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The Flight of the Gaels-bookcover

By: Robert Whitford

The Flight of the Gaels

Pages: 168 Ratings: 5.0
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The people of Scotland and Northern Ireland voted in the 2016 referendum to remain in the European Union. It is generally assumed that, whilst the public in these two jurisdictions might not be happy with the Brexit outcome, they will get used to it and adapt to a life as former Europeans.


The Flight of the Gaels demonstrates that there could be a set of circumstances in which this assumption is proved to be wide of the mark. The story begins in the UK and Irish Permanent Representations in Brussels and winds its way via a political research project at Ulster University and political lobbying in the United States and Europe to the establishment of a new political grouping in Scotland and Ireland. A constitutional earthquake follows, with the potential to transform the politics of the British Isles.


When this potential is realised, the political landscape that emerges is one that few could have predicted when the Brexit saga began in 2016.

Robert Whitford is a retired civil servant who spent most of his career working on overseas health projects on behalf of the Northern Ireland government. In the course of this work, many interesting and amusing situations arose and these are recorded in his first book, Born in the USSR, published in 2018.

In the late 1980s, just before embarking on this international career, he took the decision to invest in a holiday property in Castelnaud-de-Gratecambe in South West France. It was a good decision as the apartment was an ideal place in which to chill out between difficult and challenging overseas missions. It has also been the location for many eventful holidays over the intervening years. Lighter moments from those years are captured in the author’s second book, That’s your Lot (& Garonne), published in February 2020.

Both books have been re-published on Amazon in 2021 along with the author’s third book, The Days of our Lives, which tells the full story of his life.

Throughout his career, Robert Whitford has had many and varied contacts with the institutions of the European Union. These have included: a short secondment to UKREP in Brussels, negotiations in the committees of the European Council leading to a special EU agricultural support programme for the Less Favoured Areas in Northern Ireland and the implementation of a number of international health development programmes under contracts with the European Commission. As a result of these contacts, the author has developed an understanding and appreciation of the European Union and the positive impact its institutions have had on many aspects of life at home and abroad.

Consequently, in common with most of his fellow-countrymen in Northern Ireland, he has been deeply affected by the outcome of the 2016 referendum and the resultant departure of the UK from the European Union. Developments since the referendum have provoked a line of thought that has resulted in the story of The Flight of the Gaels.


Customer Reviews
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  • Gordon Peters

    Much of the discussion over the break-up of the United Kingdom is about states going their separate ways, free of the Westminster yoke, and more pro-European in the case of Scotland, and Ireland unified and within the EU, with Wales still waiting in the wings. But what would happen if the public polling and referenda processes were now to give people in Scotland and Northern Ireland a choice of not just leaving or remaining in the UK but a third choice of joining a Scottish-Irish Federation, within the EU? And what would be the essential policy adjustments and guarantees of rights, and symbols such as flags, for the different communities which would have to be built into any negotiated settlement?

    These are questions that Robert Whitford addresses in The Flight of the Gaels. He goes further than the stock issues of winning the argument and timetabling which are now both extant and topical in public discourse in Northern Ireland and Scotland. This narrative plot spells out processes that would engage public interest – in the Irish Republic as well as in Northern Ireland and Scotland - across political divides and which would administer an accountable transition to the proposed outcome of a Gaelic Federation composed of a united Ireland and Scotland. In this scenario, the ‘UK’ is called the Kingdom of England and Wales. Although the status of Wales, and of the monarchy for Scotland and Northern Ireland are not discussed directly, the assessment and recording of public attitudes are accumulated by Delphi surveys. The latter is a series of questionnaires that allow experts to develop ideas about potential future developments around an issue, in relation to responses given by participants. Key public servants in Ireland, Northern Ireland, and Scotland convene and network through their own chains of accountability, with polling returns producing acceptable figures to proceed with moves and demands through political parties for a federation. Guaranteeing continuing responsibilities for pensions, and EU subsidy packages for re-entry in the case of both Northern Ireland and Scotland, are to be part of the project of the Gaelic Alliance which will drive the transition to the Gaelic Federation. This is played out between 2022 and 2025, with a change of government in the UK, amidst the death throes of Brexit.

    The putative result is a Federal Parliament, based in Stormont, Belfast, national parliaments in Dublin and Edinburgh, and an elected Federal president. Very few discussions, reports, or indeed invented narratives, combine both a clear vision of a political alternative to the United Kingdom for the islands of Britain and Ireland with a credible, well-worked-out process of how that could be put in place. The Flight of the Gaels does just that and should be very timely reading for any who now contemplates what a positive political future without the UK and still part of Europe could look like.

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