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Rousing the People

Timothy King

There is no single simple explanation of why a majority of voters in the Brexit Referendum of June 2016 voted to leave the EU, but there appears to be a consensus, supported by a national panel survey, that negative views of recent immigration significantly influenced decisions to vote Leave. Surprisingly, census districts with the highest proportion of foreign-born population tended to vote to remain in the EU, but districts which had been experiencing the most rapid recent growth in the proportion of immigrants voted to leave.

As I describe below, hostility to immigration had been an active component of electoral politics in the UK for more than half a century before the referendum. The focus, however, was on immigration from developing Commonwealth countries, and the fact that the European Economic Community required the free movement of labour was no internal political obstacle to the UK’s application for membership. In the event, the proportion of immigrants who were EU citizens remained less than 20 per cent of the total until the second half of the 1980s (Table 1). Probably as a result of the enlargement of the EU to include Greece (1981) and Spain and Portugal (1986)) this proportion then began to increase. The Maastricht Treaty of 1994 provided all citizens of EU member countries with the right of free movement within the EU. The enlargement in 1995 to include three relatively small, affluent, countries (Austria, Finland and Sweden) is unlikely to have made much impact on UK migration figures. In 2004, ten new countries ‑ eight from Eastern and Central Europe, plus Malta and Cyprus ‑ were admitted. Several countries expressed concern about the potential effects of migrant competition with domestic workers at the low-wage end of the labour market and it was therefore agreed that the fifteen existing EU members could impose restrictions on the right to work of citizens of new member countries for up to seven years after their EU accession. The UK, Sweden and Ireland were the only EU countries not to impose such restrictions ‑ a decision which some political analysts have argued eventually became the key determinant of the vote to leave. Immigration into the UK from the EU increased rapidly, and by 2016 was nearly equal in size to other immigration, which had been falling.

When Ireland joined the EU, at the same time as the UK, it had experienced more than one hundred and fifty years of almost continuous emigration, and its population (in the counties that now comprise the Irish Republic) had fallen in virtually every census, from 6.5 million in 1841 to 2.8 million in 1961. In the 1970s, there was some net immigration and the population rose, but in the 1980’s emigration again exceeded immigration, and by the later years of the decade, population was falling again. In the second half of the 1990s, however, immigration began consistently to exceed emigration, largely reflecting a regime of work visas and short-term permits to meet the labour demands of the Celtic Tiger. Immigration averaged 0.8 per cent of the resident population in 2000-4, but then more than doubled, averaging 1.7 per cent in 2005-8 (Table 2). In 2009, the net migration flow reversed, and Ireland remained a country of net emigration until 2015. Since then there has been a slight a small net immigration.

Table 1: England and Wales: Immigration and Emigration

(annual averages in 5-year periods)


Population(m) Emigration (‘000) Total Immigration(‘000) Non-British. Citizens Immigration(‘000) EU (ex.British) Citizens non-EU %Population EU immig %Population Non-EU immig
1966-70 55.18 295 220 133
1971-75 56.12 245 200 110
1976-80 56.22 205 182 106 17 89 0.03 0.16
1981-85 56.40 202 198 106 17 89 0.03 0.16
1986-90 56.94 219 239 135 31 104 0.06 0.18
1991-95 57.72 261 298 202 50 151 0.09 0.26
1996-2000 58.52 281 394 293 71 223 0.12 0.38
2001-2005 59.70 348 533 434 93 340 0.16 0.57
2006-2010 61.80 375 584 497 181 316 0.29 0.51
2011-2015 64.2 321 571 491 213 278 0.33 0.43
2016 65.6 340 589 515 250 265 0.38 0.40

