Plaid Cymru leader sees Ireland as a template for an independent Wales

Ireland is a nation that has been able to map out its own destiny, says pro-independence Welsh party leader

Plaid Cymru leader Rhun ap Iorwerth represents the constituency of Ynys Môn (the island of Anglesea), the closest point between Ireland and Wales.

For millions of Irish emigrants the port of Holyhead was their first introduction to Britain. In recent decades, the turnaround in the Irish economy has provided Welsh nationalists with a template for what they believe an independent Wales might look like.

“I see the possibilities evidenced through what we are seeing in Ireland,” says Mr ap Iorwerth (51), a former BBC political journalist who became Plaid Cymru leader last May.

“Do we see difficulties in Ireland of young people not being able to have a home in Dublin and saying that’s what we want? Yes, but every country has its challenges.


“What I see is a nation that has been able to map out its own destiny, to make its own mistakes and try to learn from them.”

Current opinion polls show support for Welsh independence in Wales hovering at about 30 per cent, with those in favour of the status quo outnumbering those in favour of change by two to one.

Yet, just 12 per cent of Welsh people supported independence a decade ago. The trajectory is upwards, says Mr ap Iorwerth, with a majority of those in the 18-34 age bracket in favour of independence.

“It has been exhilarating in recent years to see us going from single figures to get to a point where it is over 25 per cent in every poll and regularly over 30 per cent,” he says. “We are not far off from where Scotland were when they really began the move towards an independence referendum in 2014. I look at those figures very much as a positive.”

Mr ap Iorwerth this week made his first visit to Ireland as party leader. He took over from Adam Price, who resigned over a damning report which found the party did not deal with a toxic internal culture of sexual harassment and bullying.

The travails of Plaid Cymru were mirrored in Scotland where the Scottish National Party was embroiled in political scandals of its own which saw Nicola Sturgeon resign as first minister.

The cause of independence is bigger than any political party, Mr ap Iorwerth says, as neither opinion polls on the issue of independence in Scotland or Wales have changed appreciably despite the difficulties of both parties.

People in Wales voted narrowly for Brexit (52 per cent to 48 per cent). Leaving the European Union has seen a 30 per cent decline in traffic through Holyhead and Pembroke as Irish hauliers eschew the UK land bridge in favour of direct access to the Continent.

He says this is only one part of the difficulties that Brexit has visited on his constituency. There has been a loss of structural funds, and the agriculture and marine sectors in Anglesea are suffering.

Mr ap Iorwerth will address an event at University College Cork on Thursday as part of the Jean Monnet lecture series. He will say that “absolutely at a minimum” the UK must rejoin the EU customs union and single market.

Such a move could see UK politics faced with revisiting the bitter debates which followed the 2016 referendum, but it is an issue he believes has to be confronted by the future Labour government if it is elected.

“For reasons of political expediency and to not wind up a population that recently voted for Brexit, Labour has been reluctant to embrace and engage with the fact that Brexit has been damaging and something has to be done differently,” he says. “We will be pushing Keir Starmer to press ahead and forge a new relationship with the European Union.”

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