Eastwood ‘Northern nationalists are once more a restless people’

Next week, we will be taking part in an event looking at Nationalism in a Brexit world. Something that caught my eye during the week were remarks by the SDLP Leader, Colum Eastwood to the British/Irish Association last weekend.

In his speech he spoke about the situation for Northern Ireland and Nationalism in post EU membership environment.

Eastwood argued that Brexit had implications for the Good Friday Agreement;

However, if the British Government continues down the road of dragging the North out of the EU against our will, it is important to understand that there will be broader consequences than simply an end to EU membership. By repeating the meaningless mantra that ‘Brexit means Brexit’, the new British Prime Minister is wielding an axe of simplicity into the layered complexities of the Irish political process. In so doing, she is putting at risk the very foundation of our accommodation. She is ripping apart the ‘totality of relationships’ which was the genesis of our path to progress. That raises fundamental questions for everyone in Northern Ireland. It also raises fundamental questions for the British and Irish governments. A post Brexit world could also be a post Good Friday Agreement world.

The implications for Nationalism he argues opens up some old issues;

Northern nationalists are once more a restless people. The constitutional accommodation which we voted for by referendum in 1998 has been violated, not by a vote of the people of Northern Ireland, but rather by a vote of others in the UK 18 years later. The blanket of that constitutional comfort has been abruptly removed. In particular, undermining our connection with the South achieved via common EU membership is not something which can be tolerated.

Eastwood also took aim at the Leave campaign;

They told a story of decisions being dictated by far away people and politicians with no connection or rightful authority to the places over which they prescribed their power. They summed it up in a clever and cutting soundbite – Take back control. To all those Brexiteers now at the heart of the British Government, Irish nationalism says this– we know how you feel. No one should therefore be surprised if in the wake of Brexit ‘Taking Back Control’ is precisely what we in the North now intend to do.

David McCann holds a PhD in North-South relations from University of Ulster. You can follow him on twitter @dmcbfs

  • billypilgrim1

    Who has said the GFA is “dead”?

    (I think you’re letting your excitement get the better of you.)

  • Old Mortality

    ” I firmly believe that the EU is going to hang Ireland out on a limb and insist that it is their responsibility to police the border to the EU’s satisfaction and the South, being the South, will capitulate to such a demand.”
    So it’s them Eurocrats will be to blame. Why can’t they do the decent thing and promise loads of cash to bribe the electorate north and south into voting for a united Ireland.

  • Old Mortality

    We don’t have a presidential system in the UK so you don’t ever get to vote for the prime minister who is appointed by the party or parties which command a majority in the House of Commons.

  • Chris Spratt

    I was only echoing your description of the AIA, though yes I believe that doing so and ignoring the will of the people of Northern Ireland is indeed immoral.

  • hgreen


  • Reader
  • Reader

    Neil: However it seems strange to my non legal mind how an act that is based on the our continued membership of the ECHR is unaffected by our departure from the ECHR.
    I too have a non-legal mind, but I can tell the difference between the EU and the ECHR (besides the spelling). The difference is that we are leaving the EU but we aren’t leaving the ECHR.

  • cu chulainn

    The British government has not made it clear that it has no intention of reneging on its commitments under the GFA. On the contrary, it has given every indication that it purposes to renege on that agreement, that is what this thread is about. You seem to think that this abrogation of the GFA is a minor thing, but that agreement was very very hard won and should not be thrown away.

  • cu chulainn

    Those who break the agreement should be locked up.

  • hgreen

    I’m sure you’ve heard of Google. But just in case you aren’t:


    You obviously haven’t read widely enough.

  • billypilgrim1

    Thank-you. That’s an interesting and useful contribution.

    Now if you could just work on your social skills…

  • hgreen

    Likewise you could tone down your arrogance.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    some of them do, many don’t. “Brexiteers” is a very, very broad term indeed. The battle for the soul of Brexit is very much on. The battling sides, btw, now includes many Remainers, it’s not just an internal squabble within the Leave camp. My money is on something sensible prevailing, as the Remainers plus the more sensible of the Brexiteers constitute quite a big majority in the country. There will be new dividing lines on this, now that the Brexit decision itself is done. As long as that is reflected politically, some sort of soft Brexit of sorts is likely to prevail. Look at it this way: for hardline Brexiters to win the day, they will have to do so in the face of public opinion, opinion in parliament and the PM. They are up against it. They only command one wing of the Tory party, in a government with a very slim majority. The PM does not feel obliged to deliver hard Brexit, just Brexit. As she has been ridiculed for sating, “Brexit means Brexit.” That’s more meaningful than it sounds. It means people voted for leaving the EU – but that’s all we’re obliged to do. Everything else around it is open for the government to decide on.