Table 2. Ireland: Net Immigration and Immigration by Nationality, 2003-2017

Irish UK other
EU 15
other net
as %
2003 31 60 18 9 9 25 0.77
2004 32 59 17 7 13 21 0.79
2005 55 85 19 9 9 34 14 1.34
2006 72 108 19 10 13 50 16 1.70
2007 105 151 31 4 12 85 19 2.39
2008 64 114 24 7 10 55 19 1.43
2009 2 74 23 4 12 21 14 0.04
2010 -27 42 18 3 6 9 6 -0.60
2011 -27 53 20 4 7 10 12 -0.60
2012 -26 57 20 4 8 8 8 -0.56
2013 -19 63 22 4 9 8 20 -0.40
2014 -9 67 23 4 9 11 19 -0.18
2015 6 76 27 5 10 12 22 0.13
2016 16 82 28 6 11 13 24 0.34
2017 20 85 27 6 11 11 29 0.41
The decision not to restrict EU immigration after the 2004 enlargement had a much greater relative demographic impact than in the UK. At its peak in 2007, net immigration into Ireland was equivalent to 2.4 per cent of the population. In the UK it has never reached even a third of that level. The relative differences between the two countries can be summarised by “country of birth” figures in the respective population censuses (Table 3). In 2011 the percentage of the population that had been born in the countries of recent EU accession (predominantly Poland) was 2.0 per cent in England and Wales and 4.8 per cent in Ireland.
Table 3: Country of Birth of Resident Population, Recent Censuses

England and Wales Ireland
2001 2011 2002 2011 2016
Country of Enumeration 91.15 86.66 89.63 83.06 82.72
Ireland 0.91 0.73 n.a. n.a. n.a.
UK n.a. n.a. 6.44 6.38 5.91
EU pre 2004 1.31 1.64 0.85 1.11 1.35
EU Accession countries 1.99 4.79 4.91
Other Europe 0.59 0.50 0.68 0.50 0.57
United States 0.28 0.32 0.56 0.61 0.61
Other America 0.76 0.88 n.a. 0.43 0.63
Africa 1.55 2.34 0.69 1.20 1.09
Asia 3.06 4.61 0.73 1.75 2.00
Other Countries 0.38 0.33 0.42 0.18 0.20
Total Non-Ireland
For info:
Enumerated Population (‘000) 52,042 56,076 3,858 4,525 4,690


As one would expect, the effect of immigration from the new EU countries on Irish employment was much greater than on total population size; it comprised 8 per cent of total Irish employment in the first quarter of 2008. Although, the employment impact was smaller in the UK it became politically more important. UK unemployment in 2000-5 had averaged around 5 per cent lower than at any time since the 1970s, but by the time of the election in 2010, it had risen to about 8 per cent, and both parties now saw immigration as contributing to the employment problem. Although there was still more immigration from outside the EU than from countries within it, the former was falling and the latter was growing, and concerns about employment contributed to support for Brexit.

Given that both the demographic and economic impact of immigration from elsewhere in the EU were so much greater in Ireland than in the UK, I find it surprising that there have been no equivalent political consequences. Part of the explanation may be the more conspicuous economic benefits that EU membership has brought to Ireland, but UK economists were nearly unanimous in opposing Brexit, so economics alone cannot explain the difference between the two countries. David Goodhart’s recent analysis of British ‑ or, more strictly, English ‑ society in his book The Road to Somewhere: The New Tribes Shaping British Politics (Penguin, 2017) suggests that the favourable response to populist calls for Brexit reflected a hostility to immigration that was one of several indicators of a growing cultural divide. I return to his suggestion below. Even without any apparent Irish equivalent, British experience prompts speculation, in which I indulge in the closing section of this essay, as to whether some similar populist movement might emerge in the future in Ireland.

