Boris Johnson now ripping up the Good Friday Agreement
Mr Coveney was responding to a Financial Times report that said British legislation out this week will “eliminate the legal force of parts of the withdrawal agreement” in areas including state aid and the new customs arrangements for Northern Ireland.
In a statement, the UK government said it was working with the European Union to resolve what it called “outstanding issues” surrounding the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Without making explicit reference to the Financial Times report or specifying what the outstanding issues were, the statement stated that if those issues were not resolved “as a responsible government, we are considering fall back options in the event this is not achieved to ensure the communities of Northern Ireland are protected”.
Senior government sources would not be drawn on the Financial Times report, with one source speculating that it was part of a stepping up of “noise” by the UK as the future relationship negotiations enter a critical phase.
The source said he expected that the European Commission Brexit Task Force would seek clarification on the report.
Quoting three Whitehall sources, the report claims that sections of the upcoming Internal Market Bill would undercut key provisions of the Northern Ireland Protocol.
These included the potential levelling of tariffs on goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland after the Brexit transition period ends on 31 December, as well as the potential for EU state aid law to continue to reach into the UK if the British government subsidises companies that have significant subsidiaries in Northern Ireland.
The report claims that “clauses in the internal market and finance bills will force the UK courts to follow the new UK law rather than the EU deal, diluting the ability of the protocol to intrude on UK state aid policy.”
The paper quoted one source as saying that the force of the new legislation had been approved by the UK’s chief negotiator, David Frost, who “had personally driven the decision to take the ‘nuclear option’ of overwriting the withdrawal agreement, despite progress being made in talks on implementing the Irish protocol”.
Reaction to the report has been swift, with Mr Coveney issuing his response on Twitter, saying: “This would be a very unwise way to proceed.”
The EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier said the Brexit terms that Britain agreed to before formally exiting the European Union “must be respected”.
“Everything that has been signed must be respected,” Mr Barnier told France Inter radio, in response to the Financial Times report.
Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said on social media: “As the Brexit negotiations between the EU and British government enter their eighth round this week in London, any threats of a roll back on the Irish protocol would represent a treacherous betrayal which would inflict irreversible harm on the all-Ireland economy, and [Good Friday Agreement].”
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said: “If true, this could lead to a hard border in Ireland and undermine decades of progress.
“How could any country come to an agreement with Britain if they’re prepared to rip up an international treaty?”
Britain’s Agriculture and Environment minister George Eustace denied the UK government intends undermining the Withdrawal Agreement and Northern Ireland protocol.
He said the British government is committed to implementing the Withdrawal Agreement and the UK is working with the EU through the Special Committee established by the Agreement to jointly agree the specific terms of the treaty.
He said when that process ends there may be some outstanding issues – what he called “loose ends” that may need to be implemented through UK legislation.
Mr Eustace said these included the exact nature of checks required on food products entering Northern Ireland, and the type of exit declarations needed to document the movement of goods from Northern Ireland to Great Britain.
The report coincided with a combative statement from the British Prime Minister, which said that if there was no agreement between the EU and UK before an EU summit on 15 October then a free trade deal was unlikely “and we should both accept that and move on”.
Boris Johnson added: “We will then have a trading arrangement with the EU like Australia’s.
“I want to be absolutely clear that, as we have said right from the start, that would be a good outcome for the UK. As a government we are preparing, at our borders and at our ports, to be ready for it.
“We will have full control over our laws, our rules, and our fishing waters. We will have the freedom to do trade deals with every country in the world.
“And we will prosper mightily as a result.”
What British ministers sometimes refer to as an “Australian” style free trade arrangement is generally taken as a “no deal” outcome, with both the EU and UK trading on WTO terms.
Mr Johnson said: “Even at this late stage, if the EU are ready to rethink their current positions and agree this I will be delighted.
“But we cannot and will not compromise on the fundamentals of what it means to be an independent country to get it.”
The EU-UK future relationship negotiations have been deadlocked for months over fisheries, the issue of state aid and the so-called level playing field, police and judicial cooperation, and how both sides would resolve disputes in the future.
The prime minister made no reference to the Northern Ireland Protocol in his statement.
Both teams of negotiators meet in London on Tuesday for the next full round of negotiations.
Mr Barnier has set a deadline for agreement of 31 October.
With many thanks to: RTE News and Tony Connelly Europe Editor for the original story
I DON’T agree with most of it but I still think Paul Gosling’s book, A New Ireland, A New Union, A New Society, A Ten Year Plan (the 2nd edition has just been published) is one of the best made cases for a united Ireland.
