Opinion

Brian Feeney: Direction of travel clear to all but DUP

Brian Feeney

Brian Feeney

Historian and political commentator Brian Feeney has been a columnist with The Irish News for three decades. He is a former SDLP councillor in Belfast and co-author of the award-winning book Lost Lives

UK Border Control Posts (BCPs) will check imported EU goods at ports including Cairnryan, where ferries from Northern Ireland dock
UK Border Control Posts (BCPs) will check imported EU goods at ports including Cairnryan, where ferries from Northern Ireland dock UK Border Control Posts (BCPs) will check imported EU goods at ports including Cairnryan, where ferries from Northern Ireland dock

From November 1, Britain is going to establish long-delayed border checks on imported EU goods.

Due to Conservative incompetence and lack of preparation they may not make the November date, but it will happen. So there’ll be Border Control Posts (BCPs) at Liverpool, Holyhead, Fishguard and so on, and, wait for it, at Cairnryan.

Well, how do you differentiate between incoming goods from the north and those from the Republic? One businessman from the north told the Lords protocol subcommittee that checks at Liverpool and Holyhead would be “completely pointless” if Cairnryan was an open back door into GB.

Next year Britain will introduce US-style Electronic Travel Authorisation for people travelling north who aren’t legal residents of the Republic, causing great damage to tourism here.

They don’t care. There won’t be any checks at the border because the British don’t give a damn who comes here. However, they do care who enters Britain, so you can bet your bottom dollar there’ll be random checks at ports and airports.

Meanwhile, in London, the secretaries-general of the main departments in the Dublin government have held informal meetings with the British permanent secretaries in their equivalent departments – not the Stormont ones, the real ones who run this place.

Now join those dots. No doubt the British will glue together some sort of fig leaf for Donaldson to cover a DUP return to Stormont, but it’s the facts on the ground that matter.

There’ll be a trade border in the Irish Sea. There’ll be customs sheds – BCPs – at Larne, Belfast and Warrenpoint and across the water at Cairnryan, Liverpool etc. The British will conduct random ETA checks on people travelling from here.

Britain will diverge from EU rules and standards, but manufacturers and businesses here will continue to follow EU rules.

The Irish and British governments are determined to repair the dreadful impact of Brexit on London-Dublin intercourse. Donaldson’s misled DUP will not be allowed to disrupt any of that. The lessons of the past seven years have been learned.

The direction of travel is clear to all but the DUP. Demographic change is accelerating, as the evidence of elections in 2022 and last week proves. Unionism is on a down escalator.

Unionists don’t buy DUP, UUP, TUV negative intransigence. In most strongly pro-union districts the majority of people didn’t vote. In many areas over 60 per cent abstained. Young, socially liberal, professional unionists, if they voted, voted Alliance. Traditional Orange, flag-waving, partitionist, religious unionism as embodied by Donaldson’s DUP is dead.

There is an opportunity for business here to prosper but Donaldson rejects it, most revealingly in his infamous “I could live with 40,000 job losses” if he got a hard British border.

Donaldson offers his supporters a museum of Ulster Britishness in which he will be the besashed museum curator. He prefers flag to fortune. How to get him back into Stormont is the wrong question. The DUP have no respect for a Stormont they can’t control. They’ll block any progress towards a 21st century society.

What has to happen is that, first and foremost, the Irish government must admit the impetus of the speed of demographic and therefore electoral change and begin preparing for the inevitable referendum on self-determination as laid out in the Good Friday Agreement.

Secondly, as Simon Coveney asked earlier this year, Dublin must ascertain from Britain what are the criteria for calling a referendum? Even Naomi Long called last year for clarity on those conditions.

As it is, unionism has a dwindling majority in parts of two counties and east Belfast. Change is approaching fast. Therefore it is irresponsible for the Irish government not to put in place procedures for establishing what will be on offer to people, north and south, in a united Ireland. That has to be an all-party offer.

A united Ireland doesn’t belong to one party, so what’s the process for preparing for what’s coming?