First Brexit, now Irexit as Derry man forms new anti-EU party

Michael O'Neill, owner of the Old Hack pub in Brussels, has barred Nigel Farage from his premises
Gary McDonald Business Editor, in Brussels

EUROPEAN Parliament president Antonio Tajani has been bigging up the Union this week as hundreds of millions of citizens prepare for European elections next May.

Despite the UK's pending departure, Tajani claims that for the first time, 48 per cent of European citizens believe that "their voice counts in the EU", which represents a 10 per cent increase over the last decade.

But he acknowledges that there are still pockets of dissent, and more work needs to be done to make Europe more effective by answering citizens' concerns.

Ironically some of the discord is now coming from arguably the Union's least Eurosceptic nation - Ireland.

For it has emerged that Derry man Hermann Kelly, a former journalist and now head of communications at the Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy group of MEPs in Brussels (a coalition of parties including UKIP and the Italian Five Star movement), is central to a new political party campaigning for Ireland to leave the EU.

The Irexit Freedom Party was launched in Dublin last month and says it will field candidates in next May's European election and in Ireland's next general election in 2021.

Kelly said: “Ireland now hands over €2.7 billion to the EU every year. This is about Irish people reclaiming Irish democracy for themselves, taking back control of their own money, their own laws and their own borders.

“We are planting a seed. As Charles De Gaulle said, ‘all long-term projects are long-term’, and hopefully this project is going to grow into something.”

But public support for an Irish exit from the EU is low, and Brexit has actually consolidated rather than undermined Ireland’s support for the Union, with support having risen by five percentage points since last year’s Eurobarometer survey.

It found that nearly two-thirds of Irish people (64 per cent) had a positive image of the EU, while 84 per cent were optimistic about its future.

Among those who've backed the Irexit party is former UKIP leader Nigel Farage.

Interestingly, the MEP is looking for a new watering hole in Brussels after being unceremoniously banned from the Irish-owned Old Hack pub in the shadow of the Berlaymont building.

Farage had been a regular in the Old Hack since winning his European seat, and even did media interviews from the pub.

But the relationship between Farage and the pub's Dublin-born landlord Michael O'Neill soured when pictures of UKIP members waving union jacks were Tweeted earlier this year.

O'Neill told the Irish News: "I'd kept telling Nigel and his friends that I didn't want their flags in my pub, and they were effectively giving me the fingers.

"Waving union jacks inside and outside an Irish pub simply wasn't a good look. It was rubbing my customers' noses in it and it impacted my business. My takings dropped by 10 per cent because many of my European Commission regular customers went elsewhere.

"So I made it clear to Nigel that he wasn't welcome any more, and thankfully since the word got out, business is picking up again.

"To be fair, Nigel took his ban philosophically and has since found another 'local' in Brussels. He understands that for me, business is business."

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