It’s also worth noting that my engagements with Paul – on social media or at panel events – have always been very civil: and it’s worth noting because civility isn’t always given when it comes to people who support Irish unity. Mind you, it isn’t always given with people who oppose Irish unity. Anyway, my primary problem with Paul’s case (although, in fairness, he has included the opinions of others too, including some from a pro-Union background) is that it still doesn’t address the concerns of those who believe that unionism cannot survive in a united Ireland. Unionists support the United Kingdom. Unionists believe that the North of Ireland will always be better within the gravitational pull of the Parliament based in London. Most unionists fear that their beliefs, political values and very specific identity and sense of belonging cannot be accommodated outside the United Kingdom. Some nationalists argue that in the event of unity unionists would find themselves in the same position as nationalists who found themselves on the ‘wrong side of the border’ in 1921. That’s not so.
If it is an independent republic then unionism will have lost and indeed cannot exist. If that is so, what is the point of recognising British identity?
Nationalists were always able to carry the flaming torch for ‘a nation once again’ and campaign on the premise that a mix of circumstance and demographic shift would maybe deliver a united Ireland. Unionists would have no flame to carry (unless there was a provision for post-unity polls in what was the North of Ireland; and the possibility of rejoining the UK). A United Ireland kills off electoral/political unionism in its present form: a form which prioritises the constitutional link with the United Kingdom. So, how do you ‘accommodate’ unionism if the North of Ireland no longer exists? How do you accommodate a political/electoral strategy if the purpose and intended outcome of that strategy has has been removed? Offering to recognise The Twelfth as a public holiday; or allowing people from what was the North of Ireland to be eligible for membership of the House of Lords; or having elements of the Union Jack included in a new flag; or writing a new national anthem; or recognising Scots-Irish; these have all been mentioned as forms of accommodation. But none of them is. At best they represent mere tokenism.
There’s an interesting appendix from Desmond Murphy QC: ‘However, in all texts considered, hard questions are avoided: What will be the form of the state. If it is an independent republic then unionism will have lost and indeed cannot exist. If that is so, what is the point of recognising British identity? The essence of unionism in the North of Ireland is loyalty to the crown and monarchy and to historical sacrifices on their behalf. If those links are snapped, fuzzy promises about holding British passports will be meaningless. Where would power lie in the new state, and more importantly what would be the distribution of such power. Unionists/Protestants could not exercise effective resistance in a new state unless there were artificial protections at the centre of power.’ At this point unionists are not engaging in a debate. Let me make a point here (and I mean no disrespect to those concerned, who are clearly following their consciences): some who are self-described or viewed by others as ‘civic unionists’ are taking part in a conversation with elements of nationalism.
But they they are a small minority and, generally speaking, have little input to or influence within mainstream unionism. I make the point because the assorted ‘accommodations’ which would be acceptable to them would not be acceptable to them would not be acceptable to the much broader swathe of mainstream unionism/loyalism. That’s why I agree with another point made by Desmond Murphy:’…it would appear impossible for any unionist to negotiate on any form of Irish unity prior to a referendum.’ But that doesn’t mean that mainstream unionism shouldn’t have an internal just-in-case discussion on the subject: and they could do a lot worse than beginning with Gosling’s book. A border poll may never come (which strikes me as unlikely), or it could come within a few years. Unionism must be ready to fully engage if the moment comes: ensure beforehand that the arguments for the union are thought-through and ready to be rolled out; and that unionists are thoroughly briefed well in advance.
With many thanks to: The Irish News and Alex Kane for the original story
🇪🇺🤝🇬🇧 Where there is a will, there is a #deal – we have one! It’s a fair and balanced agreement for the EU and the UK and it is testament to our commitment to find solutions. I recommend that #EUCO endorses this deal.
The DUP says ‘No
The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) has said it is sticking to its position that it cannot support Boris Johnson’s Brexit plan, in spite of a deal being struck between the UK and the EU.
The deal was agreed on Thursday before a meeting of EU leaders in Brussels.
Earlier, the DUP said it “could not support” the prime minister’s revised Brexit plan for Northern Ireland.
Its support is seen as crucial if the deal is to win approval in Parliament in time for his 31 October deadline.
Live: Brexit latest as PM heads to EU summit
New Brexit deal agreed, says Boris Johnson
In full: The revised withdrawal agreement text
Consent issue at heart of DUP’s concern
But a few hours later the prime minister tweeted: “We’ve got a great new deal that takes back control.”
