Strategic errors by DUP has further weakened Northern Ireland's place in the UK
Some now refer to the UK as a failed state. The pernicious impact of Brexit and Covid-19 have weakened the bonds uniting its four components. Post-Brexit talk of UK disintegration focuses on the immediate risk of Scottish independence. However, this narrative also includes Northern Ireland.
The NI Protocol was the awkward compromise of the recent UK/EU Brexit agreement to prevent a hard border in Ireland. It keeps NI within the EU customs union and single market. This may gradually erode its legal and commercial links with GB. The onset of Brexit has clearly demonstrated the trajectory of travel from the UK towards the EU.
The historical flow is towards Irish reunification. However, despite recent demographic changes and the negative impact of Brexit on nationalist sentiments in NI, polling does not suggest an imminent majority for a united Ireland.
Strategic errors by the DUP have undoubtedly further weakened NI’s place in the UK. They just cannot read the game.
The DUP initially enthusiastically backed Brexit in the most jingoistic manner but has subsequently opposed every type of Brexit. This included Theresa May’s relatively soft withdrawal agreement which maintained the integrity of the union. Instead, in a disastrous miscalculation, they bet the bank on alignment with the unreliable Boris Johnson and the delusional ERG. This later group of little Englanders are seemingly fixated on the idea of a “global Britain”. This resonates with the historical Elizabethan era of English explorers and privateers such as Francis Drake sailing off in his Golden Hind to circumnavigate the globe and arriving home with ships laden down with treasure.
Johnson eventually signed up to a hard Brexit which required a regulatory border in the Irish Sea. This outcome was presented as a fait accompli and came as a complete surprise to the myopic DUP. However, anyone following the negotiations should not have been surprised. The EU held all the aces. It has a much larger market than the UK and Britain accounts for only 17 per cent of EU trade while the EU accounts for 45 per cent of UK trade. It was also playing hard ball and was keen to exploit its advantage. Consequently it set three preconditions prior to even commencing the Brexit talks. They included the NI backstop and a demand for a financial withdrawal settlement. Some Brexiteers told the EU to “go whistle”. However the UK government soon capitulated and conceded all of the pre-requisites.
It should also have been obvious that an effective UK/EU frontier was essential to protect the EU single market. A land border in Ireland was impractical from a political, security and practical standpoint. It was strongly opposed by not only the EU but also by the US Congress on the basis of safeguarding the GFA. The sea border was the logical location for this frontier,
The DUP response to this fiasco is also depressingly familiar. Some have taken out their inner demagogue and bellowed betrayal with claims of food shortages, as opposed to the loss of certain products, in the most inflammatory language. They unrealistically demand the suspension of the protocol.
This may be tactically astute but it is very short-term. There is a commercial advantage in NI having access to both the UK & EU single markets. This could be sold as a significant economic benefit of the province. It is strategically much better to make the “best of both worlds” argument for the Union. This means easing tensions, not provoking them. A shrewd, nuanced unionist response is required or the Union will surely perish. The DUP urgently requires a rendezvous with reality.
Mornington, Co Meath
In the Anglo-Irish Agreement (1985) and the Good Friday Agreement (1998) the British government entered into solemn undertakings to govern Northern Ireland with strict impartiality between the unionist and Irish national traditions. The AIA and the GFA are international treaties, entered into with the Irish government, and registered with the United Nations. Serious breaches of such undertakings are actionable under international law. In ballyragging the British government to “stand up for the Union” and to “display their Unionist credentials”, Unionist leaders are urging the British government to weigh decisively into current disputes about the Brexit agreement’s Northern Ireland Protocol on the unionist side. If the British were to do that they would be dishonouring undertakings freely given in the AIA, the GFA and the EU Brexit Agreement. For the British to dishonour agreements, and break international law, would not surprise; they have in recent weeks threatened to do just that. But unionists cannot on the one hand, claim that the NI protocol breaches the GFA, which it doesn’t -– and on the other hand, urge the British government to breach all three agreements, to protect the unionist interest and disregard the Irish National interest. The Irish government, and all parties of the Irish national tradition must insist that the British honour legally binding international obligations, and consider our options if they don’t.
(Former MLA Mid-Ulster)
Cookstown, Co Tyrone
Deviation of regeneration
The finance minister’s decision to allow councils to vary business rates, independently of household rates, will result in more powers being devolved.
Businesses are increasing turning to local authorities for assistance, support and to take the lead on regeneration.
Councils have proved their capability delivering vital services during the pandemic but shortly economic development capabilities will be under the spotlight.
While the new powers on rates will give councils more flexibility on setting local priorities there will be calls to go further.
Devolution of full regeneration powers, to help our hard pressed towns and high streets, can’t be far away.
CLLR BRIAN POPE
Many people have asked why the ‘Isle of Man’ should not be regarded as the fourth nation of Britain and not Northern Ireland. After all the Manx people 100 per cent class themselves as British, while in Northern Ireland it is only 50/50 of the people’s desire to be part of Britain. You might say the Isle of Man is small in comparison to Northern Ireland, in volume and population, but it is not really. When you consider that out of the six counties that the unionists call ‘our wee country’ at least three, or maybe more, regard themselves as Irish nationalists. So, The Isle of Manshould be regarded as the fourth so-called nation of Britain.
Lurgan, Co Armagh
The reforms proposed by Chris Patten for the policing of Northern Ireland were both fair and far-sighted. Fundamental to them was equal recruitment from both sides of the divided community. Nationalist politicians should never have allowed this to be undermined. Until it is re-instated it is difficult to see how the PSNI can win the trust of nationalists as well as unionists which is essential to successful policing.
J. ANTHONY GAUGHAN
Blackrock, Co Dublin