THE twists and turns of the seemingly never-ending Brexit drama provided the backdrop to Killeigh journalist, Fiona Mitchell’s term as RTE’s London correspondent.
The broadcaster provided an insight into the Brexit quagmire for an attentive audience in Tullamore on Wednesday evening last when she joined celebrity economist Jim Power and tax partner, Caroline McGrath as guest speaker at a post 2020 Budget briefing.
The annual event, held in the Tullamore Court Hotel, was organised by BCA Chartered Accountants and was attended by a representative gathering of business and professional interests from the wider Midland area.
In an insightful and absorbing talk, Ms Mitchell examined the Brexit saga from the fateful referendum vote in mid 2016 onwards.
The issue dominated her period as London correspondent for the national broadcaster though she also found time to cover two general elections, three major terrorists attacks, the Grenfell Tower disaster and a host of other major and minor stories.
“People would have never believed three and a half years ago that an Irish Budget would be dominated by a British problem,” she outlined.
The Killeigh woman said the British Tory party had troubles with Europe stretching back four decades but the twin issues of immigration and austerity also had an impact on the referendum vote.
“The whole idea of the referendum was that the Tories would stop banging on about Europe,” recalled Ms Mitchell.
She revealed: “One of the things that stuck out for me as I travelled all around the UK in the lead-up to the referendum was how emotional all this was for some people.”
The Killeigh native recalled speaking to Irish pensioners in Wimbledon and how many of them were concerned about immigration.
“When you put it to them that they were immigrants themselves they did not see themselves as such as they had been there for 30 and 40 years . . . they were concerned about how society was changing around them.”
Stressing the emotion which has surrounded the Brexit issue, Ms Mitchell said “when politics meets emotion that is where difficulties arise.”
“This remains an emotional situation . . . there is no room for compromise for people who want a hard Brexit and those who want a second referendum.”
She said at this stage most people in the UK, similar to most Irish people, just wanted to get Brexit over with. “But decisions taken in the weeks ahead will affect Ireland,” she predicted.
Speaking on the evening prior to the Taoiseach and British prime minister’s meeting near Liverpool, Ms Mitchell said there was an increasing sense that no one was really sure where the situation will end.
She said there was a hard core of the British electorate which believed the only true Brexit was a no deal one. “But they brush over the fact that they will have to knock on the doors of the EU and say we want a free trade agreement,” outlined Ms Mitchell adding: “Of course the first thing on the agenda will be the border in Ireland and free movement of people and goods.”
“On the Remain side there are those who believe that a second referendum will solve the issue,” she outlined.
Responding to questions from the audience, the former London correspondent said the average Irish person was much better informed on EU issues than their British counterpart.
She refused to give an opinion on how she saw the issue eventually transpiring but joked that it may be similar to the famous Bobby Ewing shower plot in the US hit 1980s television series “Dallas” in which scriptwriters conveniently wrote off a whole storyline as a dream.
“I spend a lot of time dealing with people who have been following British politics for a lifetime and they will throw their hands in the air that they don’t where it’s all going to end.”
The Killeigh native predicted that the cracks, fissures and difficulties exposed in Britain over Brexit would take a long time to mend.
Ms Mitchell recalled that Ireland had barely featured in the debate leading up to the Brexit referendum but now was the centre of international media attention.
“In Dublin we’re tripping over international journalists as everyone wants to talk about it. It’s all over the radio in England. . . perhaps if there had been a bit more of that in the debate this would not have happened.”
Responding to a question from the floor on the influence of the British press on the referendum result, Ms Mitchell said there was a completely different media landscape in the UK compared to this country. “What strikes me very much is that we know so much about the UK and they know so little about Ireland . . . their view is that Ireland is so like England and yet it’s so different. . . that is a real frustration for a lot of Irish people living in the UK”.
Meanwhile, economist Jim Power, in his Budget overview, said there had been strong economic growth in recent years but this had been exaggerated.
Last year GDP growth had been recorded at eight per cent and this year it was predicted to be in the range of five per cent, he outlined.“Ireland does not feel like it was during the Celtic Tiger years when we had those growth levels.”
The Aviva Chief Economist said growth levels here had been exaggerated by “things like aircraft leasing” and said realistic growth levels were in the region of three to three and a half pc.
He declared that the economy was performing reasonably but not dramatically.
Mr Power described the Budget as a tax raising and big spending one and said this was what the electorate had been looking for.
But he predicted problems in the near future with high Government debt levels and public sector pay demands.
And Mr Power noted there was a perception globally that Ireland was stealing corporation tax from other countries and he speculated pressure would grow to do something about that.
Responding to a question from audience member, Tony Flanagan, Mr Power said he felt Donald Trump was “doing quite well” in the US Presidency apart from his fixation with the border wall with Mexico while he predicted Boris Johnson would probably win the next UK election, following a question from Anthony Hanniffy.
An overview of tax measures in the Budget was given by BCA Tax Partner, Caroline McGrath while the Master of Ceremonies for the evening was broadcaster and former Tullamore Rotary Club President, Ronan Berry.