.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Are Brexiteers prepared to sacrifice peace in Northern Ireland?

The status of the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic has been a major headache for UK Ministers as they seek to inexpertly navigate the storm surrounding our exit from the EU.

The danger is that by putting back border controls and disrupting free trade between the two, Ministers will start to unpick twenty years of peace founded on the principles of direct rule and power-sharing as set out in the Good Friday agreement.

They need not fear, however, as the hard line Brexiteers have the solution. They want to ditch the Good Friday agreement altogether and apparently, damn the consequences. At least that is the only conclusion that can be drawn from yesterday's co-ordinated onslaught on the peace process.

It is an onslaught that follows the hard-line DUP's decision to take their toys home and rely on Theresa May's largesse to keep them in a position of influence in the North. But in my view it is also a cynical exercise in self-serving politics that underlines the real dangers inherent in Brexit.

It all started with a Daniel Hannan column in the Telegraph in which he states:

'The Belfast Agreement is often spoken about in quasi-religious terms – literally, for it is more widely known as the Good Friday Agreement. But its flaws have become clearer over time. The original deal represented a bribe to two sets of hardliners who, having opposed power-sharing, came to support it when they realised that they would be the direct beneficiaries. For 20 years, Sinn Féin and the DUP have propped each other up like two exhausted boxers in a clinch. A permanent grand coalition leaves them free to reward their supporters with subsidies and sinecures.'

Similar sentiments have been echoed by the former Northern Ireland Secretary, Owen Patterson, whilst Labour MP and Brexiteer, Kate Hooey has also waded into the fray. She is quoted as saying:

“I think there is a need for a cold rational look at the Belfast agreement.

“Even if a settlement had been agreed a few days ago there is nothing to stop Sinn Fein or the DUP finding something else to walk out about in a few months. Mandatory coalition is not sustainable in the long term.

“The Belfast agreement has been changed slightly over the years with the St Andrew’s agreement. We need to face reality - Sinn Fein don’t particularly want a successful Northern Ireland. They want a united Ireland.”

As Slugger O'Toole points out the whole basis of this criticism is wrong:

This agreement is not perfect, but no agreement ever is. Since 1969, we have been through many incarnations and attempts to resolves differences, but the Good Friday Agreement has been the only lasting document that has survived for nearly 20 years.

Indeed, contrary to the assertion above that this was merely something to reward the hardliners, it was actually more mainstream leaders like David Trimble and John Hume (and others) who came together to put this forward as a solution. It was the DUP, who actually sat outside the room during the entire process.

I know it’s now in vogue in British politics to boast about the popular will of the people. It’s worth remembering that the biggest expression of democratic will in our history was the resounding 71.1% (80% turnout) given by the people here saying Yes to the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

Writing off democracy in Northern Ireland so easily is an act of breath-taking cynicism. It is not ideal and is need of reform, but for now it represents the best chance to maintain peace in the province. The view of former Northern Ireland Secretary, Peter Hain is more prescient:

Hoey and fellow Eurosceptics would “sacrifice almost anything on the altar of a hard Brexit,” said Hain, who supports the pro-Single Market campaign Open Britain.

He said: “The reckless slurs of Brextremists like Daniel Hannan, Owen Paterson and Kate Hoey against the Good Friday Agreement show they are willing to sacrifice almost anything on the altar of a hard Brexit.

“Rather than engage with the inherent contradictions in their position of maintaining an open border in Ireland whilst also leaving the Single Market and the Customs Union, fanatics like Hannan, Paterson and Hoey instead say we should tear up the agreement underpinning peace in Northern Ireland, just so they can have their way on Brexit.

“During the referendum, the Leave campaign dismissed all claims that the Good Friday Agreement could be undermined by Brexit as ‘scaremongering’. Now some of them are publicly calling for it to be scrapped. No-one voted in the referendum to jeopardise the Northern Irish peace process. If that’s the consequence of Brexit, people are entitled to ask whether Brexit is the right path for the country.”

We should not allow the Brexiteers to unravel decades of peace in Northern Ireland. It is bad enough that they have condemned us to the inept negotiating tactics of UK Tory Ministers, which threaten to leave us isolated in the world and at the mercy of the likes of Donald Trump for future trade deals. Handing Ireland back to sectarian violence so as to solve a problem they have created does them no credit at all.
Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?