by Frank Schnittger
Thu Oct 25th, 2018 at 03:02:06 PM EST
Letter to the Editor, Irish Times.
Newton Emerson's article on Leo Varadker having a "tin ear" on N. Ireland is notable chiefly for the for the quality of the comments beneath it in your on-line edition. [Leo Varadkar continues to show a tin ear to the North, Opinion, 25/10/2018]
For all his criticism of the DUP, Newton remains of the view that Brexit is somehow just politics as usual, and the usual rules of politics should apply. But to quote WB Yeats, all has been changed, changed utterly, by Brexit.
Time was when Taoisigh had to tip toe around unionist sensitivities for fear of exacerbating a very dangerous situation. Bertie Ahern's finest achievement was his contribution to the peace process. He deserves a reprieve from political purgatory for that alone.
But the DUP's adoption of a pro Brexit policy in N. Ireland, against the wishes of 56% of it's electorate, is a full frontal attack on democracy, the peace process, the Good Friday Agreement, and all that is decent in Irish politics. To imagine it can now be business as usual in the aftermath is delusional.
Frankly, the DUP have now been written out of the script as far as the future of Ireland is concerned. Loyalists can continue to vote for them if they wish, but no one will take them seriously. What Sammy Wilson "thinks" is good for satirical and comedy columns only.
Mr. Varadker's job is to protect the interests of the people of Ireland from the very serious economic and political implications of Brexit. If that upsets some unionist or brexiteer sensitivities, then so be it. A "tin ear" can be useful in drowning out irrelevant noise. Certainly no one will take the DUP seriously outside its heartlands of north Antrim and east Belfast.
There will be no functioning N. Ireland Assembly or Executive while the current crop of DUP "leaders" are in power, and until Brexit is done and dusted, one way or the other. Not only will the DUP be sold down the river by Theresa May, they will be the laughing stock of everyone else.
Leo Varadker can bank a few thousand extra votes every time the DUP excoriates him. Michael Martin [Leader of the opposition and Fianna Fail] must be green with envy.
Newton states that "nobody envisages new passport controls, road closures or routine queues for motorists under any circumstances - all widespread public concerns from both a practical and security perspective". However this is precisely the prospect that Theresa May's "time limited" backstop envisages.
Theresa May is hoping she can use the EU's generousity towards N. Ireland as a lever to prise the same concessions for the UK as a whole. However while the EU has historically tolerated anomalies in relation to relatively insignificant smaller regions - Greenland, Gibraltar and Jersey come to mind - doing the same for a major power is another matter altogether. Norway pays a sum not dissimilar to the UK's (net per capita) contribution to the EU for access to the single market. Theresa May is not going to get that for free for the UK as a whole.
That is why the EU wishes to include this commitment only in a non-binding "political declaration" to accompany the formal Brexit Agreement. The messy business of sorting out how much the UK will have to pay for the privilege is best left for another day. But seeing an opportunity to grab the high moral ground (to prevent violence in N. Ireland!) Theresa May wants to achieve this privileged position for free for all of the UK now. As Fintan O'Toole has noted:
But there is a dramatic twist: the bargaining is not so much about Northern Ireland. It is bargaining with Northern Ireland. The sheer cynicism of what is going on is so breathtaking that it is hard to credit and thus easy to miss.
The British approach to Brexit has been so chaotic that it has seemed silly to look for method in the madness. In relation to the Irish dimension of Brexit, we've become inured to magical thinking (the wonderful efficacy of not-yet-invented technological solutions), blithe misapprehension and sheer fatuousness (Boris Johnson's insistence that the Border is just like that between two London boroughs).
This has been oddly comforting. Since this stuff is so evidently childish, we can wait for the adults to enter the room.
But the comfort is false. The adults did enter the room. The Brexit negotiations are now in the hands of serious, skilful professional mandarins. And they've done something remarkable with the Irish Question. Remarkable in that it takes some nerve even to contemplate it.
For what it comes down to is a strategy of using the human suffering of the Troubles to try to extract a favourable post-Brexit trade deal from the EU. You have to be very clever to think of trying this - and utterly shameless.
The irony is that the DUP cannot recognise a gift horse when they are offered it. Their farmers are already going to lose the generous subsidies offered by the EU's CAP programs which the UK government has promised to continue only for the life time of the current parliament. N. Ireland will also lose considerable funding under various regional and peace programs. At least the "backstop" would continue to offer them unfettered access to the EU Single Market.
But for the DUP, British nationalism trumps all. They are emotionally and ideologically invested in the extreme right wing nationalist Brexiteer project and have close personal relationships with may hard line Brexiteers at Westminster. Most of their MP's can look forward to continued safe seats and ennoblement to the House of Lords if all else fails.
Ian Paisley jnr. recently survived a recall petition in his safe N. Antrim constituency for accepting well over £50,000 in luxury holidays from the Sri Lanken government for lobbying against UN human rights abuse investigations in their country. DUP leader Arlene Foster, wasted £500 million on a "renewable heat incentive scheme" which paid people more than the cost of the fuel, with the result that many (including her friends and relations) burned tons of fuel in farm barn-houses to no useful purpose other than to profit at the taxpayers expense. The DUP could put up a donkey up for election in some constituencies and still win. Such is the tribal nature of N. Ireland politics.
But as the Brexit negotiations approach their denouement, everyone is getting nervous. The DUP's leading position in N. Ireland unionism is at risk if their Brexit strategy goes seriously wrong. Somehow this is supposed to be Leo Varaker's problem. Normally one of the key requirements of a good negotiating strategy is to avoid humiliating your opponents: You may need them to work with you afterwards. However in this instance the DUP have managed to humiliate themselves all by themselves with no help needed from anyone else.
Blaming everyone else for their predicament is just par for the course.