By Brian Feeney (for Irish News)
Well, unlike the assembly election Arlene Foster can’t claim she won this one. In fact she was decisively defeated 56 per cent- 44 per cent.
When it comes to talking about the EU she doesn’t speak for people here, not even for many unionists in the north. The 56 per cent for Remain has to include unionists and it does. For example North Down, not known for its rabid republicanism, voted 52 per cent-48 per cent Remain.
Her reaction has been to talk only about the UK vote ignoring the truth that the majority of people here do not believe it is in their best interests to leave the EU. Foster harps on about the nonsense of returning sovereignty to the UK inexplicably ignoring the disastrous effects of the vote on the north’s agriculture and manufacturing.
In an extraordinary piece in the Belfast Telegraph advocating Leave she never once mentioned agriculture, manufacturing or remarkably, the Republic. Not a word about the billions in cross-border trade every year or the fact that companies in the Republic own most of the north’s food processing plants. Obviously the tens of thousands of jobs cross border trade supports don’t matter. After all, she didn’t mention them.
It seems the mentality on Planet Arlene is that the sea is a hundred miles from Enniskillen because thirty miles west of Enniskillen the world comes to an end. How can she ignore because of political dogma that 87 per cent of farm revenue here comes from the Single Farm Payment? A staggering figure. Last year there were 30,000 applications for SFP in the north. In short the north’s agricultural sector is not viable without the EU and many of its farmers are strong DUP supporters.
Still, none of it matters because, despite Foster’s ridiculous claim that the north ‘is a key part of the UK’, the majority of English, note English, people ignored the consequences for the north as resolutely as Foster ignores the existence of the Republic. The north of Ireland is dragged inexorably in the wake just like Scotland.
If Arlene Foster’s representation of the interests of people as uncontestably expressed yesterday here has been woefully inadequate, then Sinn Fein’s response has been laughably inadequate, absurdly so. A referendum on a united Ireland? Look, as you’ve read here repeatedly the Northern Ireland Act 1998 empowers a secretary of state alone to call a referendum only if it appears likely a majority will vote for a united Ireland. Currently that means if a proconsul called a referendum the decision would be overturned in court. Get real.
It’s time for new thinking. As a result of yesterday when the UK leaves in a couple of years the Irish government will have to negotiate a wide-ranging bilateral arrangement with the UK about free travel and border controls but also rewriting parts of the Good Friday Agreement because EU membership is assumed in much of the GFA. Sinn Fein as part of the north’s administration must be involved in those negotiations. So too Arlene Foster and her band of backwoodsmen though they won’t like it, but no British government is going to jeopardise friendly relations with Dublin to placate ‘that lot’ as Conservatives call the DUP.
The inevitability of such negotiations is an opportunity for Sinn Fein and northern nationalists to tighten relations with the Republic in ways that benefit all the people on this island. Nothing will happen in the short term until the dust settles but now is the time for people in Sinn Fein to start thinking about how they can best act in the interests of all the people in the north since the DUP have clearly demonstrated they can’t. So, new horizons.