By Brian Feeney (for Irish News)
Charlie Flanagan tells us the Irish government will seek ‘legal recognition of the unique status of the north and the circumstances on the island’.
However, he was talking in terms of the free movement of people and goods on the island.
That seems to be what the Taoiseach’s planned ‘All-Island Civic Dialogue’ seems to be concentrating on too.
(You daren’t call it an ‘All-Ireland Civic Dialogue’ in case you offend unionists who aren’t turning up anyway).
Most experts think that will be a tall order. In the last week the indications are that other EU members are lining up to make negotiations as difficult as possible for the British government after Theresa May and her ministers’ aggressive and provocative remarks at her party’s rally in Birmingham.
The Conservative Brexiteers really know how to make friends and influence people. May and her immediate xenophobic entourage are the only people who count.
That’s clear now. Our proconsul, her local little Englander Sir Echo, is her political lapdog who has worked with her during his years at the Home Office where her authoritarianism was evident in every statement.
Our proconsul takes care to use exactly the same words as May, for example ‘no borders of the past’, without having a clue what that means in the future or how it will be implemented.
What we know for sure is this. May and her braying conference place immigration at the top of the agenda.
Control of numbers means leaving the single market and probably the customs union too. She, and of course her local lapdog, witter on about the Common Travel Area, deliberately confusing it with free trade in goods which it certainly isn’t.
How the two are going to be equated in Charlie Flanagan’s ‘legal recognition’ is a mystery when Britain leaves the single market.
Puzzling enough as that conundrum is, there’s another more profound political conundrum.
How do you retain the right to pursue the aspiration towards Irish unity to be operated by a border poll as provided in the Good Friday Agreement when the north isn’t in the EU? So far only the Taoiseach has made a passing reference to this problem in an important speech a couple of weeks ago.
Suppose post Brexit, in a decade with an inevitable nationalist voting majority here especially as economic hardship bites, suppose people did vote for Irish unity: how would that work when the north isn’t in the EU? How does it join?
The Taoiseach compared the problem to West Germany’s position after 1989 when the wall came down. It joined with East Germany which was admitted automatically after 1990 to the EEC as it then was.
Could the north do the same and if so, what would the Scottish government think if the same arrangements weren’t available to Scotland? Would other EU members agree? Would Spain want similar arrangements to incorporate Gibraltar as their price?
Charlie Flanagan and the Irish government need to start thinking about how they incorporate such a process as the German one into the ‘legal recognition of the unique status of the north’ instead of just talking about trade.
The Irish government goes on about how a hard border will cause difficulties for the peace process. Fair enough.
What will cause incomparably more difficulty is if the carefully worded deal in the Good Friday Agreement about how to advance Irish unity peacefully and democratically is casually set aside unilaterally by the British government with no concern for the inevitable consequences.
Let’s state quite simply what they are. A boost for republican dissidents, destabilisation of Sinn Fein’s political position and general nationalist outrage that a British government has once again reneged on a deal, in this case an international agreement.
The Irish government has to start making these points explicitly because the Brexiteers in this horrible British government care nothing of the consequences for the north of their rush towards a UKIP-lite position.
Cutting immigration is the number one priority in order to steal UKIP’s clothes and undermine Labour. Dublin should remind them of the consequences of ignoring Ireland.