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Time for Unionists to grow up

by Frank Schnittger Thu Apr 15th, 2021 at 03:17:03 PM EST

Peter Cardwell is an author and journalist and former special adviser to two Conservative secretaries of state for Northern Ireland. He lost his job as special adviser to the Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor at the Ministry of Justice in a Boris Johnson cabinet reshuffle last year, and was previously special adviser to then Tory NI secretary of state James Brokenshire between 2016 and 2018.

The Irish Times has given him space to pen his view that "Unionism [is] not emotionally ready for conversation about united Ireland" in the latest of a long series of opinion pieces it has published from British and unionist sources, most of which have received a scathing reception from the Irish Times commentariat. I have written a long letter to the editor in response:

A Chara,- Peter Cardwell writes "Unionism [is] not emotionally ready for conversation about united Ireland" (Opinion, 14th. April) and declares that those, like Jim O'Callaghan, who wish to start a debate about a united Ireland "must not go beyond unionism so quickly, rather meet unionists halfway, starting a more low-key discussion cognisant of first principles and current realities".  

In other words, unionism at present, is open only to a discussion about possible reforms within the current constitutional structure. He recalls how David Trimble, when asked what unionism really wanted, said simply: "To be left alone." There never was a half-way house for unionists.

Indeed, if all Trimble wanted as a unionist was to be "left alone", why then did he actively support a hard Brexit, against the opposition of the vast majority in N. Ireland? And if unionists find it hard to engage in a conversation about a united Ireland now, how do they think nationalists feel about being declared British at every turn by unionists for the past 100 years?  

"What is unionism without the union? " is indeed a good question, but it is one only unionists can truly answer: "What do they want to be?" seems an appropriate response.  

Just as the EU had a hard time negotiating Brexit with the UK because the UK never seemed to be able to make up its mind as to what kind of Brexit it truly wanted, it is almost impossible for nationalists to engage constructively with unionists on a united Ireland because the response always seems to be a childishly petulant "I don't want it! Ulster says NO!"  

That means, effectively, that if a referendum on Irish unity is ever passed, north and south, unionists will have played no part in determining what sort of a united Ireland will be formed in its aftermath. Some have declared their determination to emigrate to Britain in that event, on the grounds that you can only be British under British sovereignty. Tell that to the millions of British expats around the world!  

But ultimately, we don't want unionists to feel like expats living in a foreign country if Ireland is united. They are being invited to help shape that possible future, but you can take a horse to the water; you can't make it drink: ultimately it is their free choice whether to engage or not.  

But it is unionism's failure to offer an attractive alternative future to the people of N. Ireland that will ultimately determine their fate. What are they offering nationalists as an alternative? A Northern Ireland outside the EU and part of a union which may disintegrate with the emergence of English nationalism and Scottish independence?

The fact that Mr. Cardwell seems to be relying on the appointment of a civil servant, Sue Gray, as second permanent secretary at the Cabinet Office in London to maintain the union is telling. Is insider dealing by a civil servant in London unionism's best hope?

Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK to be governed by an international Treaty which explicitly recognises the legitimacy and equality of both unionist and nationalist aspirations and declares that the UK government has no self-interested motives in furthering either outcome. It was never as "British as Finchley" as Thatcher declared, but now that is formally recognised in the Good Friday Agreement.  

It was this hybrid constitutional structure which unionists supporting Brexit threatened to overturn and which has now forced the UK government into explicitly rejecting that attempted overthrow.

The Northern Ireland Protocol is the mechanism by which N. Ireland can remain both within the UK and within the EU Single Market and Customs Union. It may be an inelegant device, but it is the only way that both identities can be granted "equality of esteem." Unionists who thought they could have it all their own way again have indeed been "slow learners" as Seamus Mallon once declared.  

Unionists may feel let down that their loyalty to Britain is not being reciprocated but they have been loyal to a Britishness which has not been dominant since the days of empire. Unionists may not be "emotionally ready" to have a conversation about a united Ireland, but time and tide wait for no man. It is their unwillingness to even discuss changing realities that has led to this emotional unreadiness.  