Although immigration and emigration have been features of life in Britain for centuries, immigration first became a serious political issue in the 1950s. This was a period with an extremely high level of employment ‑ in most years the average rate of unemployment was less than 2 per cent ‑ and public services in particular had difficulties in filling positions. There were no legal obstacles to immigration from Commonwealth countries, and public sector organisations such as London Transport and the National Health Service recruited workers and trainees from the Caribbean. There was also significant immigration from South Asia, especially India. The non-white composition of the new immigration aroused some hostility, especially after the London district of Notting Hill had experienced a week of racial rioting in the summer of 1958. Information on the purpose and the expected duration of stay of air passengers into and out of the UK were not collected until 1961, so nobody knew how many immigrants there were and it was easy to exaggerate their numbers. Later census data showed that the annual numbers were not very large, and the UK was almost certainly a country of net emigration, but arriving immigrants tend to go first to places where they have relatives or friends, so the very uneven geographic spread of migrants may also have suggested that the overall numbers were much larger than it actually was. Increasing political calls to limit immigration, principally from the right wing of the Conservative Party (which was also calling for a slower rate of decolonisation in Africa) led eventually to the 1962 Commonwealth Immigrants Act. New long-term immigrants were to be required to have employment vouchers, whose numbers would be limited, or to be a dependent of an already settled or new legal immigrant.

The 1964 general election in Britain was the first to feature immigration in party manifestos, where it was linked to issues of race relations and non-discrimination rather than to unemployment, which was still very low: it reached 4 per cent for the first time since 1945 only in 1971. There were some references to overcrowding and to strain on public services, but Britain remained a country of net emigration. Although the Labour Party had opposed the 1962 Act, on coming to power in 1964 it became increasingly aware of growing public hostility to immigrants, and also that there were many overseas communities, such as Asians in East Africa, whose members were entitled to unrestricted settlement in the UK. In April 1968, Enoch Powell, a former Conservative minister, made a speech (the so-called “Rivers of Blood” speech) in which he claimed that immigration was causing the nation to build up its own funeral pyre. Although Powell was dismissed from the Shadow Cabinet, the speech had a major political impact. An act of 1968 restricted entry rights for those who were citizens of the UK and colonies but whose parents or grandparents were not born in, nor citizens of, the UK.

Subsequently it was the Conservative Party rather than Labour whose manifestos stressed the need for further restrictions on immigration. In 1970 it won the general election with a manifesto that promised that there would be no large-scale permanent immigration, and in office it passed the 1971 Immigration Act which narrowed eligibility for the right to reside in

the UK, and replaced employment vouchers with temporary work permits. Assistance was to be available to immigrants from Commonwealth countries who wished to return to their countries of origin. Mrs Thatcher’s government won election in 1979 with promises of further restrictions on the immigration of dependents. The 1981 British Nationality Act removed the automatic right of abode from all those born in the UK; this was now confined to the children of British citizens or permanent residents.

Mrs Thatcher’s government is often given credit for pushing the concept of the single market, which EU policy-makers regard as irrevocably implying the free movement of labour. Nobody seems to have thought there was any inconsistency between the trade and the immigration policies of the Conservative Party. Although unemployment rose rapidly in the early 1980s, immigration continued to be seen as a racial rather than an employment issue. The Conservative Party stressed the need for control, Labour the need for improved race relations. In its next two election manifestos (1987 and 1992), the victorious Conservative Party devoted much more space to immigration issues than did Labour. In 1987, both parties used the phrase “firm but fair”. The 1992 manifestos both make reference to the problem of distinguishing genuine refugees from bogus asylum-seekers, and the issue has continued to feature strongly in subsequent manifestos of both parties. The focus remained on immigration from outside the EU, and 2002 decision to permit immigration from the new EU member countries on the same terms as from existing members aroused little controversy. In 2005, the Conservative Party accused the Labour government, which had been in power since 1997, of having “lost effective control of our borders”. The Labour Party manifesto noted what it was already doing to improve the quality and speed of immigration and asylum decisions, and promised to do more. Only workers with needed skills would be allowed to immigrate, and fines would be introduced for employers who employed illegal immigrants.

