The British are back and they’re after your money

5th May 2000

There has been a discreet, almost embarrassed silence about the fact that the retail industry here is being taken over by the British. Nobody, apparently, wants to be labelled the backward nationalist that points this out.

Two of the biggest retail developments in this city over the past five years have been built almost exclusively for the British retail chains. The Jervis Centre (aka Little England) has not, if my eyes are to be believed, many Irish shop in it; while the Liffey Valley Centre is like a transplanted Oxford Street and is practically owned by the Duke of Westminster.

Other trends have seen the pharmacy trade here experience the dread hand of Boots even as Marks and Sparks infamously import their sandwiches from England.

Is this what Pearse and Connolly died for? Is it time to once again man the barricades and repulse the Saxon foe?

Well no, not really.

There’s very little we can do about the fact that we live next to England or that they outnumber us ten to one. It just means that they have a tremendous influence over us regardless of how infuriating or invigorating that might be.

Whether it’s trade, sport, TV, culture or general obsessions, the British are always going to influence us or overshadow us. That’s just a matter of scale.

And we’re not alone in this. The Canadians have the Americans; the Kiwis have the Aussies, the Austrians have the Germans, the Pakistanis have the Indians and so forth.

In each small entity a section of the population will rail against the pernicious influence of the greater entity, while another section will fall on their knees to embrace their superiors. The big section in the middle will just watch the movie and let the argument wash over them.

But despite the fact that we like the choice and enhanced standard of living that free trade and open markets bring us, we are nervous of the loss of Irish trading names like Harry Moore or Quinnsworth (even if the latter was British-owned).

In fact, there is a much bigger argument going on here. You may have noticed the huge demonstrations and riots at the trade summit in Seattle and the more recent trouble in Washington during the meetings of the IMF and the World Bank.

The argument is about Globalisation and what effect it will have on the world’s trade, standards of living, disparity in wealth and the environment. It might seem a little far away from Dublin but it is actually crucial to us.

Our relationship with the British gives us an insight into the way globalisation might work for the Third World. Basically, the First World’s corporate entities will re-colonise the poor countries.

Is this really a bad thing? For us, the new arrival of the British has meant that they are after our money while their headquarters are still in London.

Ok. But their arrival has also had positive benefits such as price competition, enhanced customer service culture, jobs for Irish workers and increased choice. Irish companies have responded and the standards have risen.

And also, these companies have little more loyalty to Britain than they have to Ireland. Their shares are as likely to be controlled in Frankfurt, New York or Hong Kong as they are in London.

So forget about the British. The coming struggle will have no nationality – it will be between the world’s rich and poor.