The following are some reflections on the event which took place on February 3rd at the RDS in Dublin. The event was billed as Irexit: Freedom to Prosper and was organised by the Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy Group (EFDD), a political grouping in the European Parliament. The EFDD is dominated by the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) and the Five Star Movement (based in Italy), both of which are synonymous with Euroscepticism.
It should be said in preface that those of us who attended the event had an entertaining day out and that these kinds of events are most enjoyable for the mingling and networking that occurs during and after.
Speakers at the Irexit meeting included Cormac Lucey, John Waters, Anthony Coughlan, Karen Devine and Cllr. James Charity. But undoubtedly the main draw was the former leader of UKIP, Nigel Farage. The presence of Farage ensured several things; a large and disparate crowd, a somewhat mischievous atmosphere but also some troubling contradictions. The remainder of this article will attempt to articulate some of those contradictions.
The attraction to Farage is in many ways his stature as a hate figure. That’s the fun of it for many people. He is a person who is seen as having given the middle finger to the cosy liberal consensus and having called out the Eurocrats. However Farage becomes a far more ambivalent figure when people on our side attempt to view him as a nationalist.
Euroscepticism is a very broad church and when one attempts to unite the various Eurosceptic parties in Europe one finds that sometimes there is very little in common. Some are conservative. Some are liberal. Some are plausibly nationalist. Some are not. In one sense the Irexit conference was a microcosm of this disparity.
Throughout the speeches there were many attempts to evoke the tradition of Irish national assertion. These included references to Pearse and to the Easter Rising. And Farage chipping in with: “You’re not truly the independent nation that your grandparents’ generation strove for, that to a large extent has been handed away.” There was a strong sense that Ireland was heading in a dangerous direction, that much was being lost. However, these sentiments were somewhat paradoxical in the context of what was actually being offered as an alternative.
What is Irexit?
The marketing concept of Irexit raises a number of objections. These objections begin with the title itself; a variation on Brexit which was, of course, a portmanteau of Britain and Exit. Brexit was a gimmicky term albeit one that proved remarkably catchy. Like “Make America Great Again”, which was also gimmicky, it became an unlikely marketing sensation. Nonetheless Brexit is a word that belongs on the op-ed of an English tabloid newspaper. It sits uneasily in the vocabulary of advanced nationalism in Ireland.
The idea that what worked in England can be repackaged almost verbatim in an Irish context is in the first place dubious. The plain fact is that Irexit doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. If the term Brexit was crude but catchy, the term Irexit is crude but forgettable. Also, the phenomenon of Brexit is not particularly popular in Ireland, so linking Irexit and Brexit creates the inconvenience of having to sell people on both.
But there is a greater objection. And it is the very ambivalence of the term Irexit. For what does it mean in substance? We can guess what it means to Nigel Farage but what will it mean to the average Irish person?
In advocating for Britain’s leaving the European Union, Farage employed a great many rhetorical devices. Among them was the notion of re-engaging with the Commonwealth. In other words, it was not enough to just say “We’re leaving the EU.” There had to be a familiar context into which the British mindset could be reintegrated. There is unquestionably a degree of imperial nostalgia at play; a yearning for the days when Britain was at the centre of the world. And it is a simple fact that British identity and particularly English nationality have never come to terms with the loss of Empire.
The term Irexit connotes fundamentally the application of the Brexit template to Ireland. And in effect the application of a British mindset to Irish nationhood. From the beginning it frames Ireland’s independence within a British construct. This theme extends far beyond the mere title or slogan. And the question must be asked –Is Irexit simply the reintegration of Ireland into the British sphere of influence?
Listening to the rhetoric of some Irexit proponents, this would appear to be the case. The familiar Brexit rhetoric was in evidence throughout. Germany and France with their top heavy, centralised traditions are contrasted with the English spirit for common sense and liberty. These caricatures which so appeal to the English mindset are now being lazily rolled out in the Irish context. It is the English traditions of parliamentary democracy which are being defended against the impersonal unaccountable EU technocracy.
The National Party has stated in the past that the forces which take Ireland out of the European Union may not be the nationalist forces at all. It may be some perverse coalition of the anti-nationalists. The residual Anglophile instinct of a certain strata within Irish society. No doubt they will pull a great many nationally minded people along with them. For the Irish are a great people for bandwagons. But we must be wary of embracing a template that is akin to swapping one iron mask for another. It is all well and good to have Nigel Farage appear at the RDS and wind up the liberal media. But we should be conscious of the contradictions of interests that exist in such alliances.
Farage comes with all the baggage that one would expect from someone who had straddled the mainstream and the fringes of British Right-wing politics. Anyone who has had any contact with British nationalists understands very quickly that most of them, whether they are good people or bad people, are completely inimical to an Irish manifest destiny. The reasons for which are blatantly obvious. Their tradition has been to support the Loyalists in the North, while Irish Republican elements in Britain have been drawn into left-leaning Anti-Fascist groupings to oppose them. The wounds are not easily healed between these dispositions. They will humour the Irish sometimes just so long as the Irish know their place.
We may mention in passing that attempts to alight a successful English nationalism, beyond the football stadium, have failed continuously since the Second World War for reasons too numerous to touch upon here. It is curious that Farage with his folksy brand of Euroscepticism has been more successful than anyone else. The same man claims to have done more than anybody else to destroy the Far Right in Britain. A statement that means little to those who consider him Far Right enough on his own terms. But he succeeded where the hard liners failed. He brought about a cataclysm.
