15 July 2016 No Comments by The Northern Standard

It is sometimes interesting to see ourselves as others see us – but not nearly as fascinating as when we get an opportunity to put “the others” under our own microscope.

This was the opportunity afforded to Northern Standard journalist Cianna McNally when she visited Strasbourg last week along with colleagues from the Irish regional press for an insight into the workings of the European Parliament.

From our perspective as a Border county grappling with both the real and imagined challenges presented by the UK’s Brexit referendum decision to leave the EU, the timing of the working trip could not have been more opportune. It was a perfect opportunity to “see ourselves as others see us” in the context of to what degree if any the Irish Border community is in the thoughts of the Strasbourg powerbrokers as they prepare to bid an apparently less than fond farewell to the British. And it also offered the opportunity to get our own perspective on the thoughts and attitudes of the political representatives of other European countries on the whole Brexit question.

Our representative’s findings were in one aspect comforting. Co Monaghan’s case is being considered at EU level as preparations begin on the formulation of the exit strategy its institutions would like the UK to follow – but only because our MEPs, in particular Carrickmacross’s Sinn Féin parliamentarian Matt Carthy, are working particularly hard to keep it before the eyes and minds of the bureaucrats and the various political groupings.

This is no easy task, but the South Monaghan politician and his SF “team of four” in the byzantine corridors of European administration are steeled to it. But not, as Mr Carthy’s interview with our newspaper’s representative carried on page one this week demonstrates, myopically preoccupied by it.

The members of Monaghan Co Council, who last Thursday spent two hours of a special meeting struggling to glimpse the wood through the thick trees of the Brexit forest, would do well to cultivate Mr Carthy’s sense of perspective. His “take” on the British decision, perhaps assisted by the vista of analytical dispassion offered by a seat in the remote Strasbourg Hemicycle, appreciates its context sufficiently to draw from it the cautionary message that many in Europe, and indeed many in this country, seem to have either missed or are ignoring because of its inconvenience.

The UK vote undoubtedly came about as the result of an inadequately informed and sometimes dangerously skewed public discourse. It is eloquent, however, of an unease at the rate of propulsion gathered by the agenda, and it is sometimes a hidden one, being followed in the Brussels and Strasbourg corridors of power. It is an agenda to adulterate the European concept from a congenially affiliated family of nations into an omnivorous, omnipotent superstate.

One does not have to be a Little Englander or a Le Pen acolyte to share this unease – but sharing it overtly has become almost politically incorrect in the shock and awe aftermath of Brexit. The feeling has undoubtedly contributed to the disconnect between the institutions of the EU and the disparate peoples they reputedly serve which Mr Carthy astutely identifies as a factor of influence upon the majority of UK citizens who carried the day for the Leave side of the argument.

The SF MEP’s argument that there has been a wilful elaboration of the structures and bureaucracies of the EU, to such extent that they are impenetrable to the understanding not only of the outside observer but often to those labouring inside the mechanism itself, is difficult to refute – and capable of some very sinister interpretations indeed.

Such consciousness appeared absent during the debate on Brexit that the visiting party of Irish journalists sat in upon. This was the discomforting part of the insight the Irish scribes and broadcasters got on the mindset of European political representation. If some hysteria was understandable and inevitable on both this and the neighbouring island when we woke up to the Brexit outcome, it is alarming to see it run quite rampant – after a decent interval to the decision – in the place where an equitable response to it must be formulated and implemented.

The ghosts of Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher were summoned to support various strands of what was undoubtedly an impassioned argument, if an alarmingly unedifying one. One can perhaps derive reassurance that Euroscepticism is not the exclusive preserve of the beerswilling, Johnny Foreigner-baiting Nigel Farage – Polish Eurosceptic Janusz Korwin-Mikke surely trumped all UKIP’s aces with the declaration that the institution he was elected to and all it represented “must be destroyed”.

And it is possible to derive some comfort from the inescapable conclusion that this august parliament of nations is truly the broadest of churches. Nonetheless, the modes of argument and underlying attitudes adopted by some of the speakers showed them as being ill-equipped to either interpret the message of Brexit or come up with the sort of measured practical response to its consequences that will best serve Irish interests when the exit negotiations begin in earnest.

It appears from this journalistic foray into the heart of darkness that keeps the European Union beating that Brexit fever has not been confined to these islands, but is a pan-European epidemic that, even as the reality of the decision has settled in the mind, is still registering dangerously near the top of the thermometer.

Thankfully it will take some time yet for the many shadowy fears surrounding Brexit from a national, Border region and Co Monaghan perspective to take substance. Hopefully by that time the fever will have subsided in Europe and the MEPs can get down to the business they are being handsomely remunerated for: shaping a Europe at the service of the people, one that responds to and ameliorates their concerns rather than an intimidating edifice that confirms and cultivates their fears.

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