Brian Feeney: 'Not for a long time has British government bias been so public'

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

Outrage last week that the chair of the Commons NI Affairs Committee (whose name you don’t even know) met loyalist leaders to talk about the Protocol.

Not to worry. It’s par for the course when it comes to this irrelevant committee which, as you’ve read here before, is an interfering nuisance because it’s a unionist playground. They’ve already had loyalist ‘spokespersons’, at the behest of the DUP, giving ‘evidence’, amounting to hot air.

Unlike some of his unlamented predecessors, the current chair is a decent guy, a person of some probity, which makes you wonder what he’s doing in today’s Conservative party.

He’s well-meaning but he’s the political equivalent of a holy fool – you know, the sort of hand-wringing supplicant who believes he’s dealing with people of goodwill. He tries to be even-handed but that’s impossible given his Conservative government’s overtly unionist bias and the committee’s composition.

It was originally set up in 1994 as a sop to Jim Molyneaux, the useless UUP leader who was then doing his damnedest to block John Major’s peace process initiatives with Albert Reynolds.

When it came to crucial votes, especially on Europe, Major had a majority of one. The UUP supplied it, hence the leverage. When the Conservatives came in in 2010 they appointed an anti-Good Friday Agreement chair, a clear notice of intent.

The committee at present has 11 members dominated by five Conservatives, including luminaries like right-wing eccentric former colonel Bob Stewart.

There are two DUP MPs, two Labour – one of whom made two good speeches over the past year to an empty Commons – and one SDLP and one Alliance MP, who waste their time trying to talk sense to the committee, which of course ignores them. Sinn Féin are correct to ignore the committee.

Read more: MP met loyalists on ‘personal' fact-finding mission

Read more: Editorial: UDA and UVF shouldn't be involved in discussions on Windsor Framework and power-sharing

Anyway, back to meetings. The recent controversial one doesn’t amount to a row of beans because the NI Affairs Committee is powerless. Compared to disgraceful meetings in 2021 it’s in the ha’penny place.

Lest you forget, in January 2021 the NIO permanent secretary, the real one, Madeleine Alessandri, not one of the toy figureheads at Stormont, along with three other senior NIO officials, met loyalist representatives.

Later, in March, Johnson’s chief spoofer Brandon Lewis, who outrageously promised to break international law, met LCC spokesmen for loyalist gangsters planning protest marches.

Then in May, Lewis and David Frost, Johnson’s failed negotiator, again met LCC people at a time when this rotten British government was encouraging unionist opposition to the Protocol.

On June 7 President Biden’s chargé d’affaires in London warned Frost in a formal démarche to stop it. That worked.

Not for a long time has British government bias been so public. The UVF and UDA, actively involved in criminality, racketeering and drug dealing, corrupting the young, wrecking working-class unionist communities, who represent no-one, are courted by the British, as always.

During the Troubles the British created and sustained them as counter gangs. They perform essentially the same function today as manufactured threats to stability.

On the other hand, have you noticed how often the British government has met Michelle O’Neill, leader of the largest party in the north and first minister designate?

She can meet Joe Biden, the Speaker of the House, the Senate majority leader, the National Security Adviser, the Taoiseach, but strangely not the British prime minister. Yet the DUP is apparently in constant secret negotiations with the British, about what we’re not told. Partisan for all to see.

By the way, don’t get carried away about the chair of the NI Affairs Committee. He didn’t vote to condemn liar and charlatan Johnson whose government he supported.