British Direct Ruler Brandon Lewis, British foreign secretary Liz Truss and Orange Order grand secretary Mervyn Gibson met on the loyalist Shankill Road in Belfast last Thursday. Commentator Brian Feeney on a deliberately provocative gesture by the British (for the Irish News).
The first section of the Good Friday Agreement is Constitutional Issues.
Paragraph 1(v) states that, ‘the power of the sovereign government with jurisdiction [in the north] shall be exercised with rigorous impartiality on behalf of all the people in the diversity of their identities and traditions and shall be founded on the principles of full respect …and of parity of esteem and of just and equal treatment for the identity, ethos, and aspirations of both communities.’
For more than a decade now Conservative governments have resiled from this binding commitment, first in fits and starts, then rapidly, and in the last two years, provocatively and dangerously. It should also be pointed out that Irish governments in the same period, beginning with Enda Kenny’s disengaged foreign affairs ministers, have never publicly admonished the British for their behaviour let alone called them to account. Perhaps that’s why the British believe they can get away with flouting this crucial paragraph in the GFA.
Let’s pass quickly over the dirty deal Theresa May made with the DUP in defiance of the wishes of a majority of people here. How did anyone imagine privileging the representatives of one community upheld impartiality and just and equal treatment of both communities? May didn’t need the deal; it did her no good in the end for the DUP ratted on her and voted against her Brexit bill anyway.
However, let’s turn to the last two years when Johnson’s Brexit government weaponised the fears and paranoia of unionist politicians as a means to threaten the EU to undo the northern Irish provisions of the treaty signed in 2019. Throughout last spring the language of British ministers justified the unsuccessful attempts of unionist politicians to whip up hysteria in the wider unionist community about non-existent constitutional consequences of the Irish protocol. This despite the fact that the British government refused from the outset to implement the protocol regardless of detailed commitments they’d made.
After minor riots in April the behaviour of Johnson’s ministers continued to be so irresponsible and reckless that on June 10, in an unprecedented act, the US formally reprimanded the British in the persons of negotiator Lord Frost and Spad John Bew for “inflaming tensions” in Ireland: this démarche, an extraordinary procedure normally issued to an enemy, did put a halt to Johnson’s gallop.
Nonetheless, while the British stepped back in the autumn and Johnson got rid of the belligerent, stonewalling Frost, they still make use of Jeffrey Donaldson’s on-off threats to pull down the executive – a movable feast as Michelle O’Neill derisorily calls them. The British approach remains one-sided. The DUP have ready access to Downing St and the British pretend to give credence to Donaldson. The British continually spout the big lie that the protocol damages the Good Friday Agreement when the opposite is the case: it’s the British government’s refusal, in cahoots with the DUP, to work the protocol which damages the GFA.
Last week we saw a perfect illustration of the partisan British behaviour when Liz Truss, whose only qualification is abject loyalty to Johnson, chose to meet a select group including an Orange Order leader, on the Shankill Road, but not representatives from SDLP, Alliance or UUP. This was a deliberately provocative gesture clearly recommended by the NIO, for Truss wouldn’t know the Shankill from a hole in the ground and might think the Orange Order is a non-alcoholic drink. It was an unelected NIO minister who recently disgracefully tried to give the DUP a leg-up by reintroducing double-jobbing.
It’s not only nationalists who are disgusted at the biased behaviour. Recently Sir Max Hastings, military historian, former editor of the Daily Torygraph, – hardly a rabid republican – in his criticism of Kenneth Branagh’s mawkish film ‘Belfast’, deplored the fact that, “English Tories have climbed deep into bed with the Unionists, people little less grotesque than they were in my day.” Rigorous impartiality mar dhea.