‘Consent is the cornerstone’
The UK and the EU have been working on the legal text of a deal but it will still need the approval of both the UK and European parliaments.
Speaking in Brussels, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier described the consent proposal in the agreement as “a cornerstone of our newly agreed approach”.
“Four years after entry into force of the protocol, the elected representatives of Northern Ireland will be able to decide by simple majority whether to continue applying relevant union rules in Northern Ireland or not,” he said.
The prime minister will join European leaders in Brussels later for a crunch EU summit as efforts continue to win support for his Brexit deal from MPs at home.
No 10 said there were no plans for the prime minister to meet the DUP on Thursday.
It looks like the party’s 10 MPs will vote against the proposed deal if it comes to the Commons on Saturday, which could make the Westminster arithmetic.
‘Disaster for Northern Ireland’
Speaking in Londonderry, the Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith said “we’ve abandoned nobody” when asked if his government had decided not to rely on the DUP’s votes.
“I want to make the case for every MP to get this deal over the line on Saturday to make sure we bring this chapter of Brexit to a close,” he told BBC News NI.
Sinn Féin’s vice-president Michelle O’Neill tweeted that a veto on the Northern Ireland plans must not be included as part of a Brexit deal.
Ulster Unionist MLA Steve Aiken said Mr Johnson’s Brexit deal keeps Northern Ireland in the EU “to all intents and purposes”.
He told the BBC’s The Nolan Show: “If you were a leave voter in Northern Ireland you’d be asking yourself: ‘Is this what I voted for?’
“This has been a disaster for Northern Ireland – the only way we can get out of it is to stay [in the EU].”
Mr Aiken is the only contender for the soon-to-be-vacant leadership of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP).
Alliance Party leader and MEP Naomi Long said she wanted the prime minister to put the deal to the public in a referendum.
“What we need to do is get this right, not just get it done,” she said.
“If the DUP are not willing to provide the arithmetic to get a deal through Parliament then I think Boris Johnson would be right to go to the public.”
The Stormont role would not be the unionists’ veto demanded by the DUP – instead the arrangements could be approved by a straight majority.
Pro-EU parties have a narrow majority at Stormont.
The Brexit deal would involve Northern Ireland being treated differently to the rest of the UK.
It would continue to follow EU rules on food safety and product standards.
The DUP has already accepted that Northern Ireland would have to align with some EU rules to avoid a hard border.
Northern Ireland would also leave the EU customs union.
But EU customs procedures would still apply on goods coming into Northern Ireland from Great Britain in order to avoid checks at the border.
Stormont would have to approve those arrangements on an ongoing basis.
Approval would involve a straightforward majority, which would keep the special arrangements in place for four years.
Alternatively, if the arrangements are approved by a majority of nationalists and a majority unionists they would remain in place for eight years – that would incentivise a cross-community consensus.
If the Northern Ireland Assembly voted to end the arrangements there would be a two-year notice period, during which the UK and the EU would have to agree ways to protect the peace process and avoid a hard border.
There is no fallback position in case the two sides cannot find a solution.
If a vote was not held – by choice or because the assembly was not sitting – then there would be no change and the special arrangements would continue.
The EU believes that replaces the backstop – which would have lasted “unless and until” an alternative was found – with arrangements that are sustainable over time and are democratically supported, as requested by the UK.
With many thanks to: BBC News England for the original story
A former head of the British Army has rejected a suggestion that it tried to cover up the shooting of civilians in the Ballymurphy area of west Belfast in August 1971.
Giving evidence at the inquest into the deaths, retired General Mike Jackson described the claim as preposterous.
He was responding to questions from Michael Mansfield QC, representing the family of Joseph Corr, who died after being shot on 11 August 1971.
The barrister began his questioning by stating that Mr Corr “was not a gunman, wasn’t armed, wasn’t a member of the IRA and wasn’t associated with the IRA.”
Mr Mansfield said there was no evidence that any soldiers who fired their weapons on the day that Mr Corr was shot had been interviewed by the Royal Military Police at the time.
He said this was a breach of the British Army’s policies and asked General Jackson if that was because there was a desire to cover up what happened.
“That is a preposterous allegation to make,” said the retired general, who was a captain with the Parachute Regiment in Ballymurphy at the time of the shootings. “It simply doesn’t add up.”
He told the inquest he did not know whether any soldiers had been interviewed at the time, and that it was possible there may have been a break in the British Army’s normal procedures because of the pressure it was under at the time.
