Ireland's Multi-interface Periphery Development Model

Potentially at Greatest Risk from Brexit

David Begg15/06/2017

Theresa May’s election failure and Corbyn’s unexpected success have undermined the case for a hard Brexit. Her gamble to increase her majority in Parliament and thereby reduce her dependence on the extreme Eurosceptics did not pay off.  A hard Brexit takes no account of the 48% of Britons who voted to stay in Europe, many of them passionate Europeans.  It puts immigration above the future of a prosperous Britain and would take that country out of the customs union, the Single Market and the ECJ.

Like her predecessor, with the Brexit referendum, this crisis is of her own making.  And it is a crisis because the narrative about Britain being free to restore its position as a global trading power is nonsense.  It is more likely to mean the country becoming a low tax, low wage, free market entity which will make it more difficult to keep up the public goods, like the NHS, that British people rightly value.

It was very obvious at the G7 meeting recently that, on key issues, Britain increasingly has more in common with Europe than with the US.  To be blunt, the effort to maintain a special relationship with Donald Trump is positively embarrassing.  So much so that, because of his rant against the Mayor of London after the terror attack, it is almost impossible to allow his visit to Britain to go ahead.

On the Newsnight programme on 7 June, there was a very interesting and quite objective biographical feature on the Prime Minister presented by the journalist and one-time Tory politician, Matthew Parris.  In it, Sir Eric Pickles, former communities Minister, was asked about Theresa May’s strengths and weaknesses.  He inadvertently said something that was quite crushing: she cannot negotiate.  According to him she is the kind of personality who sees everything in binary terms.  In other words, she cannot horse trade.  It does not augur well for the Brexit talks.  Her election mantra, ‘no deal is better than a bad dead’, could become a self-fulfilling prophesy.

As all shades of opinion here now agree, this would be the worst kind of hard Brexit and the worst possible outcome for Ireland.

In 2010 Professor Joseph Ruane coined the phrase ‘multi-interface periphery development model [1]’ to describe Ireland’s foreign policy.  During the period of our history up to the 1950s, when Britain was the regional hegemon, Ireland could be described as a simple periphery.  The concept of peripherality, as understood in the 1970s and 1980s, implied that there was a single primary core and the relationship was one of distance and dependence.  With Ireland’s entry to the EEC in 1974 and the increasing presence of American multinationals, we entered into a different kind of peripheral relationship.

According to Ruane, the crucial difference was that, while the relationship with each power – the US, the UK and the EU – was an unequal one, there was a process of balancing each against the other and using each one to extract resources from the other.  Membership of the EU was used to bid for US foreign direct investment (FDI); the US was used as a counter to British power in negotiations against Northern Ireland; membership of the EU was a counter to the fear that Ireland might lose itself in an Anglo-American world; and Ireland’s ‘central’ position in the North Atlantic world meant that it was not simply a peripheral part of Europe.  The term multi-interface periphery (MIP) was intended to describe this new situation.  MIP can describe a development model as well as a territory.  As a development model it is a strategy of opening up to several cores at once to draw benefits from each while preserving its independence of all of them.

While it is often claimed that Ireland is a highly globalised economy, this is not really true.  For the most part trade and investment is focused on Britain, the US and the EU.  Moreover, the peculiarities of our trading relationship means that our economy cycles out of phase with that of the EU as a whole.  Thus, for example, ECB monetary policy may from time to time be unsuitable for Ireland.

The outcome of the British general election arguably increases the risks inherent in Brexit in terms of how it will affect us.   To date these risks have been conceptualised in terms of the effects on the indigenous sector, particularly food production, if trade with Britain is impeded by tariff and physical borders.  But in the context of increasing American isolationism coinciding with the real possibility of a failure to agree on a Brexit deal, there is clearly much more at stake when these matters are viewed through the lens of a multi-interface periphery development model.


[1] Ruane, Joseph ‘Irelands Multiple Interface – Periphery Development Model: Achievements and Limits in Michael Boss (Ed)  The Nation State in Transformation: Economic globalisation, Institutional Mediation and Political Values.   Denmark:  Aarhus University Press (2010)

Posted in: BrexitEurope

Tagged with: brexitglobalisationtradeTheresa MayG7Multi-interface periphery development model

Dr David Begg

David Begg

David Begg is a former CEO of Concern Worldwide and was General Secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions between 2001 and 2015.

He has also been a director of the Central Bank (1995-2010), a governor of the Irish Times Trust, Non-Executive Director of Aer Lingus, a member of the National Economic and Social Council (NESC), and of the Advisory Board of Development Co-operation Ireland.

Begg holds a master’s degree in international relations from DCU and a PhD in sociology from Maynooth University.

He is a former director of TASC.


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