Every New Year brings new challenges and new surprises. For Ireland, both North and South, 2017 will be a very critical year. The American election and the British vote to leave Europe (Brexit) will dramatically impact Ireland and could be very disruptive. Ireland is so small that neither the United States nor the UK worry too much about the island when it comes to solving their own problems.
The dramatic change in American government, with unpredictable new leaders and radically new policies being proposed concerning corporate taxation and immigration reform, is a cause for concern throughout the world, especially in Ireland.
New corporate tax laws already being drafted in the US House of Representatives will change the way American businesses evaluate foreign investments. Since a significant portion of Ireland’s economy depends on American investment, Irish leadership is paying close attention to the changes. Washington lobbyists (The Establishment) are working overtime to influence the creation of the new laws.
There are many excellent reasons for American corporations to invest in Ireland, but the uncertainty of new tax laws is, at the very least, delaying decisions until the picture is clearer.
President-elect Trump’s new policies regarding undocumented immigrants may result in thousands of Irish Americans – many from the Boston area - being sent back to Ireland. His remarks criticizing special visas and general immigration policies will probably lead to more restrictions and limitations.
In anticipation of change, Ireland’s ambassador to the United States, Anne Anderson, has just completed negotiations enabling her to sign an agreement with the American State Department that will extend the “one-year-long business visa program” for three more years. This agreement does not include the popular three-month summer visa program.
There is no doubt that the new Republican administration will have an enormous impact on both American investment in Ireland and new immigration from Ireland. But that is only part of what should be concerning Ireland in the coming year.
As stated here before, the June 2016 vote by the British people to leave the European Union was completely uninformed. Most of the people hardly knew the implications of their vote. Neither the leaders of the British government nor the European Union were prepared for the result. David Cameron, the-then prime minister who had advised his people to remain with Europe, resigned almost immediately.
But not all of Britain voted to leave. The people of Northern Ireland, Scotland, and the London area voted to stay with Europe, offering much resistance to plans to leave.
The new prime minister, Theresa May, is insisting that Britain must leave according to the vote and is experiencing great difficulty making the proper plans. She must also deal with the fact that the vote has caused resentment and anger among the leaders of the remaining 26 countries of Europe.
First, Britain must notify the European Union that it plans to leave. May plans to do so in March under something called Article 50 of the EU agreement. Then a lengthy period of negotiation, estimated at two years, must take place between Britain and the EU to resolve all the trade and migration issues involved. Establishing the new duties, tariffs, and migration protocols between all the countries will be a huge task.
This is where both Ireland and Northern Ireland can be hurt the most.
Enda Kenny, prime minister of Ireland, has repeatedly assured Europe that Ireland remains loyal to the EU. Since new trade agreements must be made with neither side giving an inch, agreement will be difficult to achieve. Ireland does 30 percent of its exports with Britain.
The situation is massively confusing. So-called experts are loudly making conflicting statements almost every day. Corporations are investigating plans to move their businesses from London so that they can still have the benefits of the EU. One authority claims Brexit won’t be accomplished fully for ten years.
The citizenship/immigration questions that may have started all of this will be tied to the negotiations. The British will want free and unfettered trade without any responsibility for free movement of people. What happens to British citizens living in Europe? Conversely what happens to those Europeans living in London? Will they have to go home? Filings for Irish passports by eligible people in Northern Ireland and Irish enclaves in Britain are way up. People don’t want to lose any EU rights.
The value of British currency has lost approximately 10 percent of its value since the vote, so folks from Dublin were travelling up to Belfast this fall to do their Christmas shopping.
The people in Northern Ireland who voted to leave Europe assumed that London would simply replace the subsidies now received from the EU. No chance, say Northern Ireland leaders, who now have to fight London for every nickel.
A special committee in Britain’s House of Lords published a report recommending that the North and South in Ireland continue to allow free access across the 32 counties. Many in the Irish government don’t think that will be possible, which could be very damaging to the spirit and progress made as a result of the Good Friday agreement of 1998.
Mairtin O’Muilleior, minister of finance for Northern Ireland, told this correspondent, “We have been Europeans at least since St. Columbanus left Bangor Abbey in 590 AD to bring Christianity to Europe. To deny us our European birthright now, when we voted to remain in the European Union, would be a calamity.”
O’Muilleoir, a Sinn Fein member of the Northern Ireland government, also told a committee of the Irish government that he believes the country is “staring into a Brexit black hole.” He can see no opportunity for the North.
We should be very cautious when attempting to assess the Brexit situation. As more and more experienced knowledgeable people assigned to the negotiations become familiar with the advantages and disadvantages of the new system, we can expect many changes. The changes for both the North and South may not be pleasant.