Britain Gives into European Demands on Northern Irish Border

British prime minister Theresa May and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker pose for photos in Brussels, December 4
British prime minister Theresa May and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker pose for photos in Brussels, December 4 (European Commission)

As I predicted it would, Britain has given into European demand on the Northern Irish border in order to secure an exit deal on Friday that paves the way for talks about the kingdom’s post-Brexit trade relations with the EU.

In the absence of an innovative solution, Britain is now committed to maintain “full alignment with those rules of the internal market and the customs union which, now or in the future, support north-south cooperation, the all-island economy and the protection of the 1998 Agreement” that brought peace to Northern Ireland.

The text also specifically bars the United Kingdom from imposing “new regulatory barriers” that could put the 1998 Good Friday Agreement at risk. Read more

Irish and Northern Irish Leaders Make Contradictory Brexit Demands

Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar answers questions from reporters in Brussels, June 23
Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar answers questions from reporters in Brussels, June 23 (European Council)

Leaders from Ireland and Northern Ireland have made contradictory demands that threaten to hold up the Brexit negotiations.

  • Leo Varadkar, the prime minister of Ireland, has threatened to veto progress in the talks unless a hard border with Northern Ireland is ruled out.
  • Arlene Foster, the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) of Northern Ireland, whose support Theresa May’s Conservatives need for their majority in Westminster, has said she will accept neither a barrier between the province and the rest of the United Kingdom nor an agreement that would force Northern Ireland to mirror EU regulations.

They can’t both have their way. Read more

British Reject Plan to Keep Northern Ireland in Customs Union, Single Market

The Ulster Banner flies over Londonderry in Northern Ireland, August 17, 2009
The Ulster Banner flies over Londonderry in Northern Ireland, August 17, 2009 (Wikimedia Commons)

Britain is fighting an EU proposal to keep Northern Ireland in the bloc’s customs union and single market in order to avoid closing the border with the rest of the island.

“We will leave the EU in 2019 as one United Kingdom,” James Brokenshire, Theresa May’s Northern Ireland secretary, has said.

He argued on Monday it would be “impossible” for the province to remain half in EU when the rest of the country exits. Read more

As Britain Prepares to Leave EU, Irish Eye Unification

British prime minister David Cameron welcomes his Irish counterpart, Enda Kenny, to 10 Downing Street in London, England, November 9, 2015
British prime minister David Cameron welcomes his Irish counterpart, Enda Kenny, to 10 Downing Street in London, England, November 9, 2015 (The Prime Minister’s Office/Georgina Coupe)

Irish prime minister Enda Kenny has for the first time raised the option of unification with Northern Ireland, saying, “The discussion and negotiations that take place over the next period should take into account the possibility.”

Kenny’s liberal Fine Gael party hasn’t historically advocated the incorporation of British Northern Ireland into the Irish republic, but the European Union referendum last month has made the situation more fluid.

Northern Ireland, like Gibraltar and Scotland, voted largely to stay in the EU while majorities in England and Wales opted to leave. Read more

Irish Defeat Government’s Proposal to Abolish Senate

Prime Minister Enda Kenny of Ireland listens during a meeting of European People's Party leaders, March 14
Prime Minister Enda Kenny of Ireland listens during a meeting of European People’s Party leaders, March 14 (EPP)

Ireland went to the polls on Friday to determine two major issues: whether a new Court of Appeals was needed for the country and whether its higher house of parliament, Seanad Éireann, should be abolished.

In terms of media coverage and public interest, the latter garnered far more attention. Prime Minister Enda Kenny’s government was in favor of both referenda passing in accordance to 2010 election manifesto. Yet the Senate vote was defeated by about 32,500 votes or 51.7 to 48.3 percent. This has been seen as a blow to the ruling Fine Gael party which also had to deal with major economic reforms and a debate over abortion laws in the last year. Moves are now being proposed to adjust the body from its current form which is considered outdated and elitist as senators are elected by a paltry 3 percent of the electorate through a series of ballots from senior figures in society and university graduates.

Turnout was under 40 percent. Dissolution of the chamber was least popular in the districts that make up the primary county of Dublin as well as the east of the country. Only a handful of western districts voted in favor of the government’s proposal. Kenny avoided humiliation in his home district Mayo where 58 percent voted to abolish the Senate.

The prime minister had been criticized for refusing to debate the issue with other political leaders, including Michael Martin of Fianna Fáil, the party of the Irish “Celtic Tiger” era and the only staunch supporter of keeping the Seanad. It now looks like a winner.

So does Lucinda Creighton, the former Fine Gael junior minister for European affairs. After she was chastised by her party earlier this year for not supporting the government’s reforms toward legislating abortion in the country, she garnered support in her Dublin South East constituency to strike back against her former colleagues. Both Creighton and Martin have the potential to gain ground in the local and European elections due next year.

With so much attention being given to the Seanad vote, the decision to create a new Court of Appeals was passed with an almost two-thirds majority. However, it appeared to be a mere footnote in the eyes of both campaigners and media outlets alike when compared to the other ballot taking place.