    And even if the hardliners did prevail, it’s not in their interests either to get into any more problems than necessary over N Ireland. NI is not something anyone over here wants opened up as an issue. They will do whatever it takes to close it down again. Being flexible and accommodating with the Irish over our cross-border arrangements is a no-brainer, whoever’s in charge. I do think current nationalist panic is unwarranted, though I understand the deep discomfort, genuinely.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Yes it has: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/jul/25/theresa-may-rule-out-return-border-checks-between-uk-ireland
    The key paragraph reads:
    “May said she wanted to underline her commitment to the Belfast agreement, arguing that “peace and stability in Northern Ireland will always be of the highest priority for my government”.”
    That doesn’t sound to me like someone keen to renege on the GFA.

  • Gingray

    Really good post!

  • Gingray

    Sadly MU yet again misses the point …

  • Gingray

    Perhaps you should come back to Ireland, and you will see that no nationalists are getting hysterical. Its a pity all your “advice” to the natives comes across as so patronising, chosen race and all that.

  • Gingray

    Ah yes chris, the Catholic electorate is something you know well 🙂

    Still not been west of the bann yet, have you!

  • Gingray

    Ignoring the fact that Unionists are only a majority at the older age groups (who tend to vote, but represent the past) but are a minority at every age group under 44 (who tend not to vote until they get a bit older).

  • Gingray

    And yet they vote for nationalist parties? Apx 50% protestant, 40% catholic, 10% other population and lo and behold apx 50% unionist, 40% nationalist, 10% other.

    20 years ago in Scotland independence was polling at 20%, 10 years ago at 25%, 2 years ago 46%.

    A lot of nationalists simply do not want to rock the boat – we are the minority, it was a struggle to be treated as equals in this place, so why make things worse.

    But if you really think nationalism is dead or buried, or that the benefits of a UI cannot be sold to a population that is the majority, then good, complacency is when Unionism is at its best.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    The AIA was applying a new system of government specific to one region though without the consent of people in that region. That was immoral, because the people it applied to had no say in it. Applying a national referendum nationally, where all the people it applies to have had an equal say, is not immoral. There is no moral duty to break the country up into regions when it comes to passing big foreign policy decisions. Having a national referendum on such as issue is perfectly legitimate.

    Had Brexit only been applied to NI while the rest of the UK was spared, then that would be more like the AIA situation.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    that’s democracy though – some people lose some votes. I am gutted about it, but that was the result.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    “I don’t see how it has to necessarily involve NI; legally, constitutionally, politically, there are many ways around this.”
    I know you are / were a lawyer, but I’m guessing you didn’t do the public international law option? There is no way of excluding NI unless it changes its sovereign status. There are lots of things we can do around how we do border controls etc but we can’t except NI from Brexit without it leaving the UK – it is legally impossible as far as I know. But I’m not some sage on these things and interested if you do genuinely know what the legal argument is and what could be done. I just can’t see it, based on my basic understanding of PIL.

  • john millar

    “Who has said the GFA is “dead”?”

    Just two quotes from the thread which seems to be doomed doomed we are all (us republicans?) doomed

    “A post Brexit world could also be a post Good Friday Agreement world.”

    “The GFA will be dead and buried. Pushed out of a speeding car wrapped in a bin liner beside our shiny new hard border”