When, in 2008, Britain encountered the financial and economic crisis and suffered corresponding fiscal problems, immigration was seen as a major contributor not only to rising unemployment but also to the difficulties of financing public welfare benefits and to longer than planned waiting lists in the National Health Service, even though most analysts noted that since immigrants were predominantly young workers they paid on average more in taxes than they received in services. In the 2010 election, the victorious Conservative Party promised to reduce immigration to tens of thousands a year, not hundreds of thousands. Immigration from outside the EU did in fact fall, though by nowhere near enough to fulfil the pledge, but the number of migrants from the EU continued to increase. Total EU migration to England and Wales in 2015 was 269,000, which was roughly half of all immigrants, exclusive of returning British citizens. The Conservative manifesto of 2015 proposed to reverse the recent increase by curtailing where possible eligibility for welfare benefits for non-British EU citizens. These and other changes to be negotiated with the EU would be subjected to a referendum on continued membership of the EU. This manifesto also proposed a number of measures intended to reduce abuses associated with student visas and to deliver swifter and surer deportation of immigrants living illegally in the UK.

To sum up, while immigration was treated at growing length in successive manifestos, almost all the expressed concern until recently was with immigrants from outside the EU. From the outset in the 1960s immigration was seen as an issue affecting race relations rather than in relation to its economic impact. It is plausible that when the average British voter hears the word “immigration” he continues to think first about immigration from outside the EU, and that many Leave voters, hearing pro-Brexit politicians claim that Brexit would “take back control of our borders” were thinking of non-HTMLEU immigration, even though policies here would be unaffected by Brexit.

The tribes in the subtitle of Goodhart’s The Road to Somewhere are the Anywhere tribe, comprising 20-25 per cent of the population and the Somewhere tribe, who are roughly half the population. Anywheres are typically better educated, usually by a residential university, at which began a process of mental, and frequently physical, detachment from their geographic roots. On graduation their choice of career was independent of these roots, and, if not originally from London or elsewhere in southeast England, they tended to move there. Most have travelled widely, at least to continental Europe on holiday and frequently further afield, and some have worked abroad. Although most would define themselves as British, rather than as European or world citizens, national and subnational identities are relatively unimportant to them, and they are comfortable with current levels of immigration. Indeed, a subset of the Anywhere tribe, estimated at about 5 per cent of the population, is comprised of “global villagers”, who form judgments about public policy issues from a global rather than a national perspective. Having started off with educational advantages, Anywheres have been able to capitalise on the meritocratic elements in British society, and have enjoyed the fruits of British economic progress. Tolerant and affluent, they readily accept change, and do not attach any particular weight to tradition. Their policy perspective is egalitarian and their social views are normally liberal, considering questions of family life and sexual behaviour to be private matters. Overwhelmingly they voted to remain in the EU.

In contrast, Goodhart suggests that about half the British population belongs to the Somewhere tribe. Its members usually live close to their geographic roots ‑ Goodhart cites a finding that about 60 per cent of the British population still live within twenty miles of where they lived when they were fourteen ‑ and identify with them. They have maintained local attachments and attach a great deal of weight to national and local traditions. Their foreign travel has been mostly confined to the beaches of Southern Europe. They are much less likely to be university graduates than Anywheres, especially the older cohorts, and in a society which emphasises achievement, and in which third-level education becomes increasingly a social norm, many have become conscious of a loss of status. They believe that Anywheres regard them with some contempt. Their social attitudes are conservative, and although there are generational differences a resistance to social liberalism can be found in younger as well as older cohorts. They are mistrustful of immigrants. Most Somewheres voted to leave the EU.

Goodhart suggests that 5-7 per cent of the British population are what he describes as “real bigots”; this group he calls “Hard Authoritarians”. Although populist tendencies have been less pronounced than in several countries of Western Europe and in the US, in the local elections of 2013, the European Parliament election of 2014, and the general election of 2015-15, the UK Independence Party (UKIP) showed itself to have the most working class electoral base in the UK. The number of working class Labour voters (as defined by the Registrar General’s occupational categories) roughly halved between 1997 and 2010, and was for the first time narrowly outstripped by the number of middle class Labour voters.

