It goes without saying that our relationship with Britain is a complex one. Our historic role has been that of antagonistic former colony, happy to lay blame for our problems whilst harbouring a slight inferiority complex. We over-relied on the UK economically and, in many ways, culturally. This extended to our advertising industry who would complain about accounts being centralised to London but who had a poor record of indigenous agency start-ups and were often happy to be bought out by multinational ad groups based in London.
It is easy to misunderstand how far we have come from those dark days. If I was to have one observation about the leadership in Westminster (at the time of writing it was Boris Johnson!), it is that they are still framing our relationship through a lens that points to this past.
In the last 25 years, Ireland has gone from a predominantly Catholic-influenced, conservative society with draconian legislation around reproductive rights, homosexuality and divorce to a mostly pluralist democracy that voted overwhelmingly in public referenda for abortion, marriage equality and the liberalisation of divorce laws. As the rest of the world seems to drift towards populism and the right, we have moved inexorably towards liberalism.
Brexiters like Sir Digby Jones view Ireland as economically weak and dependent, and spout that ‘90% of Irish exports go to the UK’
whereas, in reality, that figure is around 11%
. The UK actually runs a large trade surplus with Ireland. Our average salaries are higher than in the UK, our economic growth and our participation in third-level education all outstrip those of our neighbours on the other side of the Irish sea.
If I was to describe the most prominent emotions around our view of the Brexit debacle it would ‘confusion’ and ‘sadness’. Ireland made a strategic decision 30 years ago to reduce its reliance on the UK, to adopt a globalist strategy and to wholeheartedly embrace the European Project and this decision has paid us enormous dividends. We find it difficult to understand how the original progressive, globalist, democratic nation could so suddenly and dramatically turn inward and reject some of the key tenets of its success; an open society, social mobility and political tolerance.
Are we worried? In the short term, yes. The threat to our economic stability, the effect on the world economy and, most importantly, the shadow that it casts on our political and security situation: We are being intransigent on the backstop issue because it is for us – quite literally - a matter of life and death. Do we see opportunity? Some. If an advertiser is looking for an English speaking agency operating in the largest trading block in the world, Dublin will be the last city standing.
That being said, we take little pleasure in the UK’s misfortune. We know how difficult it is for a country to leave an historic alliance. It’s 100 years since we left ours. And if it is of any comfort we can reassure you, the first 70 years are the worst
Jimmy Murphy is president of The Institute of Advertising Practitioners in Ireland and director at Publicis Dublin.