    If its not dead why the fuss?
    If it is dead what next?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    On the “waste of time” thing, that was kind of my point about this. It’s been fine for nationalism to register concern at this stage about the work needed to keep the GFA intact through the Brexit process. But they are wasting their time if they think causing a big stink about Brexit is going to make an ounce of difference. It is indeed a waste of time. Better focus on making sure the GFA is safe and its terms still work as before. I’m 100 per cent behind nationalists in that, as many unionists are. No need for despair, or at least, no more despair than other Remainers feel elsewhere in the UK. As I say, nationalists if anything have it easier, as they have Irish (EU) citizenship if they want it. This one, really, is not all about you guys.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    courts are independent of government … it’s the courts that protect people’s rights from governments and we have good separation of powers in the UK, by international standards. The courts will still be doing their job. What rights were you worried about being infringed in particular?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    They’re not really analogous though.
    This was a national referendum on international treaty commitments, and so was a direct verdict on that issue for the whole country. This was agreed by parliament when the referendum was set up. The case against partition by contrast is not based on any referendum on the issue, but seems to be based on General Election results, in particular in 1918. The nationalist case is that because SF got a majority of seats in Ireland in the 1918 Westminster Election, it was entitled to take the whole island out of the UK if it wanted. The problem is, winning seats in in the Westminster parliament does not give parties the right to do what they want in the areas that elected them, let alone force other constituencies, or indeed entire regions, to bend to their will. The result made a moral case for the secession of the SF-dominated parts of the island but it is far from clear what the logic was for dragging unwilling North-East counties out with it, other than it would look somehow neater on a map. That’s not really a good enough reason. The reality was, SF asserted control over the whole island, but did not actually control the whole island and was not voted in across the whole island. Hence the split.

  • john millar

    “NI is a fly on the arse of the EU “you overstate NI importance

  • Reader

    There’s a Guardian article on the same date as the Telegraph article you linked (22/08). Both are very specific about a BBR replacing the HRA, and both are very vague about the ECHR. The Guardian article repeats May’s comment about May knowing that she can’t get a parliamentary majority to leave the ECHR.
    In any case, it’s nothing to do with Brexit.

  • Declan Doyle

    I know but one is usually wasting ones breath when poiting out such ovieties.

  • Yussa Marc

    Mainland Ulsterman, I am sorry, but I meant I feel it is a waste of time arguing with you. You are still just responding to your own positions, not mine. I’ve given as best an explanation as I can of how your arguments could never be accepted by nationalists, how we feel about common membership of the EU with the ROI, the practical and psychological impact that losing this will have, and offered potential solutions as a compromise to avoid a political and economic disaster in the province. And to all of that, your final answer is that we are wasting our time, that we just trust the Brexit government, a post-EU/Brexit world, and that “This one, really, is not all about you guys”.

    I really hope you are not representative of even moderate unionist opinion – if it is, we’re heading for big problems.

    Honestly, NI really makes me despair sometimes.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    That’s just me point though – you guys sometimes think the world should revolve around your needs and it just doesn’t work like that. We all have to put up with stuff we don’t like and what I’ve read in your postings and some other nationalists smacks to me of having been slightly spoilt. I think perhaps we unionists are so used to being sh** on from all sides, we’re a bit more robust about it. To me, it seems nationalism is currently trying to exist in a parallel reality and when actual reality has come crashing in, some are in denial and still trying to keep dreaming.

    Like I say, Brexit is not all about you, and there are lots of people all over the UK hoping likewise we come off OK from it. Just don’t think your position is uniquely awful. And like I say, the government clearly does not want to open up the NI can of worms again, they will do anything to pacify us. But within reason. They can’t spare any part of the UK from Brexit, it’s just a cold hard political fact.

    I am more sympathetic than I may sound. I do think p***ing off nationalists is not a great thing and, quite apart from that, it is bad for the future of the union. I was a passionate Remainer and still am, I was out leafleting for Labour on it. But really I am very annoyed indeed at people like Colm Eastwood trying to make this into a ‘threat to the peace process’ issue – it just doesn’t need to be and it’s an unfortunately familiar form of bullying, to a unionist ear. Pacify or us or things might get nasty, and all that. That some nationalists seem to be playing the victim over this is deeply annoying. I know the feeling of discombobulation is genuine but those nationalists should realise it’s in part because they had allowed themselves to start believing the GFA was doing things it wasn’t. N Ireland, to them, had perhaps become imagined as an autonomous Irish sub-state in which the writ of Westminster only runs subject to the approval of the nationalist community. But that was never what the Good Friday Agreement was. As I say, if this prompts some to go back and read what we all agreed to a bit more closely, this will at least have some positive effect.

    We will get through this together on the basis of the historic agreement our two peoples made in 1998. We’re not going to renege on it and I would hope nationalists would not consider doing that either.