Goodhart says very little about the 25 per cent of the population that he calls “Inbetweeners”, who for the most part voted Remain. His book is also unclear about the relationships between the tribal divide and other ways of classifying the population, such as the occupational classifications originally associated with the Registrar General, and the generational divide which was also clearly very evident in the Brexit referendum. Goodhart suggests that Anywheres are in the top quartile of incomes, but if they are, as he claims, a quarter of the population this would imply a close correlation between current income and membership of the Anywhere tribe. Income is the key to US class distinctions, where about 60 per cent of the population defines itself as middle or upper middle class, but not in the UK, where in the British social attitudes survey of 2015 about the same proportion classified itself as “working class”. This survey is the source for many of Goodhart’s observations, and we compare its findings with its Irish equivalent below.

However closely Goodhart’s divide may be correlated with incomes or with other measures of class distinctions, what he is highlighting are cultural differences. Great Britain (though not Northern Ireland) had, until the Brexit referendum, managed to prevent the social issues that had proved politically divisive in many other countries from contaminating party politics. From the abolition of capital punishment in 1965, through the decriminalisation of homosexuality, the reform of abortion and divorce laws, to the institution of gay marriage, the required legislation was carried out by free parliamentary votes. Of course there were differences of views on these issues, and it is likely that they were correlated with “left versus right” opinions about, say, the appropriate level of taxation or the best way to finance pensions, manage the economy or the health service, or intervene in industrial affairs. But through free parliamentary votes in what is a largely secular country, without a written constitution or a tradition of referendums, Britain has managed to avoid what became known, especially in the United States, as the “culture wars”. Ireland, however, has been unable to avoid its own culture wars, since social liberalisation has required a series of constitutional referendums. But ‑ rather surprisingly in the light of the failure of Northern Ireland to overcome communal tensions ‑the Irish Republic demonstrated a remarkable degree of social and political cohesion both in its acceptance of the austerity imposed by the economic crisis and by the surprisingly large margins in support of gay marriage and of removing the constitutional prohibition on abortion.

Immigration has almost never been a significant item on the Irish political agenda. Various small-scale political attempts to run on anti-immigration platforms in the 1990s ended in failure. An exception was a 2004 Referendum which overwhelmingly abolished the automatic right of citizenship for every baby born in Ireland. There have also been questions with respect to the treatment of asylum seekers, and the uses and abuses of student visas, but none with respect to EU migrants. In a Behaviour and Attitudes Survey conducted on behalf of The Sunday Times in January 2018, only 1 per cent of Irish voters identified immigration as an item of issue or concern that would most influence their vote in a general election.

This is remarkable given that the extremely rapid rate of immigration in 2004-8 was followed by the financial crisis and economic recession, which affected Ireland much more seriously than the UK. Seasonally adjusted monthly unemployment data (for both sexes aged 15-74) rose from less than 5 per cent in 2006 and most of 2007, to a peak of 16 per cent in 2012. At that time the unemployment rate for males aged 15-24 was 39 per cent. For comparison, the peak in seasonally adjusted quarterly unemployment in the UK, reached in 2011, was 8 per cent. The number of those aged fifteen and over employed in Ireland fell by almost 17 per cent between the last quarter of 2007 and the first quarter of 2012; the comparable UK figure was less than 4 per cent.

The employment of immigrants fell more sharply as a consequence of crisis than employment as a whole – 20 per cent as compared with 10%. In construction, where immigrants had been disproportionately employed, total employment fell by about two-thirds and immigrant employment by more than 80 per cent. While this may have reflected deliberate discrimination against immigrants, it might simply have reflected the application of the principle “last hired, first fired”.

