Leading article

Unique gathering at the Waterfront Hall

Almost every serious economist agrees that Brexit will be a disaster for all traditions in Ireland and the consequences for community relations across the north are arguably even more alarming.

It is essential that serious and measured consideration is given to a range of forthcoming options, even though it is painfully obvious that the British cabinet has been unable to come up with a coherent strategy for the withdrawal which is scheduled to take effect from March 29.

What is heartening is that, for the first time since the partition of Ireland almost a century ago, our issues have been placed at the centre of European political developments and the remaining 27 EU member states, assuming that the UK really does withdraw later this year, have lined up solidly behind the position of the Dublin government.

If it was the case that northern nationalists and unionists could come together and demand that, at the very least, a no deal Brexit is emphatically ruled out, a hugely powerful message would be sent to Theresa May,

Unfortunately, while nationalism in all its strands on both sides of the border is united in deep concern over Brexit, the unionist response has taken some much more complicated forms.

Some unionists know that a catastrophe is coming down the line, others have exercised their right to curry temporary favour with the Conservative Party at Westminster and a relatively small number are cheer leaders for the most reactionary elements of the Brexit campaign.

A full debate at a functioning Stormont Assembly might have moved events forward, and it needs to be acknowledged that all sides carry degrees of responsibility for the collapse which occurred there almost exactly two years ago.

Many commentators have offered valid and credible points about the priority of engaging across the board and establishing ways of extending the hand of friendship in all directions.

However, the Renewable Heat Incentive public inquiry laid bare the specific extent of the dysfunctional and unacceptable nature of the DUP's approach to financial management in particular and basic standards of public administration in general..

The forthcoming report from Sir Patrick Coghlin will be closely studied, and there will be major surprise if grave criticism is not directed at some senior figures, so it is inevitable that a sweeping overhaul of DUP structures must follow before a return to devolution can start to be contemplated.

Stormont parties need to step up their dialogue in the meantime but discussions on an all Ireland basis are equally important and should be encouraged in every way.

The gathering at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast at the weekend represented a unique coming together of the two largest Dail groups with the two main northern nationalist parties in front of a huge and enthusiastic audience.

If some unionists wish to align themselves with the dangerous and divisive Brexit gamble, nationalists are equally entitled to set out an alternative vision of progress through partnership at all levels.

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