Andrew Trimble apart, the lack of leadership in the unionist community has been staggering. Arlene Foster's declaration that she would rather emigrate than live in a united Ireland says it all. She is prepared to abandon her friends, relatives and neighbours rather than lead them through what would undoubtedly be a difficult transition for them. With leaders like that, who needs enemies?  

Andrew Trimble is a self described devout Christian,  former Ulster and Irish rugby player and current entrepreneur from a unionist background. He has argued that Northern Ireland people should seek to forge an identity of their own, a fusion of British and Irish identities unique to N. Ireland.

Newton Emerson, a unionist commentator has a column in the Irish Times complaining that London and Dublin are making a problem of a solution and mismanaging the current rioting and unrest in N. Ireland. I have commented below the article as follows:
Nobody does outrage quite like the unionists. They destroyed the NI executive and then complained when others tried to fix it. They vetoed every form of Brexit until they ended up with one that created "a border down the Irish sea" and then blame Dublin and the EU for it. They claim the protocol violates the Belfast agreement and then, in the next breath, repudiate it anyway. They claim the protocol lacks democratic legitimacy even though it was agreed on their behalf by the British government and requires the approval of the NI assembly on a regular basis to continue to operate.

Newton himself wants the BIIGC to meet regularly and frequently and then complains when the Irish government asks for a meeting - for the first time in two years. Brandon Lewis refuses to convene a meeting on the grounds that the BIIGC cannot discuss devolved matters, but Protocol - the alleged main cause of the rioting - is anything but a devolved matter. Unionist leaders incited the young to riot in Belfast to deflect attention from their own culpability for Brexit and then claim it is caused by the insensitivity of Dublin and the EU. As if the rioters are aware of the finer nuances of Dublin or EU policymaking.

I have news for you, Newton: Hardly anyone anywhere outside of N. Ireland cares any more what unionists think and feel because they are bound to complain anyway, regardless of what help and goodwill is proffered. Let them burn down their housing estates if they must. No doubt they will then complain at the lack of housing. No doubt the loyalist drug gangs are angry that the PSNI aren't turning a blind eye to their activities, but that really is a devolved matter, and one only unionists can resolve. The more this goes on, the more England will lose interest in NI ...

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Apr 15th, 2021 at 03:46:25 PM EST
Truth can be a brutal thing

keep to the Fen Causeway
by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Mon Apr 19th, 2021 at 12:59:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Brexit and pandemic combine for big hit to Irish trade with Britain
Latest data shows surge in trade between North and Republic

Brexit and the pandemic have damaged the Republic's trading relationship with Britain with the latest trade numbers showing a major fall-off in exports and imports. The latest figures also point however to a surge in trade between the Republic and the North.

According to the Central Statistics Office (CSO), the value of goods imports from Britain fell by 57 per cent or €1.6 billion during the first two months of 2021 compared with the same period last year, while exports declined by 12 per cent or €250 million.


Meanwhile, the figures show a sizeable pick-up in trade between the Republic and Northern Ireland, suggesting more firms appear to be using the North as a channel to move goods between the Republic and Britain since Brexit.

Imports from Northern Ireland into the Republic almost doubled to €283 million in February compared with the same month last year - half of the increase related to pharma - while the value of exports from the Republic to Northern Ireland rose by 38 per cent to €232 million.

The overall figures for February pointed to another strong month for Irish exports, which rose marginally to €13.1 billion on the back of strong pharma exports.

Exports of medical and pharmaceutical products in February were valued at €4.5 million, up 35 per cent on the same month last year.

The Republic's pharma sector has benefited from a strong pick-up in demand linked to the pandemic.

The value of goods imports fell slightly to €6.9 billion, which gave rise to a seasonally adjusted trade surplus of €6.2 billion.

The EU accounted for €4.6 billion (38 per cent ) of total exports in February, of which €1.4 billion went to Germany and €1 billion went to Belgium. The figures show exports to EU countries in February decreased by 1 per cent compared with February last year.

