OU Students and faculty gathered in Farzaneh Hall on Monday for a guest lecture by Consul General of Ireland Adrian Farrell, “Implications of Brexit for Ireland.” Farrell, who is based in Austin, TX, also met with Governor Fallin and local business owners during his time in Oklahoma. The Consulate General of Ireland, Austin was established in 2015 to promote Irish-US relations throughout the southwestern United States. Farrell’s visit closely follows the first visit to Oklahoma by Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, who came in March to meet with members of the Choctaw Nation.
Farrell was invited and introduced by Prof. Mitchell Smith, College of International Studies Associate Dean of Academic Affairs and director of the European Union Center at OU. “Brexit,” the subject of Farrell’s talk, refers to the UK’s June 23, 2016 vote to leave to European Union, which they are set to depart on March 29, 2019. This directly impacts Ireland, as Northern Ireland is part of the UK and the Republic of Ireland to the south is independent, though the two share an open border and are economically integrated. In his introduction, Smith identified trade and economic issues and relations with Northern Ireland as the greatest challenges facing Ireland in the wake of Brexit.
Farrell’s talk further addressed these challenges and defined the official Irish position regarding Brexit. “If you leave with one message today, it’s this: our government has been very clear that Ireland will not be following Britain in leaving the European Union,” he asserted.
Farrell specifically addressed the concern that Brexit could jeopardize the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which was broached under the assumption that Ireland and the UK would both remain in the EU. The agreement established an open border, to which Farrell ascribed the growth of “trust, peace and prosperity” between the two countries. The danger of Brexit, he noted, lays in the potential for reverting to a hard border, which could harm people, trade and threaten peace. This is unlikely to happen, as the two countries are committed to maintaining their open relationship as much as possible. But negotiations continue.
Economically, Brexit is also concerning for Ireland, Farrell stated, because after decades of EU membership, Irish and British economies “are highly integrated and highly interdependent.” Fifteen percent of Irish exports go to the UK, he explained, and the percentage is higher in food and agricultural industries. Because Brexit will impact many small businesses, the Irish government is set to introduce a range of supports for those industries. Ireland’s PM also plans to expand and open new markets for international trade, Farrell said. “Ireland is a trading nation,” he explained. “We have to be, because our domestic market is so small.”
Throughout his lecture, Farrell spoke positively of Ireland’s commitment to the EU, of which it has been a member since 1973. “We believe fundamentally and strategically that our future lies with Europe,” he stated, explaining that membership in the EU has brought prosperity to the country. Ireland has become one of most globalized economies in the world, he said, adding, “For my generation, the EU has meant opportunity.” Farrell cited an example from his own life: during university, he was able to study in France through the EU’s Erasmus Programme. While the relationship between the EU and Ireland is not always perfect, he noted, currently 4 in 5 voters think that Ireland should stay a member. “Irish voters are clearly telling our government that they believe our future lies with the heart of Europe,” he said.
Following his talk, Farrell took questions about a range of issues, from Ireland as a destination for international students to the country’s health care system to whether Irish people were angry about the Brexit decision (to this he answered, diplomatically, that they showed “a lot of concern”). A student posed the final and most interesting question, asking whether Brexit had prompted greater political engagement among Ireland’s young people. Farrell responded that Ireland had indeed seen an increase in young people’s engagement, though not due to Brexit as much as the 2016 marriage equality referendum. The referendum passed, legalizing same-sex marriage in Ireland, and the issue played a role in the election of Varadkar, Ireland’s youngest ever and first openly gay Prime Minister.
Students who attended Farrell’s talk felt it provided an enlightening glimpse into a small country’s economy and politics. Brandy Venable, a junior International Studies major, was drawn to the subject due to her interest in the EU and her plan to study abroad in England next semester. “I felt like I learned a lot about Ireland and its political stance on Brexit,” she said. “I took Professor Smith’s EU class last semester, but it was nice to get that firsthand perspective on how the Irish feel about being a member state of the EU.” Of Smith’s EU class, she added, “Taking that class last semester — I love the EU now. I want to learn everything I can about it.”
Kes St. Clair, a senior Asian Studies and Business-Economics major (and global engagement fellow!) found the talk engaging as well. “I’ve never formally studied Europe, but while I lived abroad [in Japan] I had many friends from Europe. So most of what I know about the EU and Brexit comes from talking with other young people about it,” she said. “It was really interesting to hear the official stance. Consul Generals always have interesting takes because they’re trying to sell their country and also give an authentic representation. As an Economics major, it was also interesting hearing about the economic integration of the EU.”
CIS regularly hosts speakers on foreign policy, economics and other global issues. To learn about upcoming lectures, check our events calendar or follow us on social media!