Posted on Dec 01, 2018
Saturday 8th September saw the launch of a new political party in the Republic of Ireland, the somewhat clumsily named ‘Irexit: Freedom to Prosper’, with a mission to claim such space as may exist within the Irish political landscape for a UKIP style anti-EU party.
At the moment this may appear a hard sell, as recent polls suggest that the percentage of Irish voters who would support withdrawal from the EU is in single figures. Having said that, it is worth remembering that when UKIP embarked on their political journey only around 5% of the British electorate was interested in their message.
The Irish situation is very different from that of the UK, of course, not least in that the so-called “Celtic Tiger” phenomena of the 1990s - mid-2000s, during which the Republic witnessed unprecedented economic growth that matched even that of the Asian powerhouses of the day, was largely brought about by EU funding. Opinion is now divided as to the actual long term benefits of EU financial aid, but at the time many Irish citizens saw their lives much improved.
This period also saw a welcome end to the “Troubles”, which had blighted the lives of those on both sides of the Irish border for decades. To give political credit for the latter to the EU would be stretching things somewhat, but there can be no question that grinding poverty in the cities at the time fuelled the hatred and violence on both sides.
Irexit, we are told, plans to field candidates in next May’s European elections. The man seemingly behind the fledgling party, one Hermann Kelly, is not one known for his political acumen or experience, but primarily for the fact that he is currently the grandly named Director of Communications for the Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy (EFDD) political grouping in the European Parliament. In other words, he is Nigel Farage’s press officer in Brussels.
Farage has figured in the Irexit story since the very beginning: in fact he spoke at the organisation’s conference at the Royal Dublin Society in February of this year. Rather interestingly, it was reported in the Irish media at the time that Farage’s EFDD group had in fact organised the conference: the group would have access to European Parliament funding for such an event, at least if the paperwork is filled in correctly, which Farage’s political groups (he has a different one for each legislature) are highly adept at.
Why would a political group that has no Irish MEPs send its co-president, who holds a seat in a country that is just months away from leaving the EU, to talk to supporters of a party which, at that point, did not even formally exist?
The mere fact of Hermann Kelly’s involvement in this latest project is enough to raise eyebrows.
Within UKIP questions have been raised over his Irish Republican sympathies, and in particular his support for a united Ireland, something which would jar seriously with UKIP’s policy of maintaining a strong and independent union. Is Nigel Farage really throwing his support behind a man who would see Northern Ireland absorbed into the Irish Republic?
Kelly, a former editor of The Irish Catholic, a newspaper founded by Timothy Daniel Sullivan, who was convicted and jailed for crimes relating to his Republican activities, appears to demonstrate sympathies that may fall beyond the respectable norms of political discourse.
In May 2016 Britain’s Daily Mirror newspaper carried the headline “Nigel Farage's key aide in IRA outrage as he's revealed as hardline Irish Republican”, alongside a photograph taken by Mirror journalist Lee Harpin showing Kelly drinking in a bar on the doorstep of the European Parliament in company with a “10-strong party” of Irish Republicans singing provocative pro-IRA songs, one of which celebrated a bid to blow up officers of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC).
During the existence of the RUC, which was disbanded in 2001, 314 officers were killed, 277 of whom were murdered by self-identified Irish Republicans. More than 9,000 officers were injured.
Initially, Kelly claimed that he had been drinking with UKIP colleagues, but then changed his story, admitting he was sitting with the Republican group. One member of the group has been identified as a European Parliament staff member who works with MEPs from Sinn Fein, the political wing of the terrorist Provisional IRA.
The most prominent Sinn Fein MEP is Martina Anderson, a convicted terrorist.
Anderson was first arrested when she was 18 for causing an explosion in a furniture store in Londonderry, Hermann Kelly’s home town. She was subsequently convicted in 1986 for conspiring to cause explosions in England, serving 13 years in prison for IRA activities until she was released as a condition of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. She has never publicly apologised for her terrorist activities.
Kelly confirmed his republican beliefs to the Mirror, asking “What else do you expect from a man from Derry?”
Observers familiar with Kelly’s writing style did not have to wait long for his first gaffe as founder cum spokesman of the party: The Daily Express quoted him (04 Sept 2018) as decrying Ireland’s lack of influence in the European Parliament stating that “We are less than one percent of the EU population, less than one percent of votes in the European Parliament….” In fact, Ireland holds 1.46% of the seats in the EP. Still a relatively small number, but if such a basic fact is presented inaccurately in order to support an argument, one must question the credibility of the speaker.
At the September “launch” of the party two slightly better known figures were presented to the assembled delegates.
Ray Bassett, formerly Irish ambassador to Canada, Jamaica and the Bahamas, has suggested that Ireland could opt to remain with the UK in a customs and free trade area, while negotiating trade and investment terms with the remaining 26 European Union members. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, unsurprisingly, rejected the suggestion.
Bassett said that whilst he felt that there is room for an Irish Eurosceptic party, he himself would not be involved in it.
Ray Kinsella, Professor of Banking and Financial Services at the University of Ulster, believes that Ireland should opt out of EU battle groups in order to “preserve neutrality”, something that will sit nicely with the Kremlin, which takes a great interest in anything that undermines the EU, not least UKIP and many of the other members of the EFDD group.
Also present was the somewhat flamboyant Paddy Manning, a useful foil to the allegations of homophobia that have been levied against Kelly by at least one former British MEP. Manning is openly gay, although he is opposed to gay marriage, which fits with Irexit’s position as an advocate of “stable families for procreation”. Kelly himself is on record as having Tweeted "Same sex relations cannot generate children, they as adults must accept the consequence that they cannot marry”.
Manning, who describes himself as an “enemy of the state”, is a somewhat uninhibited blogger, and is responsible for sharing with the world such gems as “in a gay bathhouse a man in a towel is sexier than the finest man parading naked” (14 March 2017). He also felt it would be a good idea to reveal the fact that he “was arrested once for chatting up a big, burly member of the Vice squad…” (20 Nov 2013).
The conference clearly had great entertainment value, and whilst it was noted that there was a distinct absence of women speakers at the launch (Kelly explained that he couldn’t find any in time) it appeared to attract considerable numbers of of Donald Trump admirers. Indeed, Kelly himself explained to the Irish Times that he comes at politics from “a different perspective”, that he was “very much at home” with the economic nationalism espoused by former Trump strategist Steve Bannon.
The main question is, quite simply, what is the purpose of Irexit? Why is Farage involving himself in a project that appears haunted by the ghosts of the Troubles?
Is Irexit to be just another conduit for money from the EU, or indeed elsewhere, post-Brexit? As one observer noted on Irexit’s Facebook page “this smells awful Russian”.
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