The success of Farage is perhaps above all a success of personality. Without being a nationalist as such, Farage seemed to tap into some left over scraps in the English psyche. He was and is a sort of Jack Falstaff figure. The trickster and rogue. He presided over the Leave vote as though it were the revenge of Merry England. His larger than life presence proved more powerful than anything the hard-line British Right had come up with, perhaps because part of his appeal was subliminal and unconscious.
He remains an ambiguous figure in Britain and, at the very least, a paradoxical figure in Ireland. It is mere months since Farage accused the EU of stoking the flames of Irish nationalism over Brexit. And yet here he was in Dublin posing the question on the Marian Finucane Show: “Why did you fight the British to be an independent state and now you’re happy to be governed by Brussels?” It would be a reasonable question if one were an Irish nationalist.
Early in the conference Hermann Kelly, conference organiser and Director of Communications for the EFDD Group, compared Brexit to the Irish nationalist struggle. “They struck for their freedom… it’s everything we fought for one hundred years ago.” But such generalisations proffer more heat than light. What for instance is the relationship today between Irish independence and British independence? It is much more difficult to say.
In his speech Nigel Farage spoke with gusto of Eurosceptic parties “springing up” throughout Europe right across the political spectrum: “In France there are now a variety of Eurosceptic parties on both the Right and the Left”. Almost as though Euroscepticism were an end in and of itself, which it simply cannot be. It was said by Justin Barrett in Belfast last August that a prerequisite for a successful negotiation to leave the European Union was a nationalist government. Such a government Britain did not have when it voted Leave and still does not have. Irish Euroscepticism, in other words, is not something that can easily be partitioned from Irish nationalism. And while the endorsement of Farage may be useful to Eurosceptics it would prove far less useful to nationalists.
Of course we do not expect Farage to be consistent on the point of Irish self-determination. He cannot possibly be for there are too many circles to square. What is more concerning is when Irish people, calling themselves nationalists, digest his sentiments uncritically. And in so doing, embrace contradictory positions which in the long term are undermining.
It is safe to assume that Farage is happy to stoke Irish national feeling to certain limited ends but in other instances he will be quick to disown it. No matter now likable or affable he may be, we should not be so naive as to believe he is on our side. Nor should we place a high value on his endorsement. History does not so easily roll over. Nationality is not the warm and fuzzy thing which people on the Right these days too often make out. It is the site of conflict and must be understood as such. The point of delineation and of confrontation is the point of meaning. The point where we establish our bounds. Alliances are something you make ideally from a position of strength. Not from a position of deference or acquiescence. To hero worship Farage is at best frivolous. For Farage has his own agenda. Just as we have our own agenda. And as realists we should acknowledge that.
Nigel Farage has a problem. The problem is that Brexit is not going to happen. When the British voted to leave the European Union, it shocked the world. It was as though he had presided over a miracle. Unfortunately one miracle was not enough. He needs another. The question of the Six Counties hangs over the Brexit negotiations and nothing could suit the British pro-Leave position better than a Eurosceptic Ireland. Were Ireland to follow Britain out of the EU (a highly unlikely prospect) it would solve many Brexit headaches.
The Irexit phenomenon and its close association with Brexit is confusing not least because one part of our island is in a union with Britain. And the first demand of any Irish nationalist would be for the British Exit from the northern part of this country. The idea that we would exit the European Union in order to secure the British occupation of the Six Counties is more than problematic. It is schizophrenic. We cannot integrate the jovial premises of Farage into the tradition of Irish nationalist struggle and if we try, it is we who will be reintegrated. Back into the position of acquiescence to the City of London.
Pearse said that Irish nationalism was a separatist tradition. Today, separation from Britain is still a necessary if not a sufficient condition of Irish freedom. The same could be said of separation from the European Union. Taking into account necessity and sufficiency we must acknowledge the reality of the situation. Farage remarked at the conference: “I don’t think Ireland is a pro-EU country, I think the political, media and big businesses in Dublin, they are the ones”. Unfortunately Farage, despite the round of applause he received, is talking out of his hat. Ireland is not a Eurosceptic country, contrary to what foreigners may think. And even if it were, the Irexit idea is a step beyond Euroscepticism towards a complete rejection of the European Union. The Irish have no notion of such a step. And it is the ordinary people who would be the last to vote us out.
But we need not be defeatist. We need not sit around and moan, as though Jean-Paul Sartre had written a play called No Irexit which ended with the line “Hell is other countries”. We simply need to find a more plausible place to begin our resistance. We should keep in mind that some of the greatest progress in Europe is being made in countries that are not likely to leave the EU. At least not in the short term. Countries such as Poland or Hungary for instance.
We accept the fact that Ireland as it stands is not a particularly Eurosceptic county. But on the other hand Ireland remains, despite everything, nationalist. The Irish are nationalists in their souls. The nationalist tradition and feeling here is more powerful and rooted than anything that exists across the Irish Sea. It merely needs to be tapped into. And it is there we must start. It is there that the anti-establishment feeling must be harnessed. It is there that we must begin the fight back against globalism, against EU federalism, against Fabian liberalism. It is there that we must begin to ignite an Irish resistance to the dissolution of nations and peoples. There is no outside template for what needs to be done. There is only the template that we leave after us when we succeed.
This article was submitted by a National Party member. If you would like to submit an article for publication on the National Party website, follow this link.