Letters to the Editor

We can not allow GFA's cross-border powers to be nullified

The notion that there could be a new border imposed on the island of Ireland because of Brexit is totally unacceptable. 

It matters not whether the proposed border is ‘hard’ or ‘soft’, physical or technological. 

The UK government has clear international law obligations under the Good Friday Agreement. Among the provisions in that agreement there was set up a north -south ministerial council and a new British-Irish inter-governmental conference. 

The constitutional importance of the establishment of these new bodies is huge, and of crucial relevance in the situation we now find ourselves. 

For the first time since partition, the British through the GFA agreed that the role of operating the northern state was no longer just a matter for the United Kingdom parliament or for any devolved institution in Belfast.

Across a wide range of matters, the responsibility for decision making affecting the north was through the British-Irish inter-governmental conference to be shared between the British and Irish government. 

Similarly, through the north-south ministerial council which the agreement also set up, representatives of any devolved institution established in the north were in conjunction with their counterparts in the Irish government empowered to make executive decisions affecting all of the island of Ireland. 

The impact of these developments on the constitutional position of the north of Ireland was immense. It is akin to the impossible notion that the British would agree to allow France or Germany to take political and legal decisions in relation to London or to Yorkshire. 

What the agreement between London and Dublin to set up these two bodies in the Good Friday Agreement means is that the governance of the north is irrevocably intertwined between north and south, and between London and Dublin. In that situation, the Irish state is the guarantor for the protection of the rights of  Irish nationalists in the north.

One way in which these important powers could be revoked would be if the British government were to openly renege on the Good Friday Agreement and that remains a possibility. But an equally fatal blow to the agreement would be delivered if the British and unionists are able to have a new border, ‘hard’ or ‘soft’, established as a result of Brexit.

The inevitable consequence of such a border would be that different laws and different regulations would apply between the one part of Ireland remaining in the EU and the other part leaving the EU. In such a situation, neither the North South Ministerial Council nor the British –Irish inter-governmental conference could operate in any meaningful way. Arguably the most important element of the Good Friday Agreement – its cross border powers – would be nullified.

Omagh, Co Tyrone


DUP lacks leadership to guide it from oblivion

Historians, academics and business leaders, along with half the general populace of this province will, not for the first time, be experiencing a gruelling sense of Déjà vu at the incongruous exploits of the DUP which have brought Stormont to a halt. It also exposed the fallacy of the DUP’s claim that they were determined to have devolution put back in place. In what was described as a distraction by the party leader the British prime minister made a fleeting visit to Belfast only to be left with egg on her face.
The DUP leader then appeared on television and provided a grandiose analysis of her parties red lines – no Irish language act, no Irish street signs, no this that or the other as long as it has an Irish connotation.

After widespread condemnation of the blatant pusillanimity the party’s chief spokesperson emerged calling for direct rule to be imposed, implicitly indicating they can’t share power with nationalist/republicans. This then begs the question – Has the DUP really and truly considered the alternative?
In their myopic world do they understand the Pandora’s box they are about to open?
After the second humiliation the Tories might well seek retribution. Therefore under direct rule the British government will take control of this province and will legislate for an Irish language act under their commitments extolled in the GFA. They will also bring this wee country in line with the rest of the UK and introduce equality for all including same sex-marriage among other failings. With this imposition over their heads are the DUP going to bring down Theresa May’s government? Politics requires leadership, someone to lead their flock out of the wilderness. It is abundantly clear the DUP are bereft of the leadership needed to guide them from oblivion.

Belfast BT1


Mary Lou’s about turn

I see the new Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald thinks Brexit is an imminent threat to the economic, social and political functioning of Ireland and has called for Northern Ireland to remain in the single market and customs union and/or a united Ireland. Never mind that at least 60 per cent of Northern Ireland’s external sales go to Great Britain – she has previously said:

“Lisbon lowers wages... provides both the commission and the court with an even stronger mandate to undermine workers pay and conditions.”
“Over the last few years there has been a deeply worrying trend within European Commission proposals to hollow out hard-won gains on workers wages and conditions.”
“The outworking of the Lisbon Agenda clearly demonstrates the right-wing, pro-market, pro-liberalisation agenda which lies at the core of the present EU project.”

“Sinn Féin has consistently called for the protection of our public services from the shameless and unrelenting drive towards privatisation of essential services in the EU.”

Whilet the Sinn Féin 2017 Westminster manifesto stated: “Today’s European Union has created widespread hardship as austerity, deregulation and privatisation have undermined the social function of states and the rights of citizens, including the rights of workers.”

Cookstown, Co Tyrone


Radio Ulster affront

With all the stealth of a thief in the night, and not even a summary explanation, BBC Radio Ulster has ushered the only Ulster Scots radio programme into oblivion. A programme that has been running 16 years, dispensed with like a bad smell. This offensive act will surely come under the consideration of another BBC Radio Ulster prejudice – while those at Stormont, who have no interest in the culture hi-jack it for political purposes, that other office of decrepitude the Ulster Scots Agency, stands idly by, mired in their insouciance. This despite being given the responsibility and several million pounds of taxpayers’ money to promote and ensure that this noble culture could stand shoulder to shoulder with an equally noble Irish language. For BBC Radio Ulster to deprive the Ulster Scots community of their only radio programme is an affront and the Ulster Scots Agency by their silent consent are implicit in that affront.

Derry City


Independent review of PIP process

I have been commissioned by the Department for Communities to carry out an independent review of the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) Assessment Process, under article 94 of the Welfare Reform (Northern Ireland) Order 2015.

I am keen to hear from claimants, those who have supported claimants and organisations which play a role in the process.

I launched, a call for  evidence a few weeks ago and have already received responses. May I encourage PIP claimants, together with individuals and organisations which support them, to contribute to the review by completing our on-line questionnaire which can be found at www.communities-ni.gov.uk/pipindreview
The closing date for receipt of evidence is March 16. 

Independent Reviewer, 
PIP Assessment Process 

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