In Brexit dialogues the DUP must be included. The Good Friday Agreement requires it.

Sadly, the Sunday Politics programmes have registered no closing of the gap between the DUP and Sinn Fein over “Brexit means Brexit.”  Inevitably there is a real danger that narrow politics and positioning will confuse already very difficult issues.  But at least they  are not the ones aggravating the disagreement at  the moment. They appear to be waiting on others for constructive responses.

In a measured editorial the Irish News has identified “ an overwhelming case for the introduction of a cross-border forum to carefully consider all these related matters”.

Why reject such a forum just because Enda Kenny fumbled it? But why not go further, when the Good Friday agreement has created a three stranded structure for tackling these issues, for example in the North-South  Ministerial Council  which provides for consideration of  “institutional or cross-sectoral matters (including in relation to the EU) and to resolve disagreements”

The North-south body would be best placed to set up such a forum. By definition it includes the DUP.

But why not go further still? This is a clear case for close and accountable dialogue between the two governments as provided for in Strand Three. It would be perverse to leave out the British when the context has been created by the UK. Once the ducks have been lined up, the British government could give cover for the DUP  to join any north-south forum, as one element of the Brexit process.

If the  situation is allowed  to drift, we can expect an infinitely tedious  row along traditional pre-Fresh Start lines about leaving out the DUP over any dialogue on Brexit. Indeed it would hard to imagine a more unhelpful suggestion. This is why the North-South ministerial Council would be the appropriate body to start a dialogue which could be widened to include civil society.

The Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin revived the forum idea at the Glenties summer Schools at the weekend. In conversations with journalists he suggested leaving out the DUP but not in the main text of his speech. He also flew the kite for a referendum on unity:

It may very well be that the decision of Northern Ireland to oppose the English-driven anti-EU UK majority is a defining moment in Northern politics.  The Remain vote may show people the need to rethink current arrangements.  I hope it moves us towards majority support for unification, and if it does we should trigger a reunification referendum.  However at this moment the only evidence we have is that the majority of people in Northern Ireland want to maintain open borders and a single market with this jurisdiction, and beyond that with the rest of Europe.

In itself, nothing too terrible here. But combined with leaving out the DUP from any all-Ireland forum there are the elements of a traditional nationalist-unionist row. This is the last thing we need. Mr Martin is in a strategic position to be constructive. He should recommend using the structures of the Good Friday Agreement he professes to champion.

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  • Skibo

    There is alot of truth in what you say. The method in him stepping aside to allow others to make the final journey without losing face will be the difficult issue.
    Its a bit like Moses not being allowed to lead the Jews into the promised land.

  • Skibo

    I believe there can be more than enough put in place to protect the right of anyone born in Northern Ireland before and after to keep their right to their British citizenship and equal rights for all citizens should protect their rights to continue with their way of life be that marching, bands or dancing Scottish jigs.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Didn’t Moses die in then end?

  • Reader

    An All Ireland forum wouldn’t have executive powers. Executive power belongs to the Governments and the Assembly, and that power is divided and constrained.
    It’s a talking shop. And without unionists it’s a useless talking shop.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Yes, why not have a New Ireland Forum? And no need to include unionists.

    That would be … nationalists talking to each other about nationalism … great, a new dawn …

  • The Irishman

    I’m sure you were all for the failed Ulster forum a few years ago, unionists talking to each other about unionism…
    The new Ireland forum would be open to everyone where in the Ulster forum was only for unionists.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I have no problem with nationalists or unionists having talking shops among themselves. My point was it’s not really the kind of thing you need for working through UK-Republic relations post-Brexit. It’s really something for the national governments in London and Dublin and the regional government in NI to work out. Some bloke in SF having a chat with some punter in FF about the fourth green field is fine for them but a bit irrelevant for the rest of us really.

    Did the Ulster Forum fail? I don’t know too much about it. By what criteria are you judging that?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    nationalists also have a veto and also use it. You just don’t get outraged when they do.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    so it looks like all this is threatening to crash the GFA settlement. So is this all Ireland forum really such a great idea?

    We have agreed institutions and structures. Try unilaterally setting up alternative ones and you are undermining the GFA.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    we are used to it

    surprisingly enough it’s not the first time we’ve had to listen to nationalists banging on about all-Ireland solutions being the only way.

    we are very used it.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    They signed up to the St Andrew’s Agreement, which was an agreement to make the Good Friday Agreement work on adjusted terms:
    The St Andrew’s Agreement says:
    “Both Governments remain fully committed to the fundamental principles of the [Good Friday] Agreement: consent for constitutional change, commitment to exclusively peaceful and democratic means, stable inclusive partnership government, a balanced institutional accommodation of the key relationships within Northern Ireland, between North and South and within these islands, and for equality and human rights at the heart of the new dispensation in Northern Ireland. All parties to this agreement need to be wholeheartedly and publicly committed, in good faith and in a spirit of genuine partnership, to the full operation of stable power-sharing Government and the North-South and East-West arrangements.”
    DUP agreed to work and do work on this basis.