Why have immigrants to Ireland not become the political scapegoat for economic problems that they have in the UK? One possible explanation is that international migration has so long been a major feature of Irish life, with emigration facilitated by the very extensive Irish diaspora, that many Irish people consider freedom of international movement to be a human right. In this case, one would have expected Irish attitudes to immigration to be very different from those in the UK. The differences, however, turn out to be surprisingly small. The European Social Survey 2016 asks the same questions in eighteen countries, mostly in the EU but also including Iceland, Israel, Norway and the Russian Federation. Table 5 compares UK and Irish opinions about possible immigration policies and the response to questions about immigration, the future of the EU, and national and European feelings with the European average. The responses of are out of a maximum of 1100; the higher the score, the more favourable is the national average towards immigration and European integration. In view of the Brexit vote, it is a surprise that the British appear to be more accepting of immigrants of a different ethnicity than the Irish or the average European. It is notable that both countries have the same attitudes to the economic value of immigration, which are much more positive than the European average, and that the Irish more strongly appreciate the cultural benefits that immigration brings and its effect on the quality of life.

Unsurprisingly, the Irish are more positive than the British about further moves toward European unification and value the European Parliament more highly than either the British or the European average. The Irish also feel stronger attachments both to their nations and to Europe, a major source of the English tribal divisions observed by Goodhart. This made a major contribution to the political and social cohesion of the Irish Republic in the face of the economic crisis, which was remarkable given that its major
parties had been formed from opposing sides in a civil war.
Table 4: Comparison of British and Irish Attitudes to Immigration
United Kingdom Ireland “European Average”
Allow immigrants of same race/ethnic group as majority
Allow many to come and live here 17 20 26
Allow some 56 48 47
Allow a few 21 23 21
Allow none 6 9 7
Allow immigrants of different race/ethnic group from majority
Allow many to come and live here 14 15 14
Allow some 52 42 41
Allow a few 27 32 31
Allow none 8 12 14
Is immigration bad or good for country’s economy? 667 671 611
Does immigration undermine or enrich cultural life? 666 699 648
Does immigration makes your country a better or worse place to live 642 696 604
Should European unification go further or has it already gone too far? 519 567 581
How much do you personally trust the European Parliament? 455 587 523
How emotionally attached do you feel to your country? 807 873 875
How emotionally attached do you feel to Europe? 551 603 633


The Irish political system might be thought to lend itself very readily to populism. Its transferable vote system in multi-member constituencies almost inevitably produces a government relying on support from small parties and/or independents. Some of these independents can exact a high price for a single issue of particular concern. The system encourages individual politicians to respond quickly to changes in popular feeling, especially since at the next election she may find herself competing for votes with a member of the same party, so it is easy to visualise a single-issue populist movement forcing major changes to government policy. Moreover referendums favour single-issue politics, and these are a well-established part of the Irish political process.

If a populist movement were to gain electoral traction in Ireland it is unlikely that it would focus on immigration; if this were a possibility, it would have done so during the recent economic crisis. Net migration from accession countries into the richer countries of Northern and Western Europe can be expected to slow gradually. In the first place, the income gap between the recent accession countries and the older EU countries is already shrinking, as international trade theory predicts that it should. Secondly, since fertility is well below replacement in all the accession countries (as in Europe as a whole) and in several population decline is already in process, the pool of potential emigrants will shrink.

For the EU as a whole, of course, immigration, whether of refugees from conflict, escapees from abusive families or simply migrants in search of a better economic life, will continue to be a major political issue. An aging and potentially declining population ought in theory to welcome immigrants, but if EU citizens continue to be able to move freely within the EU then there has to be an EU-wide agreement, at least informally, on how many new citizens can be created. This seems remote at the moment. Table 5 above supports the view that Ireland is among the more liberal EU members on non-EU immigration, and is unlikely to have any political problem with a requirement that EU members eventually accept their collective obligations towards potential immigrants.

