It was a young business professional, near the Dublin offices of Facebook and Google, who, when being interviewed about Brexit’s potential impact on Ireland’s trade, employment, banking and consumer confidence, said: “You know, we’d almost forgotten how good it felt to stick it to the Brits.” He shrugged and grinned. “Old habits.”
This was a declaration of schadenfreude echoing down from a centuries-old resentment at the colonial master who came and stayed for 800 years.
Something similar is being uttered by officials, shopkeepers, academics, truckers, artists and students: the Irish government is right to insist on the backstop, and if that gives Britain’s ruling class an aneurysm, well, grab some popcorn and enjoy the spectacle.
A tendency to enjoy the neighbour’s discomfort had faded in recent decades. John Major and Tony Blair earned some respect for the Good Friday agreement. The Irish economy took off. There was a sense of a fresh start in Anglo-Irish relations.
In the centenary year of Ireland’s war of independence, Brexit seems to have turned the clock back.
But it hasn’t, not really. There is some relish at Westminster’s convulsions – the parliament of Oliver Cromwell reduced to Benny Hill. But the overwhelming emotion is worry that Britain will crash out of the EU without a deal, wreaking havoc on Ireland’s economy and destabilising Northern Ireland.
And there is also sadness. A once-valued diplomatic partner, a neighbour with whom Ireland shares myriad cultural commonalities, is turning away. Glee at Westminster dysfunction is, it seems, an attempt to extract solace from a sense that Britain doesn’t care about breaking Irish hearts.
“Brexit has damaged so many ways of doing business,” says Eunan O’Halpin, a history professor at Trinity College Dublin. “There is a sense that with the British unless it’s written down, you can’t trust anything they say.”