    As to “the principles behind the Good Friday Agreement”, there is only the agreement itself. DUP is bound, through agreeing to the St Andrew’s adjustments, by that.

  • The Irishman

    The fact that when set up, a rival Ulster people’s forum set up almost straight away. While trying to find information on the Internet about them, I have only been able to find entries dating back to 2013.

  • Thomas Barber
  • Thomas Barber

    “That would be … nationalists talking to each other about nationalism … great, a new dawn …”

    just like this one MU –

    “Ulster Unionists call forum to discuss a Post-Brexit Economic Plan for Northern Ireland”

  • MainlandUlsterman

    exactly – not a new dawn, as you seem to agree.
    Both are talking shops within their own broad national groupings. They are fine as far as that goes.

  • The Irishman

    Thanks for the link.

  • Thomas Barber

    Check out Willie Frazer and his knuckledraggers for the rival forum.

  • Thomas Barber

    Not a new dawn no MU but it couldn’t be called hot air to suggest an all Ireland forum. Lets face reality, Brexit affects all of Ireland and all of its people not just those with a British identity.

  • Skibo

    MU I don’t think the idea of setting up forum to discuss Ireland’s approach to Brexit was suggested to undermine the GFA strand two.
    The agreed institutions are for the general running of the country and dealing with cross border issues. Brexit is such a massive issue that all political parties should have a say.
    To run it through the cross border bodies would exclude most of the parties in the north and the south.
    I thought it was a sound idea. perhaps Arlene was afraid her political thoughts would be drowned out.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I think we in the UK should deal with the ROI government over cross-border issues, as set up in the GFA.

    Some comedy stuff though coming out from some nationalists about the border, which these jokers are claiming no longer exists … when did that happen? The border didn’t go anywhere.

    What happened was that we have been noticing the border less because the IRA gave up, allowing security around the border to be massively relaxed. The main reason we noticed the border before was because of the IRA campaign and the security operations at the border it necessitated.

    The UK is still the UK and the ROI is still the ROI. Brexit seems to have shaken some people rather rudely out of their fantasy that the GFA had somehow delivered a quasi-united Ireland. It didn’t, it delivered better cross-border co-operation between the two sovereign nations on the island. That should of course continue. Brexit makes things a bit more complicated in that regard, but it’s really not some kind of constitutional crisis – or shouldn’t be at any rate.

  • Skibo

    MU first paragraph I agree with and all normal cross border issues should be dealt with inside the strand two element of the GFA.
    The problem is Brexit and the negotiations are not normal issues. What will be happening will result in major changes over the island and the relations across the border for some considerable time. i would suggest it would be advisable to treat the seriousness of the issue with utmost importance.
    As I have said elsewhere to leave it just in the hands of the cross border structures would deny a number of political parties on both sides of the border from any influence on the future of the relationship between the two parts of the island.
    paragraph two and three are linked. Where some people on here have, as you say, got some very odd ideas of the existence of the border, so do, do you on the IRA giving up.
    The border was in existence before the troubles with customs posts. The fortification of the border and the blowing up of links across the border were as a result of the troubles but it is the GFA that has rendered the border as nearly invisible. We actually look for the speed limits now as a way of telling which side we are on.
    The GFA has vastly increased the conductivity across the border and lead to its invisibility and that sense of a one island zone.
    Brexit could lead to a fortification of this idea with the North still being governed by the UK but with border checks for the UK based at the Irish sea and airports.
    The constitutional crisis could arise if the reunification brigade can get their act together and sell the financial package of a united Ireland and show how the British identity of the Unionist community can be protected.

  • Tochais Siorai

    ‘…..What happened was that we have been noticing the border less because the IRA gave up, allowing security around the border to be massively relaxed….’

    So there was a soft border before the Provos? So the customs posts, unapproved roads, concession roads, various bureaucracy and permits (incl RUC issued ID docs for people coming from the South), queues (and of course the good old Specials always lurking around even when militant nationalism was non existent) were figments of the imagination.

    Nope, there would still be a hard border if it wasn’t for the EU, specifically the European Single Market which got rid of it in the early to mid 90s. And now the DUP’s Brexit wet dream has thrown that in the air. What will land is anyone’s guess but it’ll probably be messy.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    It’s before my time, but my mum’s family whose farms straddled Strabane and Lifford apparently moved quite easily back and forward before the Troubles.