The US was the main non-EU destination accounting for €4.3 billion (35 per cent) of exports in February.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Apr 15th, 2021 at 06:53:59 PM EST
You want find unionists boasting about N. Ireland doubling its exports to Ireland. Their sole focus is their links to Britain... and a N. Ireland public sector heavily subsidised by Britain.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Apr 15th, 2021 at 06:57:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It's not only your favorite Unionists who are clamoring for attention: the Brexiters are unhappy for the lack of attention in Brussels lately, having been passed over for a sofa.

UK asks for more time to respond to EU Brexit legal action - RTE TV

Britain has asked for more time to respond to legal action taken by the European Union over its unilateral decision to ease requirements of the Northern Ireland Protocol, Ireland's RTE television reported on Wednesday.

The European Union launched legal action against Britain last month for unilaterally changing trading arrangements for Northern Ireland that Brussels says breach the Brexit divorce deal agreed with London last year. read more

Brussels gave London, which has said it has not violated the agreement, a month to respond to the legal action, but the British government has requested an extension of one month, RTE reported.

"The request came in two letters from the UK's chief Brexit minister David Frost," RTE correspondent Tony Connelly said in a Twitter post. The EU declined immediate comment.

by Bernard on Thu Apr 15th, 2021 at 08:14:07 PM EST
"Unionists just want to be left alone"??

I must admit, of all the dishonest things I've heard from British politicians lately, that was the one that made me goggle. Oh, if only...

However, to my eyes, their idea of "being left alone" is somewhat closer to that of the Confederate States leading up to the outbreak of the US Civil War. Just leave us alone with our white supremacy and slavery and we'll be fine. The problem with the Unionists is that being left alone requires republicans being left lower; which is where all this started.

Sadly, all of the things that preserved the unionist compact with their electorate have gone. Mostly it was well paid skilled and semi skilled jobs in the shipyards and other defence contractors. But that has all gone now, working class unionists are now no better off than their republican brethren. So they're left clinging to symbols and whipping up confected outrage for their mobs. But, as John Hume noted, you can't eat a flag.

Arlene Foster can claim she will leave Ulster if it join the Republic, but where could she go to find another religious apartheid state ?  Scotland might have been possible, but that's looking to leave the UK too. If it is to be england, then I hope she chooses carefully because, whatever they think of brexit, most English people couldn't give a shit about Ulster and its petty bitterness.

People have noted that the union they crave is curiously one-eyed and needy. Like a cat, they're constantly asking for validation and attention from Westminster but only on their terms. An affirmation that is never reciprocated. This is because this ideal union, which they wish to be left alone to contemplate,  can only exist in their own minds, forever to be idealised, but now as remote from the 21st century as the British Empire which sustained it.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Mon Apr 19th, 2021 at 01:29:48 PM EST
A rather good compendium of where things stands in NI, from Politico.eu (I learned things):

Can Northern Ireland survive Brexit?

Naomi Long, the leader of Northern Ireland's center-ground Alliance Party, told POLITICO that before talk of a united Ireland can begin, the people of Northern Ireland must unite first, and they're nowhere near doing that.

Long, a native of overwhelmingly Protestant East Belfast, has seen the city's nearly 100 "peace lines" -- barriers of brick, steel and barbed wire separating nationalist and unionist districts -- continue to grow during the most recent two decades of relative calm, a period when the rest of Northern Ireland's capital has grown increasingly Catholic.

She says few in Dublin, London or Brussels understand how deeply segregated Belfast is and how dangerous the loyalist paramilitary threat can become when confronted with change. She has faced repeated threats because of her message of tolerance and compromise.

The Good Friday accord gives the British government the power to call a unity referendum if it believes a majority exists in Northern Ireland for this outcome. Former Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, who jointly oversaw the agreement, thinks 2028 - three decades after Good Friday - could be the year it happens.