At present, it also seems highly unlikely that an Irish populist movement would adopt an anti-EU stance. It is true that in February 2018, a Eurosceptic group in the European Parliament (Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy) headed by Nigel Farage, organised a conference in Dublin entitled “Irexit: Freedom to Prosper”. The group, however, has no Irish members, and it is probable that without the presence of Farage, the conference would have received little press attention. Polls show little, and continually declining, support for the view that Ireland should follow the UK out of the EU. It is easy to see why. Every motorist appreciates the use of structural funds to improve the road network, and the massive contribution of EU funding to agricultural prosperity is widely acknowledged. Voters who read the business news will be aware that for decades the centrepiece of Irish economic strategy has been to encourage foreign multinational firms to choose Ireland as a manufacturing base for sales to the EU’s single market and this has been highly successful; exports to the non-UK parts of the EU have been the driving force in economic growth. Membership of the euro zone assures such firms that their competitiveness in most of the EU will not suddenly become eroded by unfavourable movements in the exchange rate. Ireland now has a large manufacturing sector, heavily dependent not only on foreign markets but also on lengthy international supply chains. The disruption to the Irish economy of leaving the euro zone and single market would be too large even to imagine.

As with immigration, if there were a serious Irish challenge to continued EU membership it would have surfaced during the financial crisis and economic recession. While the crisis was primarily home-grown, the need for successive governments to adopt policies of austerity was increased by the refusal of creditor countries, especially Germany, to recognise the contribution of their own financial institutions, and the euro zone’s lack of an adequate financial and fiscal architecture. When international assistance was eventually required, it was the European members of the “troika” that pushed for the harshest conditions for their support. But this did not prevent Irish support for the EU reaching over 90 per cent in a recent poll.

Most current forecasts for the Irish economy are optimistic, but it has great vulnerabilities –Brexit, heavy dependence on a relatively few multinationals at a time when EU pressures to change the tax laws on multinationals and recent changes in US tax laws are likely to reduce the attractiveness of Ireland as a tax residence for US companies, and from what seems in June 2018 to be an incipient trade war which could do unpredictable collateral damage to all open economies. Ireland ceased to be a net recipient of EU funds in 2017, and can be expected to contribute more to the EU budget after Brexit. So future periods of budgetary austerity are very possible.

Just as a single market cannot yield its full economic benefits without a single currency, economic stability and growth require a common fiscal policy to compel adjustment in creditor as well as debtor countries and this requires greater economic integration. Since, at present, only President Macron is promoting this view, the current political tides are against it. If these change, however, EU Treaty Change will be needed, and for Ireland, this implies further referendums. The country has a history of rejecting such referenda when first proposed, and it is possible that an anti-EU populism could emerge at that point, and there is at least a theoretical danger Irish electorate could lose sight of Irish economic dependence on EU membership. Almost all serious pieces of economic analysis before the UK referendum also forecast that the economic costs of Brexit would be high, and these were dismissed by Michael Gove, a Brexiteer, on the grounds that Britons “had had enough of experts”.

A further period of economic difficulty could also spawn a populist movement from an entirely different direction. It is easy to scoff at the failed populist attempts to prevent the return of property taxes, or to be repelled by the current demagoguery to resist the installation of water meters, whose principal beneficiaries would be the occupants of multimillion-euro residences with swimming pools, but in California in 1978 a populist movement forced a referendum on “Proposition 13” which capped property taxes, and immensely and irreparably damaged the system of public education which was dependent on these taxes. Currently the elderly in Ireland now enjoy generous health and social welfare benefits at the expense of a working generation, many of whom are unable to afford a mortgage but face soaring rents, rely on a health service that cannot cut waiting lists, and cannot find satisfactory child care. The problem will get worse as the population ages. The position of the elderly can find political reinforcement in their greater propensity to vote, but younger voters played a significant role in the most recent referendum. Might a populist anti-tax movement find fertile ground in launching an intergenerational political conflict? After the Brexit referendum and the US presidential election of 2016, it is impossible to rule out any future political outcome, however remote it seems.




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