    The whole hard and soft border thing is a bit of a red herring. Yes it will be ‘harder’ than now and a bit messy, but compared to the Troubles era, really much, much softer despite us both being in the EU then.

    The key thing to avoid is having another internal quasi-border effectively put up between NI and the rest of the UK when it comes to migration and travel issues. That would be a much more significant change and a right pain in the a***. The ROI-NI thing is a red herring, both Westminster and Dublin will be bending over backwards for it not to be irksome so that nationalists don’t get annoyed. I worry more about the ‘internal UK border’ though as it will be more something that will bother unionists – and we are much less listened to by London and Dublin than nationalists, as a rule.

  • grumpy oul man

    My community doesn’t tend to support or vote for the use of violence to
    achieve political aims in any kind of large numbers, that’s true,
    Anglo Irish Agreement,
    Holy Cross,
    Third force,
    Ulster resistance,

    Sharing Platforms with terrorists,
    Senior Politicians dressing men up in berets and acting surprised when they kill people.
    Really man you should get a history book. Unionists support violence whenever they don’t get there own way.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    That’s just a list of unionist protests, though 🙂

    The test is, how many people on the unionist side supported or voted for the use of violence on each of those occasions? There were some; but not so many. I’m sure you’ll have some roundabout way of pinning responsibility for terrorism onto people who actually rejected it, but they did reject it, over and over and over again.

    For all unionists’ faults, and we have many, it’s been a saving factor on many occasions for NI society that, despite massive provocation during the Troubles, unionist people never voted for the men of violence at the ballot box in large numbers. You seem to take that for granted. In the face of a relentless IRA campaign, I think it was an amazing and brilliant thing that unionist people continued to support the constitutional parties and never looked to the paramilitaries for leadership. If the nationalist community had done the same a bit more, we’d be in a much better place today.

    I’m not pretending the unionist community did not produce terrorism or that the terrorism when it happened wasn’t equally as bad as republican terror. But there was a glaring difference in the levels of support people were willing to give to the terror campaigns on each side. Most nationalist voters rejected the IRA utterly, but unfortunately consistently around a third of nationalists voted for terrorism. And a further large number subsequently came on board with the terrorists before the gun smoke had even cleared and without the terrorists disavowing what they had done. That is the main cause of division in NI society today. Take away paramilitary apologism and the place would be transformed. And yes there are plenty on the unionist side who do it too. But it’s not reflected in our voting.

    We have jumped first by eschewing parties that justify Troubles terror, now nationalism needs to catch up and follow suit.

  • grumpy oul man

    Yep just a list of unionists protests, violent unionists protests.
    As too the levels of support given to unionists by unionists Kipling put it like this,

    Then it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, ‘ow’s yer soul?”
    But it’s “Thin red line of ‘eroes” when the drums begin to roll,

    Unionists like to pretend there is distance between them and loyalists but when something happen that they don’t like the use the and stand beside them.
    All the things you describe as unionist protests where accompanied by awful acts of violence carried out by groups taking a leading and highly visible role in those protests.
    Even today the unionist parties will not tackle the Paramilitary groups that are
    preying on the protestant working class, indeed the unionist parties work with these people and turn a blind eye to their criminal activities.
    The Unionist people never looked to the paramilitary’s for leadership because the paramilitary’s looked to the unionist parties for leadership.
    This attempt to distance the unionist people from their long habit of using violence when it is unhappy and then pretending to have clean hands really doesn’t wash when you actually look at history.
    A simple question proves this,
    Hows does a unelected criminal group whose activities are in the public domain manage to operate with such impunity and why do unionist politicians allow this to happen.
    Now please understand i already know your opinion on SF, this question has nothing to do with them so how about we don’t bother with and diversionary whataboutry and stick to the question.

  • Tochais Siorai

    ‘Farms’ eh? You never told us you came from landed gentry, MU 😉

    If all this Brexit nonsense does actually come to pass then logically the bulk of the border controls will be in Britain. But we’re all guessing at this stage (if say, the Lib Dems went into the next election on a 2nd referendum platform they could do very well)

  • MainlandUlsterman

    My grampa was one of 7 brothers, I think at least 4 of them farmed, some in Donegal and some in Tyrone. I think at least one of the farms was on both sides. They seemed to manage it then; I know this is more complicated now because of the EU / non-EU factor but not beyond the wit of humankind to work out something that will be fairly painless, given that no one – yes not even the DUP – wants lots of disruption at the border.