Help yourself to anything you want.” Anyone who does such a thing should not be surprised if he comes home one day to find his home occupied by somebody else – and somebody who has locked all the doors, and changed all the locks.
Is a country very much different from a home? Isn’t Ireland the private property of the Irish, and England of the English, and France of the French? And haven’t they all been busy for centuries keeping each other out?
The British Isles have a natural moat around them. Spain and Italy and Greece have near-complete natural moats around them too. And Europe is criss-crossed by rivers and mountain ranges which also act as natural barriers to free movement.
And all the different countries that are bounded by these natural barriers furthermore have their own private languages, and speak mostly in these private languages to their kin.
Perhaps some people think that just because we have bridges over many of these rivers, and tunnels through the mountains, and we can fly anywhere in Europe in an hour or two, and many Europeans can speak English, that these natural borders have been abolished. And perhaps that’s what they see as so different about the 21st century from all previous centuries.
Yet what’s true of Europe in the 21st century was also true in the 20th century. It had all those bridges and roads and tunnels and railways and airships too. But nevertheless there was very strong resistance to the “free movement of people” (e.g. Germans into France and Poland). Two colossal wars were fought to stop the free movement of people.
Perhaps it is that people who routinely travel from one country to another, and live most of their lives in hotels, gradually lose any sense of belonging to any particular nationality, or having any particular home. Such rootless nomads have no understanding whatsoever of anyone who has lived all their life in a single house in one country. They regard them, like Barack Obama once did, as “bitter clingers,” clinging to their little patch of earth.
And the author of the piece in the Irish Times was almost certainly one of these rootless nomads. He was “a former Irish ambassador to the EU, Britain and Italy.” And that meant that he was one of the globe-trotters who live their entire lives in the same faceless hotels that can now be found in every country in the world. What’s more, his father was also an ambassador, so he was probably globe-trotting from his earliest childhood.
He entered the Irish diplomatic service in 1977. His father, Bob McDonagh, and brother, Philip McDonagh, also served as ambassadors in the service.
And it would also explain the thing that most annoyed Grandad about him: his propensity to speak for all of the Irish people. For that’s what he’d been doing all his life, in London and Brussels and Rome: speaking on behalf of the Irish people. It was his job. And now that he has retired, he continues to speak and write in the same manner, and furthermore now feels sufficiently emboldened to share his accumulated wisdom with Irish people like Grandad, and tell them also how Irish people think, even though he has spent very little of his time actually living among them, talking and listening to them.