Privately, many Irish diplomats hope Ahern is wrong. They broadly share British exasperation over Northern Ireland, where the two colliding national identities have mutated into a land of never-ending arguments. "The longer this remains London's problem, not ours, the better," says one.

Such views beg the question: Does London want rid of Northern Ireland more than Dublin wants it?

"Britain, as has become so apparent since the beginning of the Brexit saga, sees Northern Ireland as expendable," said Diarmaid Ferriter, professor of modern history at University College Dublin. "It really is the problem child that nobody wants."

by Bernard on Wed Apr 21st, 2021 at 08:05:24 PM EST
Yes, I'm sure this is a reasonable snapshot of sentiment at this time. However, the trend line suggests that unionism is on the ebb.
Yes, the extremists will always be there, but the neutrals are moving away from them; these people are going to be left stranded and sooner than they think.

If I had to bet I'd say some time in the 2nd half of this decade they will be at 70%. At which point it's over

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Fri Apr 23rd, 2021 at 08:01:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There are two sides to the equation: the British side (mostly English side), as you mention, who is getting tired of subsidizing the Unionists and their sectarian lifestyle. Then, the efforts the Republic may have to undertake to uplift and integrate the North.

As Frank, repeatedly pointed out, the difference between the two part of the island would make even the German re-unification look like a stroll in the park. It may well happen before this decade is out, but eventually integrating Ireland will take several more decades.

by Bernard on Sun Apr 25th, 2021 at 08:46:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The ongoing problem is going to be the intensification of ghettoisation of the residual Loyalist constituency.
Low-qualified but well-paying manufacturing jobs no longer exist; boys from poorer Protestant districts have low educational attainment; those who attain higher education tend to do so in Great Britain and not come back; and so on. It could go on for generations, with careful management by the Unionist politicians (for whom a resolution of grievances would not seem to be a good career plan).

Still. Reunification is perhaps harder than Germany, but easier than Korea. Surely?

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II

by eurogreen on Mon Apr 26th, 2021 at 06:53:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The problem in Germany was primarily economic once the Iron curtain went down. In Korea it is political and military. In Ireland in is economic and social, particularly in ghettoised areas. It's not beyond fixing, but Britain must withdraw first and a long transition will be required, together with a lot of money...

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Apr 26th, 2021 at 02:04:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I would think that another factor would be the availability of money to support the poorer of the merged states. West Germany was (is) able to do this, and presumably South Korean would be able to do it if Korea united.

If Ireland united, where would the support for the previous NI come from, the EU?

by asdf on Tue Apr 27th, 2021 at 03:45:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Some EU help may be forthcoming - from regional, CAP and peace funds - but nowhere near the €12 Billion p.a.  UK net subsidy. A Biden style administration might also contribute a little, but the heavy lifting would have to be done in Ireland where it represents 4% of (bloated) GDP and a lot more in terms of real disposable income. Not impossible, but not without significant impact on living standards generally.

Over the course of a few decades the integration of the two economies and governmental systems could yield some synergies and economies of scale, and there is no reason why, with more appropriate economic policies, N. Ireland couldn't come to be as economically successful as the Republic.

However time is running out for Ireland's corporate tax driven incentive package for MNC's to locate here, and they are the drivers of economic growth and government tax revenues. It's a bit like Scotland's oil running out - both parts of Ireland would have to develop new models of economic/tax growth to mitigate damage to living standards.

And all of this assumes that continued unrest in N. Ireland wouldn't create a huge disincentive to locate and invest here, not to mention the social and related financial costs. The protocol actual offers N. Ireland unique access to both UK and EU markets, and could be a huge unique selling point for investment there. However you an rely on unionist "leadership" and loyalist rioters to muck that up. Quelle surprise...

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Tue Apr 27th, 2021 at 11:17:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Boris Johnson's gibberish may be surreal but it's also dangerous
(Subscriber only)
When the British prime minister can't be bothered to lie, he lapses into nonsense

It's not when Boris Johnson is lying that you have to have to worry. If he's lying, that just means he's still breathing. No, the real danger sign is the gibbering. It's what he does when he can't be bothered to think up a lie.

