Opinion

Newton Emerson: How strictly will Irish government enforce new Windsor Framework rules?

Newton Emerson

Newton Emerson

Newton Emerson writes a twice-weekly column for The Irish News and is a regular commentator on current affairs on radio and television.

MUCH of the Windsor Framework comes into effect from today, with supermarkets already rolling out ‘Not for EU’ labelling. We will shortly be bombarded by photographs of these products turning up in the Republic thanks to cross-border shopping but that does not breach the rules.

The real question is what happens when some of these products turn up for sale south of the border, as is probably inevitable, even without the financial motivations of smuggling. Small independent retailers sometimes buy stock from supermarkets in an emergency, for example. How strictly will the Republic enforce the rules and what will be the political reaction?

That leads to a more intriguing question. Will there be deliberate attempts to subvert the framework by selling northern goods in the south? Some unionists might want to see this to make a point about the sea border; some republicans to make a point about the land border. Both points would be confused and self-defeating but that has never stopped either side before.

Read more:

John Manley: Hardline unionism can't hold back the tide

DUP's Windsor Framework failure merely another entry in weary litany of unionism's political pratfalls

Brian Feeney: DUP's Jeffrey Donaldson must believe in fairy tales

'Not for EU' labelling has been added to meat for sale in Tesco stores. PICTURE: MAL MCCANN
'Not for EU' labelling has been added to meat for sale in Tesco stores. PICTURE: MAL MCCANN 'Not for EU' labelling has been added to meat for sale in Tesco stores. PICTURE: MAL MCCANN

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The Detail website has reported a connection between racist attacks on shops in south Belfast and loyalist demands for protection money. While always an obvious suspicion, reports to date have identified solely racist motivations.

Extortion from small businesses remains a bedrock of paramilitary funding, a potent method of community control and a significant cause of urban dereliction, with all its associated problems. Ethnic minority business owners are especially vulnerable as paramilitaries need to demonstrate nobody is immune from their authority due to any perceived ‘outsider’ status.

Yet all this receives scant attention from the authorities. It seems revealing that the only mention of shops by the Independent Reporting Commission, which tracks progress on tackling paramilitarism, is of “workshops” and “one-stop shops”.

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The Troubles amnesty may not be incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights, according to retired law professor Brice Dickson, Northern Ireland’s first chief human rights commissioner.

In an article for the Slugger O’Toole blog, he notes the legislation was eventually changed to leave open the possibility of a criminal investigation – and the convention does not require such investigations anyway.

Prof Dickson also thinks the European Court of Human Rights might note the multiple forms of amnesty inherent in the peace process, north and south, none of which provoked challenges from the rights sector or the Irish government.

The European Court is not the institution unionists and nationalists tend to imagine. It has generally found for the UK in Troubles cases.

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Spain is in the midst of a crisis after a deadlocked election made exiled Catalan nationalists king-makers. Sinn Féin national chair Declan Kearney has waded directly into the row, with a visit to Spain and a fulminating follow-up article in An Phoblacht.

“The Catalans are not Spanish, they are Catalan,” he declared – although two-thirds tell pollsters they are both. “The denial of national democracy in Catalunya, alongside Ireland, Euskal Herria [the Basque region] and Scotland, can no longer be ignored as a European issue.”

A growing European issue is whether a Sinn Féin-led Irish government would continue to demand the EU help break up Spain, break up third-country Britain and take a distinctly post-Agreement view of an Irish border poll.

The phrase ‘denial of national democracy’ would not be out of place from dissident republicans.

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Because Lough Neagh is not enough of a stinking metaphor, silly political games are being played over calls to come together to save it. An SDLP assembly recall petition has been ignored by the executive parties, who have clearly decided they do not need to indulge the ‘official opposition’.

At Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon council, Alliance has accused unionists of opposing a motion to protect the lough. Unionists say they supported the motion but opposed an Alliance amendment designed to annoy them.

Politicians love these head-melting procedural shenanigans but how many voters even notice? It must be far fewer than have noticed the state of Lough Neagh.

Protesters staged a 'wake' for Lough Neagh this month to highlight fears that it is dying. PICTURE: MAL MCCANN
Protesters staged a 'wake' for Lough Neagh this month to highlight fears that it is dying. PICTURE: MAL MCCANN Protesters staged a 'wake' for Lough Neagh this month to highlight fears that it is dying. PICTURE: MAL MCCANN

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The Earl of Shaftesbury has repeated his offer to sell Lough Neagh’s lake-bed, last discussed with Stormont in 2012 for a reported £6 million – £8 million at today’s prices. People Before Profit MLA Gerry Carroll has asked why any public money should be spent correcting a feudal anachronism.

Realistically, there is no lawful way to acquire the lake-bed that would not involve paying its market price, either directly or as compensation for a vesting order. The price could be debated but £8 million seems like a bargain, worthwhile even to simplify accountability.

Perhaps Stormont’s true concern about acquiring the lough has never been cost but unwillingness to become responsible for its care.

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A judge has thrown out what he termed a “strange, strange case” against two pastors in Dundonald. They were charged with assault and theft for ‘laying on hands’ and removing ‘unchristian items’ from a woman’s home, although she had invited them and there was no suggestion of improper behaviour. Judge Mark Hamill said the charges were “nonsense”, with no prospect of a conviction, “as any first year student would know”.

The Public Prosecution Service is unrepentant, claiming the case was “properly brought”.

One of the pastors has asked if police or prosecutors would have pursued this to court without its “Christian aspect”. This question deserves an answer.