Monday, 30 April 2018

The Irish Question

I do remember something about The Irish Question (which never seemed to have an answer) from my early history lessons: names like Parnell and de Valera, plus various versions of home rule, lurk somewhere in my mind. And then of course there were the troubles – I believe the question was then answered by The Good Friday Agreement, but that answer was wrong apparently because Northern Ireland cannot form a government and so the answer is Direct Rule from London.

Actually, the ‘Irish question’, posed here is simpler. It is whether or not to fly Ryanair! Of course, according to the boss of this much maligned company that choice will not be on offer post Brexit since he plans to take his aeroplanes elsewhere, but nevertheless we have recently had to make a choice. We needed to fly to Dublin in Ireland, then on to Reus in Spain and then back to England.  Fortunately my wife did the bookings since I am suffering from repetitive strain injury following the mammoth task of obtaining flights and visas for our far eastern trip to India, etc earlier in the year.

The question is actually quite, simple though manifold: do you want to be restricted to cabin baggage which roughly equates to a small lunch box and baggage space in the hold for a bag which weighs  less than pair of good walking boots and fits in a receptacle smaller than most suitcases? Are you happy with waving to your travelling companion in seats that are at each end of the aircraft?  Do you mind being shouted at during boarding as if you are a recalcitrant school child? Are you happy that during the flight that there is certainly no free alcohol and probably none at any price? Are you happy walking in the open air to the plane carrying your (admittedly light) luggage during the incessant bouts of rain that descend upon Ireland? If your answer is YES to each of these questions then you are a man for Ryanair my friend.  Put it another way. If you are willing to pay quite a lot more to avoid all of these petty restrictions and irritations then you have the choice of many different airlines. We chose Ryanair again of course.

In fairness the two flights so far have not been that bad. On one of them I managed to sit next to my wife after a serious bout of seat swapping and we were allowed to take our bottle of water on board which was kind. Also we had two interesting experiences. First, a first for us, our air host/ess was a man with hairy arms and shaven legs dressed as a woman – and the service he gave was well up to Ryanair standards, if not higher. Second, we had a deportee aboard. A policeman entered the plane soon after the Spanish landing in search of this deportee and a police van waited to transport him or her to jail. We suspected that it was the old lady with the stick who sat in front of us who seemed unwilling to leave the aircraft. Meanwhile, given freedom of movement, we cannot figure out how or why a person can be deported from one EU country to another. Has Brexit come early?

Back to the big question. Brexit has certainly placed the island of Ireland centre stage with all four parties (Eire, UK, EU and DUP) seemingly demanding the same thing: a soft border. So what’s the problem? The Swiss seem to manage this OK, yet they are a jewel set in the EU’s firmament. But of course they do not have serious issues like the demands for a united Ireland, the right of the Northern Ireland majority to remain part of the UK, the need for the EU to punish the UK for leaving, retention of protectionist trading, and deep underlying social and religious divisions. In my recent visit to Dublin I did not discuss this with anyone – possibly because I spent most of the time alone at the bottom of my son’s long garden building a concrete block shed. Best place perhaps in interesting times.