Finding our way forward with the help of the past

I am going to talk with you all a bit this week about the whole Brexit business. Now, I am sure, like me, a lot of you have heard it going on all summer in bits and pieces, but it seems to be becoming serious now with Michel Barnier from the EU and David Davis from the UK having their serious talks together. But, as yet, no real outcome has emerged.

Just two weeks ago, I was listening to the radio on a Sunday morning to the Marian Finucane Show, and Bertie Ahern, the former Taoiseach, was on it. The conversation was all about Brexit. I knew many of the contributors around the table, including some really high performance people, and yet everything Bertie said was so sound and full of good advice.

You know the way Marian goes on - she gives everybody a chance to talk. Each of the contributors would say things like, ‘Well, let’s get back to what you said Bertie’, and ‘To follow up on what you just said Bertie’. In other words, they were deferring to him all the time, and they had every reason to do so.

I know I have said this before in this column, but if anybody in this country knows anything about the North of Ireland and the Good Friday Agreement and all of that, it is Bertie Ahern. He lived through it, he sweated through it, he stayed up days and nights trying to bring it together, himself and Tony Blair, and they were successful in the end. Indeed, it is a shame now to see that neither Sinn Féin nor the DUP will come together and that Northern Ireland is sailing along, being governed by the Civil Service. I have nothing against the Civil Service, but the fact of the matter is that people elected the parties to go back into the Northern Ireland Assembly, and yet they are not doing so.

But, back to Brexit and Bertie. I think it is very foolish of the current Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, not to have a tight Brexit committee with Bertie on it. He can invite Enda Kenny or John Bruton as well so that the balance would be found. But it is doing a disservice to Ireland not to have Bertie, giving of his wisdom for the country. I feel that someone should advise Leo Varadkar that it would be a very sensible move. I know what I am talking about in this regard. Why should the country not take advantage of his wisdom as a contributor to the Brexit debate?

I see that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Phillip Hammond, was in Dublin last week to meet with our Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance and the heads of business in Dublin. I know he had lunch in Dublin as well, in PricewaterhouseCoopers. I understand he was full of good sense. He is regarded as a soft Brexiteer and, in fact, he was one of the early people out to look for a long transition period, which is now gaining currency because of the opposition-Labour decision in the UK to look for that as well.

Theresa May will find herself outnumbered in Westminster if she does not play ball on this one. I imagine that even the very hard Brexiteers in England would now wish for a softer climate in which they could continue the talks. I remain firmly of the position that, at the end of all of the talk, realism will hit everyone and they will go to a vote again on the matter. Let us see how it pans out.

RTÉ and TV3 have come out in the last week or two with their various autumn/winter programme schedules. There is really very little dramatic change. In particular, TV3 will surely miss the presence of Vincent Browne. Ivan Yates and Matt Cooper are taking up the position at night-time, but they just will not be Vincent.

There are a few documentaries which I feel will be of interest as the weeks and months go on. Of course, it is good to have competition between the main TV organisations. It makes each one sit up and be smarter when they see what the other crowd are putting on!

Let us talk about Donald Trump and the US for a few minutes. Of course, Storm Harvey has had a huge effect on the citizens of Texas and, now, into Southern Louisiana. I know we have had our flooding troubles in Athlone throughout the years and, also, in Donegal very recently. But they somehow pale against the extremes of what we are seeing on our TV screens from the United States.

Fair dues to Donald Trump - he went down and visited, unlike President Bush some time ago, who did not go when Hurricane Katrina struck with huge ferocity.

However, it is on another matter I want to talk about the President of the US right now. As you will all know, many of the programmes he set out to do have so far failed him. For instance, he was going to turn about Obamacare, the medical care programme, but that failed because they could not muster the votes in parliament in the US. Then he was going to build the Mexican wall, and then that failed, because Mexico will not put up the money. They certainly do not want it. And congress in the US will not put up the money either.

Then he had very virulent anti-immigration laws, with several of the US states taking the matter to courts and winning their battles on those issues. So, that has been halted in its tracks as well.

Yet, last week, he decided to embark on his massive tax-cutting programme. After all, he needs the money. The country has to be run. He listed where there were American firms and where he intended to bring those firms to heel, and one of the countries was Ireland. He is extremely jealous of our 12.5 per cent Corporate Tax Rate, which we have faithfully adhered to now for quite a few years, and which has brought much-needed investment to Ireland. Europe have their eagle eyes on that tax rate as well. We must guard it, as they are planning a European Finance Minister who will co-ordinate tax rates such as that, throughout all the countries that are within Europe.

I remember so well in Brian Lenihan Junior’s time, when he was Minister for Finance and we were going through the dreadful economic struggles. Europe constantly told him he had to change that tax rate. Otherwise they would find it difficult to get ready the package of aid for Ireland. Anyway, Brian Lenihan, for the Irish Government, said “No, hands off our tax rate”, and we will have to keep firm to that principle in the face of all of these various threats which are looming in on it.

The children are back at school – students are getting ready to go and other young people are looking to their various options, so there is a great sense that autumn is coming. Darker in the mornings and evening coming earlier. It all points to a change of season. All we need now is one good week in September, which always occurs after the schools open. So, we hope we will have that too.

Talk with you all next week.

In the meantime, go safely.

Slán go Fóill,

Mary O’Rourke


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