As Ireland faces another austerity laden budget, its leadership continues to tread on shaky ground regarding its future both from an economic and political standpoint.

Irish, Portuguese Toughen It Out While Greeks Rage

When Greeks head to the polls on Sunday for the second time in two months to elect a new parliament, they are likely to return a radical leftist party to government that has promised to tear up the conditions of the European country’s two international bailouts and give up on austerity. With it, Greece could give up on the euro as it could soon lack the funds necessary to avert a sovereign default.

Meanwhile, in Ireland and Portugal, two other countries that have received financial assistance from their European peers when they teetered on the brink of bankruptcy, a majority of voters seems willing to accept the austerity measures that were implemented to balance public spending even if they may have deepened the recession in the short term.

The Irish economy is expected to grow by no more than .7 percent this year while the Portuguese could contract by up to 3 percent of gross domestic product.

Yet Irish voters in late May by a two-thirds majority voted in favor of what the left-wing opposition had dubbed the “austerity treaty” — the European fiscal compact which forces government to enshrine debt and deficit limits in their national laws.

Ireland has cut government spending levels, frozen public-sector wages and increased income taxes to reduce the budget shortfall to under 3 percent of GDP in 2015. The Irish today consume 12 percent less than they did before the bank crisis but support for the austerity measures and staying in the euro is strong.

Similarly, in Portugal, despite tax hikes and salary cuts of up to 20 percent for civil servants, protests and strikes have been underwhelming. The Portuguese appear resigned to the austerity measures and want to keep the euro.

In Greece, austerity has been tougher than in other countries. The economy continues to show negative growth and unemployment is higher — over 20 percent in Greece compared to 14 percent in Ireland and 15 percent in Portugal.

Greek voters want to stay in the euro, too, but seem to believe as leftist leader Alexis Tsipras does that other European states are bluffing when they warn that Greece may have to leave the currency union if it reneges on the commitments that the previous government made. “They should stop the fearmongering,” Tsipras said last month. He insists that the euro could come apart if a single member state departs and Germany won’t take that chance.

Voters in Ireland and Portugal aren’t willing to bet on that but they may if it turns out that Tsipras is right and the rest of Europe will continue to pour money into Greece even if it isn’t willing to rein in spending and liberalize its economy in return.

Ireland’s Left Benefits from Growing Austerity Fatigue

Sinn Féin‘s campaign to reject the European Union’s new fiscal treaty appears set to fail but it has managed to boost support for the left-wing party which is emerging as Ireland’s main opposition platform to austerity.

Currently the fourth largest faction in parliament, behind the ruling center-right Fine Gael and Labor Party as well as centrist republicans, Sinn Féin has become the second largest party in opinion polls largely thanks to its campaign against what it calls Europe’s “austerity treaty.”

The Irish head to the polls on Thursday to vote in a referendum on the fiscal treaty that was signed by European leaders in March. The accord requires member states to write a balanced budget requirement into their national laws and introduces a financial penalty of up to .1 percent of gross domestic product for countries that violate the debt and deficit rules.

Surveys suggest that up to 40 percent of Irish voters are in favor of the treaty with 36 opposed and 24 percent undecided.

Sinn Féin, led by Gerry Adams, is the only major Irish political party that has rejected the fiscal treaty. It also campaign against the austerity measures that were imposed on Ireland in exchange for international financial support.

Ireland had to tap into Europe’s temporary rescue mechanism for a €85 billion bailout in 2010. Through public spending cuts, pay freezes for government workers and an income tax hike, the Irish government hopes to bring its deficit under 3 percent of GDP in 2015.

The policies have been painful. The Irish today consume 12 percent less than they did before the bank crisis. Even so, the national debt is expected to peak at 120 percent of GDP next year.

As fears mount that Greece could leave the eurozone unless the parliamentary elections next month return a government that honors the conditions of the country’s bailout agreements, Ireland’ borrowing costs are rising, raising the possibility of deeper cuts.

Labor has suffered the most from the austerity measures in terms of popularity. The Social Democrats’ support has halved to 10 percent since last year’s election. Sinn Féin appeals to traditional Labor Party constituencies with its anti-austerity rhetoric and now gets 24 percent support in the polls. Prime Minister Enda Kenny Fine Gael has remained stable.

The government has pledged to maintain the corporate tax rate at 12.5 percent, the lowest in the eurozone, which has helped to lure companies as Google, Intel, Microsoft and Pfizer to set up operations in the country.

Investment from multinationals, whose employees account for almost 10 percent of Ireland’s workforce, should enable the Irish economy to grow modestly this year and add jobs.

Sinn Féin is the former political wing of the Irish Republican Army which for decades waged a violent campaign against the British to reunite both parts of Ireland. It played a key role in the Good Friday peace accords that were brokered with American mediation fourteen years ago. Sinn Féin is now the second largest party in the Northern Ireland Assembly and in coalition there with the Protestant Unionists.