“What I do know is we don’t do conspiracies,” he said.
The comment was greeted by muted laughter from the packed public gallery, while relatives of those killed shook their heads.
Earlier, General Jackson accepted it was likely that he was a Parachute Regiment captain quoted in a newspaper report on 11 August 1971 stating that two men shot dead by soldiers early that morning had been IRA gunmen.
He told the court part of his duties included briefing the media about the regiment’s activities.
Questioned by Sean Doran QC, representing the coroner, he accepted that no weapons had been found on the two men shot dead that day.
In his statement to the inquest, which was read to the court, Mr Jackson said he had “absolutely no doubt” the IRA had engaged members of the regiment in a fierce gun battle that morning.
The statement said 600 soldiers had come under a “hail of gunfire” when they moved in to remove barricades in the area. It also said two gunmen had been shot dead and their bodies recovered.
Mr Jackson confirmed that he had witnessed the men being shot or seen their bodies. “In retrospect of course I should have said alleged gunmen,” he added.
Mr Doran then asked the retired general if he wished to say anything to relatives of those who were killed, 15 of whom were sitting directly across from him in Court 12 at Belfast Laganside Courts.
“Let me say to the families who so long ago lost their loved ones, for me it is a tragedy,” he said.
“It’s a tragedy which is hugely that is hugely regrettable, but I would say anybody who loses their loved one as a result of violent conflict is also a tragedy. I too have lost friends so be it.
“My sympathies to you and I’m sorry that it is only now after so long that you feel you can come to terms.”
With many thanks to: RTÉ News and Vincent Kearney (Northern Correspondent) for the original story
Language commissioners from six countries have supported a similar role being established in the North of Ireland.
Members of the International Association of Language Commissioners voiced their support in a letter to the Irish language organisation, Conradh na Gaeilge.
An Irish language commissioner was a key feature of previous proposals for an Irish language act.
However, the proposals have been politically contentious.
Language laws ‘strengthen not threaten’
The power of words
Both main unionist parties have opposed a standalone act, but other parties have supported calls for one.
The International Association of Language Commissioners is an umbrella body for language commissioners in a number of countries.
Eleven commissioners from Canada, Spain, Wales, Ireland, Kosovo and Belgium have signed the letter of support.
Five of the signatories are from regions of Canada, while both the Basque and Catalonian language commissioners from Spain have put their name to the letter.
The principal role of an Irish language commissioner would be to promote and facilitate the use of the language.
They would also police the standards required of public sector bodies in delivering services in Irish.
The letter said that language commissioners brought many advantages.
“In our view language commissioners can be central in the protection and preservation of a language that is spoken by a minority,” it read.
Dr Niall Comer, from Conradh na Gaeilge, said that independent commissioners were vital in protecting language rights.
“Language rights and rights-based legislation are afforded to minority and indigenous language communities across these islands and indeed across the world,” he said.
“If anything we are the anomaly.”
A working group on rights, languages and identity has been established as part of the ongoing talks between the political parties at Stormont.
With many thanks to: BBCNI and Robbie Meredith NI Education Correspondent for the original story
The recent tragic death of Lyra McKee in the Creggan area of Derry City has raised fears that the peace in Northern Ireland is now under threat. Dissident republicans, calling themselves the ‘New IRA’ have admitted to causing her death while attacking the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI).
McKee came to prominence in 2015 when her blog went viral. It was a letter to her 14-year-old self who was suffering with the fact of being gay in Northern Ireland. It was later made into a short film. Her much-anticipated book, The Lost Boys, is an exploration of eight young men and boys who disappeared during the ‘Troubles’.
The sprawling Creggan Estate on the outskirts of Derry is one of the poorest working-class estates in the UK. Crime, vandalism, carjacking, joyriding, drugs, punishment shootings and heavily armed police raids against dissidents are commonplace. Because of this, the estate has become something of an attraction for journalists and filmmakers. Former BBC presenter Reggie Yates was in the area on the day McKee was shot, making a documentary for MTV about extreme and unusual places. Sinead O’Shea’s 2018 documentary A Mother Brings Her Son to Be Shot is set in the Creggan. It follows the life of the O’Donnell family after the mother voluntarily brings her son for a punishment shooting because he was dealing drugs.