Even for someone with so much practice, mendacity takes a bit of effort. When it's too much trouble, Johnson just babbles. The big problem for Ireland is that his most delirious gush of gabble is about something that matters a great deal to the future of this island: the Northern Ireland protocol to the Brexit withdrawal agreement.


Johnson claimed that the Northern Ireland protocol was "always intended to be a light-touch measure" and not to "create any kind of barrier down the Irish Sea". That's self-evidently false. It was inconceivable that the EU would ever have agreed to "light touch" protection of its precious Single Market. Hence, of course, there is a barrier down the Irish Sea.

When Johnson signed what he hailed as a "fantastic" deal with the EU, he agreed that goods going from Britain to Northern Ireland would be subject to the EU customs code. The relevant regulation is 2015/2446. It is 557 pages long. To use the kind of classical allusion that Johnson favours, that's as light touch as a thunderbolt from Zeus.


The deeper problem is with what Johnson said when Devenport asked him what he wants to achieve in relation to the protocol: "What we're doing is removing what I think of as the unnecessary protuberances and barriers that have grown up and we're getting the barnacles off the thing and sandpapering it into shape."

This is when you know Johnson is completely winging it. He lapses into a druggy word association game where sound replaces meaning. So "protocol" suggests "protuberance". "Barrier" morphs into "barnacles". The image of the border in the Irish Sea fires in his synapses some memory of boats being hauled onto land and the props being sandpapered to get the barnacles off. If the cameras had not been rolling, the sandpaper would have turned into a sandpiper and flown off with a barnacle goose into the mystic protoplasm of the global British future.

This is not some dude with a big bong writing awful poetry at three a.m. It is, to use the word Johnson has so much trouble with, "actually" the voice of the sovereign government of Northern Ireland. There are actual consequences for a society whose recovery from a traumatic conflict is still fragile and reversible.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Tue Apr 27th, 2021 at 01:44:35 PM EST
Reminds me of Sarah Palin's word salads

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Tue Apr 27th, 2021 at 01:45:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
by Oui on Tue Apr 27th, 2021 at 06:32:02 PM EST
by Oui on Wed Apr 28th, 2021 at 07:45:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]

... but history will be quite harsh.

by Oui on Wed Apr 28th, 2021 at 07:57:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Michel Barnier says Brexit is a 'failure' the EU must learn from  - RTE
He told MEPs: "For Ireland, peace is very important. Everybody has to shoulder their responsibilities...and respect what they have signed up to. This is something that affects peace and lasting trust between the EU, the UK, Ireland, all of us.

"Ireland, we don't look at it just in terms of goods, services and trade. Instead, men and women who need peace, which is very fragile."

Mr Barnier recalled four years of "very difficult negotiations" and said that as well as a difficult divorce, Brexit was a "warning".

"It's a warning Brexit. And it's a failure, a failure of the European Union. And we have to learn lessons from it as politicians here in the European Parliament and Council, in the Commission, in all of the capitals.

by Bernard on Wed Apr 28th, 2021 at 08:29:27 PM EST
"Our duty is to listen and understand the feelings of the people and the feelings of the people, this social anger shouldn't be confused with populism, and we should do everything to respond to that in each of the member states and at the union level and continue to show the value added of what we do together to ensure that we can be prosperous, independent, safe and secure," he added.

Almost philosophical of Michel Barnier. He seems to be saying no one should be left behind and the EU has done poorly. His warning will fall on deaf ears in the EU of Brussels and most of the EU-27 capitals. The financial burden carried by the EU and the ECB is huge. How come corruption and enrichment of the new is happening today as we speak? Solidarity reaches no further than as everyone leaves the Council or EP conference room and shut the door behind them.

Barnier and Von der Leyen could have used the occasion of ratification to be more specific.

by Oui on Thu Apr 29th, 2021 at 03:38:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]

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