• Morgan Fagg

Baby Steps for Brexiters

Taking Baby Steps and The Luck of the English

I remember back in 2003, a lecturer asked me to attend an economics lecture in AIT where Dr Garret Fitzgerald was going to be speaking. The economics lecturer wanted someone who wasn’t shy about asking questions to make sure that our former Taoiseach and invited economics expert was asked some tough questions on the night.

Fitzgerald’s government was a bit before my time with his first government beginning the year I was born. I knew who he was but had to Google, Yahoo or Ask Jeeves more about his two governments.

Taking down a government leader was not going to be easy unless of course, I squeezed into my 1980’s child size shoes. A bit taxing but guaranteed to take a Spring out of his step.

Dr Garett Fitzgerald was well respected and it was a pleasure to listen to him, I have had the fortune to listen to his Tánaiste Dick Spring speak and also Michael D Higgins in a series of lectures over the years while working for the Labour Party in Dublin but the pressure was on to respectfully make sure the economist and former Taoiseach didn’t get off the hook too easily.

I was asked to ask questions, I presume because I was active in student politics as the Student Union Chairman but also because I had an interest in economics but I might have been asked because I was the first student that my economics lecturer Henry Joyce saw on the day. Henry Joyce is pictured above with Irish economist, tv presenter and one-time Fine Gael politician, George Lee.

I remember well the day that Dr Fitzgerald died in 2011 and how the international community spoke fondly at his passing, firstly, Queen Elizebeth was in Ireland on a state visit and Barrack Obama was about to arrive in Ireland the following week. I was in the city centre and decided to go as far as Leinster House to get a picture of the Irish Parliament with the flag flown at half mast.

I will always remember the Irish Taoiseach and that lecture in AIT and how fondly the international community spoke of Dr Fitzgerald. I guess I wasn’t the only student listening to him and British Prime Minister David Cameron said that he, “watched him as a student of politics, rather than someone involved in politics, and he always struck me as someone who was a statesman as well as a politician, someone who was in politics for all the right reasons, and someone who made a huge contribution to the peace process bringing reconciliation for all that had happened in the past¨.

The Prime Minister was in Ireland for the Queen’s State Visit and Queen Elizebeth also praised his “lasting contribution to peace.” I also remember watching television later on when the Queen spoke in Irish. It was a wonderful moment in Anglo Irish relations.

Across the pond, Henry Kissinger, Nixon’s Former US Secretary of State described FitzGerald as an intelligent and amusing man who was dedicated to his country and Barrack Obama on his visit to Dublin, one week later, offered his condolences describing Dr FitzGerald as; “someone who believed in the power of education, someone who believed in the potential of youth, someone who believed in the potential of peace and who lived to see that peace realised.”

I succeeded in critiquing his economics talk that day, it is always easier to be critical of someone’s government policies than to create them yourself. It is also sometimes impossible to bring about change, in the heat of the moment when other factors are in play and I am reminded of my friend John Liddy’s fantastic quote, “Those who drink from the well must never forget those who dug it.”

I can dig Fitzgerald’s intellectualism and contribution to Irish society of course but I was a plant in the room, there to make sure he was asked some economical questions from the student body.

In AIT, Dr Fitzgerald praised the Irish economy and our worldwide economic success and I merely pointed out how easy it was to have an impressive GDP growth as a small nation that had done little in the past. With no industrial revolution, for example, it was easier for a small nation to do well compared to larger economies like Germany or the US who cannot see constant increasing growth like Ireland was, at that time experiencing.

Imagine for example but in reverse where you wanted to lose some pounds and not gain them, I once had a weight loss bet with a friend and I won. I knew I had more pounds to lose and did. You cant skim something skinny in any quantity.

Well, that’s the skinny on my economics thinking anyways. Any investment in Ireland produced huge gains in employment and profitability. 1000 new jobs created in Ireland could make news worldwide but 1000 new jobs would mean nothing to an economy like Germany with 20 times our population or America with 100 times Ireland’s population.

