Brexit, Brussels and the Big Apple: Where to now for Ireland?

In the last few months, we’ve had Brexit as well as the EU ruling on Apple’s tax affairs, both of which pose serious questions for Ireland and its relationships with Europe and America.

This was the impetus for the latest Trinity Long Room Hub ‘Behind the Headlines’ public discussion series, entitled ‘Brexit, Brussels and the Big Apple’.

The audience first heard from Director of the Trinity Long Room Hub Professor Jane Ohlmeyer speak about why it’s important to step away from the headlines around these big issues and see what’s really at play. Events in recent months have put Ireland in a rather defensive position so a public forum such as ‘Behind the Headlines’ is important in helping us tease out our own narrative.

The first of the four speakers was Trinity Business School Adjunct Assistant Professor and broadcaster David McWilliams, with a talk entitled ‘Can the centre hold?’

He likened Ireland to a jockey trying to ride two horses – a European horse and an Anglo-American one. When they start to diverge, as they have now, is when the problems arise. Despite this, what’s going on in the UK, he commented, currently presents us with an amazing opportunity.

His suggestion for dealing with the huge discrepancy between what American multinationals pay in tax and what they ought to pay in tax is to create a sovereign wealth fund.

Mark Pigott Associate Professor in American History Daniel Geary approached the topic from the American perspective, reminding the audience that the real-life implications of low taxes are poor public services, wealth inequality and rising public debt.

Professor Geary looked back at the politics of taxation in the US during the Ronald Reagan era. The pressure that corporations brought to bear had stark results – the top rate of tax when Reagan entered power was 70%; when he left it was just 28%.

In addition, he added that we can expect the taxation issue to be a major one for the next US president and in American politics generally in the years to come.

Professor in German Mary Cosgrove used her own life experiences to highlight the multitude of practical advantages there are to being an EU citizen.

She also contradicted the speaker David McWilliams, who was of the opinion that Irish people do not have a lot in common with other Europeans. Professor Cosgrove counteracted that we can easily compare ourselves to our Swedish, German and Dutch counterparts in particular.

The final speaker, before the discussion was opened up to the floor, was Emeritus Professor of Economics John O’Hagan, who reflected on Ireland’s alternatives to EU membership.

He did this by looking at the example of Brexit and what can be learned from it. One of the key points to take away from it is that 30 years of widespread anti-EU rhetoric can’t simply be overturned in two months.

Furthermore, he added that the myth of national sovereignty in a globalised world is just that – a myth.

He concluded his remarks by refocusing the audience’s attention on the reason why Europe came together in the first place – to ensure that an event like World War II, where 40 million people died, would never happen again.

* The Trinity Long Room Hub is Trinity’s arts and humanities research institute. The ‘Behind the Headlines’ discussion series offers background analyses of current issues by experts drawing on the long-term perspectives of arts and humanities research. It aims to provide a forum that deepens understanding, combats simplification and polarization and thus creates space for informed and respectful public discourse. Previous public talks in the series were: Destination Europe: Reflections on the Refugee Crisis, The Embrace of Love: Being Gay in Ireland Now and After Charlie Hebdo: A Public Forum of Religion, Freedom and Human Rights