2 August 2019 No Comments by The Northern Standard

DEAD MAN’S HAND The message from the Central Bank could not be starker: “A disorderly Brexit would present an enormous challenge for the Irish economy, especially in the near term, and would result in a loss of output and employment compared to a scenario where the UK remained in the EU.”

Yesterday’s Quarterly Bulletin assessment from the nation’s financial regulator pulled no punches, predicting 34,000 job losses by the end of the year, and 110,000 fewer jobs over the next ten years, if the outcome of Boris Johnson’s brinkmanship is the one he is currently threatening.

It is a worrying signal from an institution that we might reasonably look to for a balancing objectivity in the current Brexit blizzard of conflicting augury. The warnings of the Irish Government of the consequences of a no-deal and the need to introduce precautionary measures in the next Budget is being regarded by some as an accentuation of the negative which will give the current administration license to use some fiscal rectitude to dowse the hormones of our refulgent economy lest they overheat. And the new British Prime Minister’s contention that his country’s exit from the EU with or without a deal heralds some brave new world for the struggling UK economy is surely an accentuation of the positive too hard to swallow even for the most myopic of his Tory camp followers.

On the face of it the Central Bank does not have much cause to lean without reason one way or the other on the issue, and its rather frightening picture of a post no-deal landscape should prove both cautionary and a call to action, if further such calls are at this stage needed, particularly for those living, trading and creating employment in our own Border region.

Mr Johnson’s entry into No 10 Downing Street has focused minds on his October 31 deadline for departure as the latest Brexit do or die day, and there is certainly more of a sense of endgame about his first few days in office than there was throughout the course of his predecessorTheresa May’s doomed attempts to meet the many earlier dates with destiny which the Brexit saga has encompassed. Yet how the new British PM intends to accomplish his act of EU escapology is still far from clear.

Playing the no-deal card as soon as he took his seat at the gaming table might have convinced his new-look Cabinet and his fawning constituency of Brexiteers that here was their Churchill for the times, but Brussels has remained singularly unimpressed – and Dublin more than a little bemused – by Boris’s preliminary posturing. We will know more of the measure of the man when he sits down to serious parley.

Mr Johnson may sometimes play the fool and enjoy hiding behind the smokescreen of the fool’s image, but he would not be where he is today without considerable reserves of resilience and political skill. It may well be that he is misguided enough to believe that the no-deal option really will propel his country into some golden age of new trading horizons – if so, there is little we can ultimately do but make sure those “prepare for the worst” precautions the Government have long been urging on us are as securely in place as possible, and wait for the Brexit blitz.

But Mr Johnson’s movements in his early days in office suggest that there may be a pragmatist lurking beneath all that John Bull motley. He has done the rounds of Scotland, Wales and, this week, Northern Ireland, had a first telephone touching of base with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and, interestingly, made some encouraging noises about renewing efforts to reactivate the North’s dormant political institutions. While the DUP will have bent his ear in the direction of safeguarding the Union and maintaining his war on the backstop, a lot of what Mr Johnson will have heard on his tour of the component parts of the United Kingdom – and, presumably, what Mr Varadkar had to tell him – will have been extremely antithetical to the Brexit stance that got him the leadership of his party and the Westminster hot seat.

Politicians who take such soundings generally ignore what they hear at their peril. And it is just conceivable that the exercise was designed to inform the negotiating stance that he and his emissaries to the EU will adopt in the weeks and months leading up to October 31 when, away from the rowdy House of Commons stage and the soundbyte demands of the media hounds, some real and practical politics could get done and an exit strategy agreed that would save face at home and restore some of Britain’s tarnished reputation abroad.

But even if Mr Johnson and his retinue present themselves in Brussels as paragons of conciliation and compromise, the wiggle room available to them is extremely slight, and gets ever slighter each time the backstop is traduced and the patiently repeated insistence by the EU that the withdrawal treaty cannot be changed is ignored. When the new British Prime Minister comes to sit down at the real gaming table, he may find when he looks at his cards nothing but a plethora of Aces and Eights – the dead man’s hand that the folly of Brexiteering has dealt him.

The grief felt across North Monaghan by the news of the passing of the legendary Emyvale writer, historian and community man Seamus McCluskey has reached with particular poignancy into the corridors of this newspaper. Most memorably under the columnist pen-name Orielman, Seamus wrote passionately and informatively about Gaelic games for the Northern Standard over an extended period of time up until the 1980s, across an era encompassing some of the most fabled achievements of our county football team and the beginnings of the evolution of Gaelic sport from its former rather homespun orientation into the activity of science and sophistication it has become today. In tandem with the legendary Ballybay sports reporter Brendan Smith, Seamus did much to broaden and deepen our coverage of Gaelic games, imbuing it with a thoroughness and countywide reach that became something of a benchmark for other components
of the Irish provincial press to aspire to.

The Orielman column was always a convivial counterpoint to the in-depth reportage and analysis that denoted the legendary ‘Brendy’s’ chronicles of the drama, tragedy and comedy weekly enacted on the club and county stages. Seamus had an often wryly humorous but ever insightful take on the county’s sports scene, parochially patriotic in the best way but always encouraging of progress. He also helped foster the development of Gaelic games coverage on the airwaves when the local radio medium took its first steps in the county.

When he eventually put the Orielman guise to one side, the Standard was still afforded the periodic privilege of publishing some of Seamus’s writings on local history. He charted the Monaghan-Canada connection long before the current sturdy bonds between the north of our county and Prince Edward Island and other Maritime Province locations began to be formally forged, told the story of the McKenna Clan and did much to chronicle the local history of his own place. The essence of his historical writings was distilled in the memorable publication ‘Emyvale, Sweet Emyvale’, which still occupies a special place of reverence on the bookshelves of many North Monaghan homes.

He was by instinct and practice a quintessential community man, and Emyvale and its surrounding area is materially and spiritually immeasurably richer thanks to his usually understated but always essential contributions and encouragements for a range of progressive projects over the last half-century and more.

The prodigious pen of Orielman is finally at rest – but what a rich legacy he has left behind in both words and deeds.

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