Depictions of the Creggan paint a depressing picture of a community left behind by the peace dividend that was supposed to follow the 1998 Good Friday Agreement (GFA). Commenting on police raids around this time last year, local independent councillor Gary Donnelly told Derry Now that the PSNI are ‘unreformed from the Royal Ulster Constabulary’ – the police force that was officially disbanded in 2001 as part of the peace process. ‘Their role remains the same, as they enforce British rule in Ireland’, he said. The fact that operations are ‘carried out by heavily armed officers, backed up by armoured vehicles and air support, bears testimony to this’. ‘The PSNI clearly mark themselves out in working-class republican areas as an oppressive occupying force far removed from the smiles and PR spin of their hollow “community neighbourhood policing” facade’, he added.
What, then, will the future hold for working-class nationalist communities like the Creggan, which were once a bedrock of support in the struggle for a united Ireland? Do those who are condemning the New IRA as ‘robbers and murderers who draw strength from a revolution the Irish refuse to let lie’ understand the residual tensions in Northern Ireland? Did the communities there endure all the repression and privation of the war years only to be abandoned by their own political leaders?
It was the New IRA who pulled the trigger on the PSNI and McKee. But Sinn Féin, the once-republican party, is to blame for much of the current mess and chaos in the Creggan. It sold the people a lie that the peace process would achieve a united Ireland. In truth, the GFA was nothing more than a coded ratification of the republican movement’s defeat. While there is still significant support for Sinn Féin in those communities, bitterness and disillusionment are increasingly apparent.
The dissidents of the New IRA are a symptom of Sinn Féin’s failure on many fronts. The party has also failed to address the social and economic deprivation that blights places like the Creggan, preferring to highlight issues like the Irish language, gay rights and abortion rights. It doesn’t focus on these issues just to goad Unionists. Sinn Féin believes that by concentrating on identity politics, its politicians can leave their nationalist/republican pasts behind and become ‘respectable’ political players.
Sinn Féin’s references to a united Ireland are increasingly muted, mentioned mostly at election time to retain their support in working-class communities – but only ever as a dream for a far-off future. In fact, the party might be about to take a step that would be unprecedented for an Irish republican party. Speaking at the recent Easter Rising commemoration in Belfast, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said that in the continued absence of a power-sharing administration, ‘a new British-Irish partnership, a joint authority’, was needed in Northern Ireland.
In other words, Sinn Féin are openly willing to participate directly with the British government in maintaining the status quo in Northern Ireland. This can only further contribute to the bitterness felt in working-class nationalist communities, inspiring further support for dissident republicans like the New IRA. But the dissidents’ campaign is futile. There is no appetite for a renewed fight for Irish independence in the wider nationalist community. Their activity can only invite more repression for their communities and certain imprisonment for the young men who join them.
Responding to Lyra Mckee’s killing in a joint statement, party leaders said: ‘It was a pointless and futile act to destroy the progress made over the last 20 years, which has the overwhelming support of people everywhere.’
But what does this 20 years of progress amount to? A digital mapping project by Dr Matthew Doherty published in 2017, using government census data between 1971 and 2011, reveals that the geographical split between Catholics and Protestants remains pretty much as it was in 1971. There is little or no cross-community integration that might indicate any softening of identities. In the supposedly vital arena of education, it is evident that the integrated-schools movement has lost momentum, enrolling under seven per cent of students in 2017. Outside Belfast City Hall, tour guides and buses wait to take the tourists to see the famous Peace Walls – or ‘interface barriers’, as they are euphemistically called – which crisscross many working-class areas of the city. In 2014, the government set a target of 10 years for the removal of all barriers – there are still 60 across Northern Ireland. There has actually been an increase in wall-building since the GFA in 1998. This suggests that relations between the two communities, notwithstanding the fact that the war is long over, are deteriorating. Any optimism about the future is in short supply.
The most recent edition of the Irish Pages, a Belfast literary publication, surveyed 42 of the leading intellectuals, poets and writers on the subject of the GFA. The heading for leading literary critic Edna Longley’s contribution summed up the survey: ‘The Belfast Agreement and Other Oxymorons.’ Novelist Glen Patterson voted Yes for the GFA, but now thinks he ‘can’t overlook the fact that almost from the get-go our politicians, and therefore the electorate who voted them in, did their best to fuck the whole thing up’.
More recently, Unionist poet Jean Bleakney complained of being assailed by ‘Brexit-bashers, republicans, civic nationalists, DUP-haters, academics, rights activists, journos’, arguing that ‘more than ever, somehow, everything was the fault of the Brits’. During the 1970s and 1980s, when the war in Ireland was raging, Unionists felt that the British government and state would always be on their side – and it was. Following Brexit, many feel that their position is no longer so secure.
