Those who favor Brexit could only have been heartened by the World Affairs Council‘s programs earlier this year featuring Lord William Dartmouth and Nigel Farage, who both were active in undermining the United Kingdom‘s membership in the European Union.
The Nov. 7 program at the Commerce Club downtown featuring Daniel Mulhall, Ireland‘s ambassador to the United States, gave the pro-European Union globalists the chance to root for their side.
“We have been the greatest beneficiaries of globalization,” Mr. Mulhall said referring to his homeland. Before assuming his Washington post in September of this year, he served as Ireland’s ambassador to London from 2013-17.
He also cited poll numbers showing that 88 percent of the Irish people favor membership in the EU. And he spoke about how he felt that the Brexit vote toppled the relations between the U.K. and Ireland when they had reached their most positive state ever.
“We’d scaled this mountain of British-Irish relations and we’d reached the top. Then this Brexit comes about, and we don’t know where it is going to end. We don’t know what the future relationship will be like. We would like it to be as close as possible as it is today, but it won’t be the same. Nobody expects London to become a ghost town. It always will be a major capital but there are going to be opportunities for Ireland.
“We are getting 100 inquiries a day. A lot of companies are doing their due diligence and it’s an easy option for U.S. companies with the same time zone, a few hundred flights a week, all the laws are in English, a competent workforce and a fair tax system.”
He underscored there was no confusion where Ireland’s loyalties lie. “We are a proudly independent sovereign state and we are a member of the EU,” he said adding for good measure that “The only future for us and the wide world is the continued development of the global economy.”
Although a confirmed globalist, Mr. Mulhall isn’t diluting his national pride. Despite 70 percent of Ireland’s workforce coming from abroad and speaking 10-to-15 different languages the country has no political party “campaigning or trying to limit immigration.”
He acknowledged that Ireland’s openness to globalism is based on the positive effects that foreign investment, primarily from the United States, have had on the country as well as the benefits of free trade including a strong trading partnership with the U.K. and other countries.
But he also admitted that its economy is vulnerable when the global economy suffers as it did from 2010-13.
These days — after having undergone a rigorous government belt tightening — its economy is doing fine, he added, with an anticipated growth rate of 5 percent for this year, and the highest growth rate of any European country in the past four years.
When Ireland joined the European Union in 1973, he recalled it was the poorest country in the EU. Today, per capita income is “well above the European average.”
He pointed with pride to the country’s agricultural sector upon which the country used to be totally dependent and now is a global industry. Today, Ireland hosts the European headquarters of many of the U.S.’s largest, high-tech companies and benefits from the growth of its own domestic service sector.
Mr. Mulhall was adamant about his opposition to Brexit. “Personally I’d be happy,” if it could be withdrawn, he said, “But I personally wouldn’t be looking at the possibility of reversing it. I’m more concerned about making sure it ends in a sensible place.”
Once the U.K. is out of the EU, Ireland would be the only English-speaking country remaining inside the EU, a situation which would make it even more attractive for U.S. investment, he said.
“It can’t be a coincidence that 50 percent of U.S. investment in Europe is in Britain,” he also said, emphasizing the possibility that Ireland may benefit from the establishment of affiliates of London-based companies.
Yet he pointed to challenges confronting the separation, which will be preceded by intensive negotiations. For any agreement to be reached, he said, the U.K. will have to recognize “its available advantages and obligations. The more advantages you want to get, the more obligations you have to accept.”
“I do detect that there is a growing awareness of the complexity and the potential downside,” he added hoping for what he termed a “sensible outcome.”
“We may end up with the train arriving on a platform that makes sense from the point of view of the U.K., Ireland and the U.S.,” he said.
At the heart of the negotiations will be Ireland’s trading relationship with the U.K. which still accounts for one third of its imports and 40 percent of its exports.
“We want to minimize the downside, but the upside will be a deeper relationship with the U.S., he said.
Ireland’s relations with Northern Ireland also will be key, especially maintaining an open border between the two.
The greatest concern, he said, would be to have the border shut down to the free flow of people and goods. That border has essentially been open allowing free passage of people since 1923 and of goods since 1993.
Should the Brexit negotiations call for a closing of the border to the movement of people, its enforcement would be difficult given its 300-mile length and its many crossings.
As to the movement of goods across the border, the Brexit negotiations will have to determine if the U.K. remains in the EU’s customs union.
“We haven’t yet worked that out,” he said. “We still don’t know. They might decide to stay in the customs union. We’ll know next year and we favor a long transition period.”
What Sorts of Companies Does Ireland Want to Invest There?
Information technology, international services pharmaceutical, medical devices, financial technology, life sciences. “Those are the growth areas and we have a good pipeline from the U.S.”
What Sorts of Irish Companies Should Invest in Georgia?
The companies that are the strongest such as Oldcastle, the multinational manufacturer of building products and materials with its North American headquarters in Atlanta. Creameries that started as small local firms in Ireland and have become major multinational firms. Smaller Irish companies that export only to the U.K and need to expand their sights to include the U.S. And global start-ups, often branching off from the large multinationals based in Ireland such as the fintech software developer Stripe.
The Role of the Ambassador
Mr. Mulhall cited the German derivation for the word “ambassador,” which he said stands for messenger.
“In the early 1980s the ambassador never spoke outside of the Foreign Ministry,” he said.”When I was posted in India (early in his career), I never heard our ambassador give a public speech, but I give public speeches at least half a dozen times every week. I try to get the message out as many ways as I can, and I think that you should be able to talk on any subject dealing with Ireland.”
In keeping with his speaking schedule, Mr. Mulhall’s visit to Atlanta included a lecture titled “To Sweeten Ireland’s Wrong: W. B. Yeats in the 1890s” at Emory University, the luncheon’s World Affairs Council address, and a community breakfast hosted by the Irish Chamber of Atlanta.
He also attended Atlanta Clan na nGael GAA and the Irish Network Atlanta‘s celebration of the handover of land from Oldcastle to develop and operate its own recreational sports facilities to better serve the Gaelic games community in the Southeastern U.S. The organizations hope to partner in this project with local schools, and realize the long term aspiration of building a cultural center for people with a connection to, or interest in, Irish life.
Ireland’s New Prime Minister
Leo Varadkar. “He’s new, 38 years old, a member of the LGBT community, half Indian half Irish. Ireland is young and ambitious. His life is an Irish success story.”
Ireland’s Support of Emissions Controls
“We’ve never had smoke stack industries. We are a major location for data centers, which like our moderate climate. But the demand for power goes up all the time. Wind power will be very good for us.
Our greatest challenge is having “so many cows” and the methane gas that they emit.
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