  • Kevin Breslin

    To be fair a lot of unionists are restless about some of the issues, there are two types of Brexitsceptics. (Certainly those who are neither (Alliance agnostic on the union type, or Green One-Worldians) might verge on Brexitscepticism themselves)

    1. The type that worry the UK and or EU will make things difficult here and for Britain and/or the Republic of Ireland too … usually Remain supporters, but there are a few Leave supporters too.

    2. The type that worry the UK will pull out with some sort of Brexit Light … and make it difficult for Eurosceptics here… usually Leave Supporters,

    There’s also the case that may be the odd Nationalist who’s happy for Tories to do the hard work (falling into 1&2 hybrid).


    Nationalists are almost entirely Brexitsceptic, even Eurosceptic ones have issues where they just cannot trust the United Kingdom not to make partition or the quality of life for the average person living here worse as a result.

    I know of a couple of exceptions of course.

    it is questionable that someone who doesn’t have a restless episode or two about the events that could arise from Brexit, is merely just living with denial.

  • Yussa Marc

    Thanks. You guys? Spoilt? Playing the victim? If you fancy a change from legal work, I can recommend a new calling in international diplomacy. As I have said, no one has advocated reneging the GFA but its principles will struggle to survive this. That is England’s work, not nationalists, just when the place was starting to have a hope of actually working.

    There are people even in England fighting to have this vote recognised as the sham it was from start to beginning. Worse still, it is ushering in a silent, right-wing, Tories-on-steroids coup, forming their mandate to interpret how this narrow, confused, and advisory vote should be applied. All without any real effective opposition and a cheer leading, largely right-wing media, prepared to overlook serious democratic deficiencies, legal issues, and if signs are to be believed, a complete override of the parliamentary sovereignty on which the UK prides itself on? Are they spoilt victims too?

    I suspect you call yourself a moderate unionist. If you are, god help us all.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    As I think I mentioned, I’m not a lawyer these days, changed my career a long time ago.

    I usually call myself a Labour supporter (though that’s under review just now); the being ‘unionist’, in NI terms, only comes up in discussions about NI.

    I share a lot of your horror at Brexit. It seems perhaps when you read what I write, you see ‘unionist’ and read everything through that lens? Because you don’t seem to be taking in anything I’m saying about my feelings about Brexit or the Remain campaign, which are not a million miles away from your own feelings. I also hate the right wing press and see the Tories as a disaster zone. But here we are.

    I’m just saying, a certain strain of nationalist discourse in NI has a habit of making out northern nationalists are a uniquely disadvantaged group of people deserving to have whatever they want. All I’m saying is, you’re due the same as everyone else.

    I don’t like Brexit any more than you do – less even, as this is happening to my country and I’m guessing for you that’s not how you’d feel. Massive damage will be done to our prospects and standing in the world. But please stop carrying on like it’s illegitimate and Irish nationalists have been wronged. You weren’t. We all in Remain lost the vote, it’s crap but that’s how it goes. We all need to move on constructively now and not try to wreck things in NI out of pique at the vote, which was a UK vote once again – Leave got over the line from votes in Scotland, Wales and N Ireland, not just England.

    The UK was perfectly entitled to vote Leave, there is no getting around that. Staying in denial or playing the victim doesn’t really help, for any of us. We need to work towards getting another vote that might reverse the process or at the very least, give us a soft Brexit not a hard one. Defeatism has no place in this fight we have on and I don’t like seeing it.

  • Yussa Marc

    For some one who doesn’t like Brexit you do a pretty good job of endorsing it. Most of the UK population will be horrified when they see what Brexit actually means. This will produce dangerous, potentially irreversible schisms all over the UK and weaken it considerably – NI nationalists have their own unique issues in this; some may even actually support it, if there’s even a chance it will increase support for a United Ireland from the self-inflicted mess the vote has left them with. Personally, I believe that will fail, if this is pursued before the dust of the vote settles and reveals whatever the hell the UK is going to look once it leaves the EU, which is why I support challenging the vote completely. In time, perhaps it will, if enough unionists also start critically, rather than ideologically, about it.

    This isn’t over and Eastwood is perfectly entitled to raise the points he does, for the many, not just nationalist, reasons I have given. When I read what you write, the main thing I see is someone who just doesn’t listen to a single thing people say.

    BTW, two final points.

    NI IS my country (perish the thought) but the UK is not, and never will be (in my heart, at least). Ideally, I would like NI to one day join with the ROI in a new, bigger country – – that welcomes and caters for all people on the island, not just nationalists. But, only when a majority of people do too, which may or may not happen in my own lifetime. That’s a pretty reasonable concession and position for someone from a supposedly “disadvantaged” and “spoilt” community.