Historian and leading architect of the GFA Paul Bew argues that ‘the people at the top of the UK government are paralysed by imperial guilt’. This is apparent among the British intellectual and political elites, where there is a desire to escape the embarrassment of Britain’s colonial and imperial past – a past to which Unionists are wedded. This is particularly evident in the attitude of many Remain voters in the Brexit referendum. They disparage any form of British nationalism or sovereignty as racist or fascistic and prefer to look to a new European identity for salvation.
The GFA’s core principle – that all the people of Northern Ireland can by birthright identify as ‘Irish or British or both as they may so choose’ ” is now cast in a different light as Britishness (and particularly the Unionist version of it) is now considered problematic. This identity crisis, combined with the collapse of the Stormont power-sharing assembly, Brexit, and the DUP’s role in shoring up Theresa May’s government, means that Ulster Unionists and their political culture has come under a new and fearful scrutiny. Their stance on issues such as gay rights, gay marriage and abortion have been condemned, and there is a growing sense that they are an embarrassment to much of the political elite in Britain.
It’s not just the political elite who are losing interest in Unionism. A few statistics from the ongoing Future of England survey reveal that 83 per cent of Leave voters believe that the collapse of the Irish peace process is a price worth paying for Brexit. Only 25 per cent of Leave voters believe that ‘revenue raised from taxpayers in England should also be distributed to Northern Ireland to help Northern Irish public services’. The Spectator has traditionally been one of the most pro-Unionist publications in Britain, but in one of its recent podcasts, the editor Fraser Nelson discussed how the DUP’s insistence that Britain and Northern Ireland remain fully aligned had tied the British into a Soft Brexit. They chose to play out the discussion with a tune by Paul McCartney called ‘Give Ireland Back to the Irish’ – a song banned from UK airwaves in 1972. As the Irish Times journalist Fintan O’Toole worriedly pointed out, there is now a sentiment in the Tory circles which wishes that the ‘Irish (including the DUP) should bugger off and leave us to our own grand project of national liberation’.
So how is all this playing out in Unionist communities in NI? Journalist and Unionist commentator Newton Emerson summed it up when he wrote the following in the Irish Times:
‘Unionism’s largest party has consigned the UK to a zombie government, keeping Labour out of office but the Tories barely in power. The British public, having been forced to notice the DUP, has had every nationalist trope of Unionism’s awful “un-Britishness” seemingly confirmed. The same public has demonstrated its indifference, certainly at the ballot box, to the Labour leadership’s past sympathies with the IRA.’
Unionist fears are further compounded by the demographic clock. Dublin economist David McWilliams, who famously predicted the collapse of the Celtic Tiger, married into a Unionist family. His observation reveals something of the change in Northern Ireland:
‘I’ve been travelling around Ulster recently, taking in the views from rural Markethill in South Armagh to the prosperous King’s Road, Belmont and Stormont suburbs of east Belfast, and from coastal fishing villages of the Ards Peninsula to the council estates of Cookstown in Tyrone. I have seen Union Jacks and even UVF flags where I never saw them before. The anxiety of Unionism about the ticking demographic clock is captured by this “backs-to-the-wall” display of extravagant loyalist pageantry on the streets. On present trends, Catholics will be in the majority in Northern Ireland by the end of the next decade.’
Is there a future for a united Ireland? Would the Irish political class allow a referendum on it? And, more importantly, would they respect the democratic decision? Taking up his role as the spokesman for the southern Irish political elite, Fintan O’Toole thinks it will not stand: ‘The simplistic notion that a quick transition to Irish unity will solve the problem is utterly unconstitutional. The Constitution requires a profound reconciliation between diverse identities. That in turn requires people to be secure and confident in their sense of belonging.’
O’Toole is trying to put a legal cover on the reality of current political trends. The southern Irish elites did not respect the democratic decisions of their people in two referendums on EU treaties. Their British counterparts have shown the same attitude in refusing to respect the Brexit vote. Even if a border poll was demanded by the public, a united Ireland by democratic means seems an unlikely prospect.
The tide of history is turning in the United Kingdom of Britain and Northern Ireland. Both nationalism and Unionism are now equally despised. The attempt to articulate a new political dispensation through culture and identity, which is central to the peace process, is producing not reconciliation, but a deeper and more dangerous personal enmity. Ireland needs a vision for a future that can prevent this slide into a repressed misanthropy.
With many thanks to: Spiked and Denis Russell for the original story
Denis Russell is a former history teacher.