I hope you appreciate my Economics Lite analogy, I am stealing the dieting concept of economics from the West Wing tv series where Martin Sheen used a diet metaphor beautifully. Martin Sheen, of course, played Dr Bartlett who was an economics professor who became president in the fantastic Aaron Sorkin tv series. Life imitating fiction, Martin Sheen endorsed President Higgins when he first ran in 2011 but enough of the fictional Dr Barlett and back to our own economics leader Dr Fitzgerald

Dr Fitzgerald explained some interesting aspects about government negotiations with Britain in the 1980s and the Anglo-Irish Agreement in particular which he signed with Margaret Thatcher.

I hope I can explain accurately the points I picked up on, even if I can't recount his exact words. Irish negotiators went into meetings thinking that the British empire was full of genius who would laugh at the average paddy but they soon discovered that the British had been very lucky. They made mistakes just like anyone else and I am sure they went into meetings ill-prepared at times and by the end, the Irish representatives had caught up with their counterparts.

Not easy to relay a story told to me 15 years ago about something that happened 15 years before that but the point being that Ireland felt inferior to British diplomats at first.

I’m sure the Irish felt very inferior in international dealings in 1980 and just like the lessons learnt then, I wonder if the British missed an opportunity to learn about their shortcomings in EU dealings and if they are too eager to prove to Europe how smart and wonderful they are when they might actually be shit out of luck.

Before Britain takes the UK to the brink, they have to ask how all of these things affect, tourism and travel, immigration & emigration, logistics and transport, laws and regulations, aviation and the aerospace industry, European nuclear waste and energy requirements, defence and the future of NATO & doomsday scenarios on April Fools day, where will British subs lurk and who will look for them?

Maybe baby steps are too much to ask for on progress on any one point but just like the respected Dr Garett Fitzgerald, even a child’s shoe can trip up your government.

We might all lose a few pounds on this unnecessary diet. Ireland remembers the famine and I am sure Germany remembers the Berlin Airlift but England has yet to discover that no man is an island.

Sitting in front of Dr Fitzgerald if he was alive today, the questions I would like to ask him as we face Brexit. This aviation enthusiast who started working as an economist for Aer Lingus in 1947 which has led some people to call for Aer Lingus’ T2 to be named after him. The questions I would like to ask about the future of Ryanair based largely out of Stansted Airport. The future of Airbus who manufacture aeroplanes components all over Europe including thousands of jobs in England. The future of the Eurofighter for example, its left wing made in Spain and the right wing made in England and the rest made in Germany and Italy. Will Spain start manufacturing both wings or will we start flying in circles as Right Wing & Left Wing politics disrupts European aviation from going anywhere?

A man who met personally with Pope John VI to discuss religion in Ireland and signed agreements with Margaret Thatcher and fought for Northern Ireland when no one else could find agreement with the Iron Lady, how would Henry Kissinger and Garret make sense of American politics today?

How would he treat a Brexit Secretary resigning while announcing an agreement has been reached?

How would he look at Europe today? This leader with a great interest in the Spanish Civil War and WW2, how would he see division in Spain? What would he make of a Europe divided in the few years since he passed away?

How would he make sense of the possibility of an Ireland divided once again even though the Queen of England made history when she arrived in Ireland and spoke Irish in Dublin, on the day he died.

From a lecture theatre, it was easy to attack his economic arguments that the rest of the world agreed with, it was easy to make sure students had a say and asked the hard questions but as John Liddy wrote, “Those who drink from the well must never forget those who dug it.”

Like Michael Collins 100 years ago, Fine Gael once again must reach agreement with Britain and once again the issues of Northern Ireland have come back to haunt England as they negotiate not with Éire but with Europe and just like anyone dieting be prepared to lose a few pounds but don't starve yourself completely or even dare suggest like the former Conservative Party minister Priti Patel has, that the UK should use the threat of food shortages in Ireland to persuade the EU to drop the backstop.


A little clip from the West Wing tv series where President Bartlet does what he does best.

A tv president watching out for a prostitute dragged into politics by the press.

"You economists really just make it up, don't you?"

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