    There’s nothing stopping you getting an Irish passport either, if you haven’t already, as thousands of other unionists have apparently done. Even Ian Paisley junior has endorsed it -make of that what you will.

  • Yussa Marc

    Thanks – The bit about NI in this sketch was hilarious.

  • billypilgrim1

    Right, but apart from a couple of guys on the internet, who has said the GFA is “dead”?”

  • billypilgrim1

    Spot on, except for one thing.

    Older voters don’t “represent the past”. They are the present.

    But it’s true that they they will be a declining force with each passing year.

  • Gingray

    We can agree to disagree on this one.

    My own view is that there are a lot of different views between those under say 40 and those over 60, be it on religion, the EU, sexuality, TV, music, employment, culture etc.

    As of 2011 (so 6 years out of date) there were 1 million people aged under 40, of which apx 570k could vote.

    There were 360k over 60, yet applying typical voting patterns for age groups (from last UK election), we find that this group (which makes up less than 25% of the population) accounts for nearly 50% of the votes.

    Problem in a lot of places, make no mistake, but in Northern Ireland we have the situation that every age group over 60 is majority Unionist, every age group under 40 is majority nationalist.

    Replicating what we see in NI, or GB or the South, as Catholics get older, they will vote at higher rates.

  • john millar

    “Right, but apart from a couple of guys on the internet, who has said the GFA is “dead”?”

    Another quote

    “It’s very difficult to take ANY positives for the North out of Brexit because there are none whatsoever. The shock of the result soon gave way to resignation but an air of real gloom and negativity is now settling in, especially within the Nationalist community. There is NO doubt that EU citizenship did indeed, to a certain extent, dilute the Irish/British differences within the North and allowed us ALL to feel part of something MOST of us identified with; Brexit has changed all that.”

    The general tenor of this part of the blog is that Brexit will serious damage the GFA —if it is damaged is it dead?
    If it is dead what happens next ?

  • cu chulainn

    Yes indeed, I would like to be protected by the likes of that noted jurist Lord Widgery, who ensured that the people of Derry would not be mowed down in the street. Or perhaps that paragon of the bench, Lord Denning, who was so active in ensuring that the police could not fit up innocent Irish people.
    The British have colonised this country and are still here after hundreds of years, this requires malign intent towards Irish people and we need third party legal protection.

  • Skibo

    ” Personally, I would only want that if a majority of people also did,” Yussa Marc why should your belief in a united Ireland require the support of the majority for you to think the country worthy of it?
    That is what I see as the stumbling block to the nationalist vision of reunification.
    Your belief of a reunited Ireland has as much credence as that of the Union but you are prepared to put your vision on hold till the Unionists accept it.
    If you believe in reunification then you should be pushing it as the positive that it will be.
    Ireland has done great things over the last thirty years as a divided country. Imagine what it can offer as a reunited country.

  • Skibo

    Jolly I believe what you see in polls on reunification is nationalists not pushing their vision of a reunited Ireland for fear of antagonising their Unionist neighbours. Their Unionist neighbours have no such fear of antagonising anyone and are quite content that they are still the majority and will decide the future if NI.
    As demographics take effect Nationalism will find its feet and realise that Reunification has as much merit as the Union and will be worth the argument.

  • Skibo

    There are not too many areas of the UK that have an international agreement that if the majority want to leave the union, then the Westminster government will make it happen.

  • Skibo

    hgreen your post is a not a publication of the Article 50 itself but a post from a number of lawyers on their views on Article 50. Please see the article itself on page two. It is short and brief and does not mention stopping the action of exiting the EU. Rather, when it is actioned there is two years maximum before membership of the country is terminated.
    Only a unanimous vote by ALL the member states can stall it.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    They made mistakes but both were legal minds of the first order.

    Denning in particular was close to genius – remarkable man. Did the 3 year Oxford University law degree in 1 year and got a starry First. Just incredible. From a ‘modest’ background and had a reputation for standing up for the little person. He had his flaws but I think your characterisation of him as just wicked old Establishment is way off. He was a bit of a rebel in his own way.

  • Muiris

    Good posts, Yussa. I understood why they were so long, when you told us that you are a lawyer :-))