After a meeting between the British Prime Minister and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar failed to make headway in resolving the dispute over the border, Sinn Féin is to oppose any attempt by the DUP to veto the backstop at the Stormont Assembly in Belfast.
The backstop, agreed in negotiations in late 2017, ensures that there can be no remilitarisation of the border through Ireland after Britain leaves the European Union.
Speaking at a party event in County Armagh, Ms McDonald said that the DUP “must not have a veto on protecting Ireland’s basic rights”.
The DUP no longer holds the balance of power at Westminster, and its pact to prop up the Tory government in London is unofficially over. With its influence quickly waning, unionist commentators have now raised the idea of the Stormont Assembly being an alternative means of controlling the North’s future relationship with the EU, and to block or limit the backstop. As a result of the 2006 St Andrew’s Agreement, the DUP can veto any political change on matters devolved to the Six County Assembly using a “petition of concern”.
A proposal for the free movement of goods across the border in the single area of agricultural produce has already been considered as a possible alternative to the backstop.
European Union officials have expressed their opposition to the idea of EU laws being compromised by a regional assembly. DUP leader Arlene Foster said this week that her party wanted a “sensible deal” and claimed her party did not want to see any “infrastructure” at the border”.
She wrote: “The UK must leave as one nation (sic). We are keen to see a sensible deal but not one that divides the internal market of the UK. We will not support any arrangements that create a barrier to East West trade.”
Speaking to journalists at a Sinn Féin event near the Louth-Down border, Ms McDonald said: “There should be no veto in the protection of Irish interests. The DUP, the assembly, nobody can have a veto on what are very, very necessary bottom-line protections.
“They’re not green protections, or orange, it’s not a nationalist or a unionist demand, this is the position of Ireland, this is the position that has been articulated consistently since Brexit came to pass and this is the position that now must be adhered to.”
In a speech to party members, Ms McDonald described the British government policy as a “Brexit fantasy that is profoundly stupid and immeasurably dangerous”.
“Mr Johnson’s stupid, dangerous fantasy cannot become Ireland’s nightmare because Brexit is a very English problem and the consequences of it cannot be shifted on to Ireland,” she said.
Sinn Féin has also described the potential introduction of customs checks near the Irish border in the event of a no-deal Brexit as “political vandalism”.
The Fine Gael government in Dublin has revealed that it is working with the European Commission to create checks on goods and animals “near the border” but not at the border itself, because that would present a “significant security risk”.
Ms McDonald said that there must be “no hardening of the Border, that means no customs, no checks, no matter where they are”.
Sinn Féin deputy leader Michelle O’Neill said the 1998 Good Friday Agreement must be protected and that her party would hold the Taoiseach to his word “whenever he said that no citizen in the North would ever be left behind again”.
“There’s no choice to be made between the protection of the Good Friday [Belfast] Agreement and the protection of the single market, and the Irish government must remember that,” she said.
In a week in which an online poll showed a majority in the Six Counties are now in favour of reunification she said that the planning for a united Ireland must begin “without delay”.
“The only certainty,” she said, “is that Irish unity is the only solution.”
Meanwhile, a councillor who lives just yards from the Fermanagh border has warned people in the area would simply refuse to comply with future checks and smuggling will become “Ireland’s biggest industry”.
Despite its reputation during the conflict as the most militarised frontier in western Europe during the conflict, smuggling across the border was commonplace and even became a matter of local pride.
“If there are checks of any kind there will be civil disobedience, in term of non-compliance on both sides of the border”, Mr McCluskey said.
“I don’t just think this to be the case, I know from speaking to local people daily, especially those involved in farming that this will be the position adopted by the majority.
“People just won’t put up with it, there is no one I have spoken to who is willing to comply with being stopped, whether that’s by customs, army or whoever.
“With mobile phones people can gather a crowd of supporters within minutes and that will result in protests at any attempt to harden the border.”
He said those from the farming community were especially concerned. At a recent meeting in Monaghan, “almost everyone in that room was in agreement that if any type of structure was put up there would be trouble.
“That isn’t people threatening violence, it’s simply stating how people are feeling at this time, they are worried but they are also angry.”
Earlier this week, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson visited Dublin for talks with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. The dishevelled PM frequently indicated his boredom and frustration at a press conference, and at one point he made a clapping gesture in an expression of impatience.
In response to journalist questions, Johnson He fidgeted, shifted from foot to foot, took out a pen and scribbled, shook his head, frowned, rolled his eyes, ran his hand through his hair. At another point, he put his hand under his chin and rested on the podium, looking exasperated.
One Irish journalist referred to a recent comment by Johnson in which he said he would “rather be dead in a ditch” than obey new legislation, passed last week in Westminster, which requires him to extend the Brexit deadline beyond October 31.
“Prime Minister, when you talk about people being ‘dead in ditches’ there’s a sense in this country that you really don’t understand what’s at stake here,” said Kevin Doyle, the political editor at the Irish Independent.
He asked when the last time the Prime Minister had been to the border was, and if he still believed it was like crossing “from Camden to Islington?”
In response, Johnson claimed everyone understands the “fantastic political importance of the border.”
“We must also simultaneously allow the UK’s democratic decision to be honoured, and that is the question that has bedeviled the talks over the last three years,” the Prime Minister claimed. “I genuinely think it can be done,” he added, to silence.
Following the meeting, the Dublin government said the gap between Britain and the European Union over Brexit remains “very wide”.