National Conversation: “This is why in respect of Northern Ireland we need the voice of Ireland…”

At Leaders’ Questions in the Dail, Gerry Adams used his time to bring up the Taoiseach’s ‘plan’ to “bring forward about an all-Ireland forum”. An unfortunate term to use at the time since it was interpreted as a formal political proposition and easily repelled by the DUP.

But Kenny’s response today indicates that he has been doing some thinking over the summer (transcript here):

I recognise the vote of Northern Ireland, as I recognise the votes of Scotland, Wales and England. While, as I said, I did not like the result, it is a composite result from the United Kingdom. This is exactly why in respect of Northern Ireland we need the voice of Ireland.

We need the conversation as to what is going to happen in terms of agribusiness North-South, meat producers, beef producers, pork producers, industry, financial services, education and health. All of these are areas that concern us.

The primary objective for us as a Republic is to ensure our interests are foremost in our minds in any conversations that we have.

As Deputy Adams will know, there are many people in Northern Ireland entitled to Irish passports who might find themselves in a country that has withdrawn from the European Union having voted in 1998 for their freedom of movement up and down this island at will, as they have always been able to do short of when the Border was in place. [Emphasis added]

Taking it out of the direct fire of politics is the right thing to do. As the Taoiseach says “I fear that this will run for quite some time. It might not be as straightforward or as short-term as many people think”.

Taking soundings north south east and west amongst the wider Irish citizenry is a more sensible and defensible position than the idea of using it to try to (most likely unsuccessfully) subvert the collective public will of a neighbouring nation.

The prospect of a National Conversation qualifies at least in one respect of Deputy Adams pointed questioning: “Can he assure the Dáil that he has not given the DUP a veto on the establishment of an island-wide forum or island-wide consultation process?”

This evening the response from the DUP, in contrast to earlier talk about a forum, was remarkably civil and tame. As the old Proverb goes, “the longest way round is the shortest way home”.

For Ireland to tell a convincing story it must first listen carefully to the stories of its own citizens and would be citizens. Then with that in mind, choose more carefully than it has in the past as Bryan Delaney has rightly noted “be extremely vigilant about the stories we choose to tell ourselves”.


  • terence patrick hewett

    Perhaps the voice of Ireland is that of the whimscal Somerville and Ross: they were on both sides of the divide but they still worked.

  • mickfealty

    I think it needs to be slightly more prolaterian than that Terence. Do try to keep in the same century as the rest of us? (You have a mild tendency to wander.)

  • chrisjones2

    “We need the conversation as to what is going to happen in terms of agribusiness North-South, meat producers, beef producers, pork producers, industry, financial services, education and health. All of these are areas that concern us.”

    Yes and you can do that through discussions in the EU

    “The primary objective for us as a Republic is to ensure our interests are foremost in our minds in any conversations that we have.”

    And that is the killer. Enda’s interests are the interests of Ireland. And the Interest of NI and Ireland may diverge radically – for example, NI may wish to take advantage of new opportunities supplying into the UK without the same level of EU Competition and those may not be open to Ireland. Who knows. Its all to be negotiated – via the UK / EU Channel

    As for ” “Can he assure the Dáil that he has not given the DUP a veto on the establishment of an island-wide forum or island-wide consultation process?” he might want to ask Marty to ask his alter ego or as father Jack might say “that is an ecumenical matter” for the DUP to determine for, as Jerry well knows, in NI under the system he helped establish both sides have a veto

  • Oggins

    O Chris,

    If only it was as simple as you lay it out as. For a long time due to the EU, businesses across Ireland had a greater ability to do business with each other. Even with the different jurisdictions, we had a common approach with the EU as the binding. to think it’s a simple process that will not affect us, is rather blinkered.

    It will be naïve to think that conversations are not required, rather than starting the cement mixer erecting a wall, with a sign saying post all bills to Westminster.

  • Zig70
  • Brendan Heading

    NI may wish to take advantage of new opportunities supplying into the UK without the same level of EU Competition and those may not be open to Ireland.

    You are showing your one-dimensional brexit thinking.

    The brexit campaign has been about casting off EU bureaucracy and doing trade deals with developing markets. What do you think this actually means ? It’s not hard to work it out – the end of UK participation in the CAP, leading to an end to subsidies for Northern Ireland farmers; and the introduction of trade deals with major agricultural producers such as Brazil, New Zealand and China which will flood the UK market with cheap imported food.

    A major part of the EU’s existence was dedicated to protecting European agriculture. Northern Ireland’s farmers will not be able to survive the UK moving to a fully free market model for food which is more likely than not the direction of travel for a right-wing, pro-brexit Tory government.

    The other dimension you are missing is the political part. Read the comments from Kenny that Mick highlighted in bold. The Irish government is offering the hand of friendship and support to Northern farmers in circumstances where the DUP do not want to know. As we saw during the foot & mouth, and BSE, crises when Unionist politicians worked desperately to have NI produce designated as Irish to avoid the European sanctions against the UK, the farmers will side with whoever is supporting their cause when their livelihoods are threatened. If you care about the union, you should be concerned about developments like this.

  • chrisjones2

    Who said that? what I said was that those conversations need to take place in the context of the wider EU negotiations. Lets be clear ….the EU will decide not Ireland.Thats why they need to be embedded in teh wider EU / UK discussions or they wll be lost. By all means lets TALK what we cannot do is NEGOTIATE

  • mickfealty

    Not sure what your point is here Chris… “Yes and you can do that through discussions in the EU…”

    There’s no dispute over the ultimate destination of the talks. But that’s hardly what the Taoiseach is referring to here, is it? He’s talking about consulting widely in the areas outlined (and maybe others) to figure what interests will need defending in the parting process.

    As I think even the DUP recognise, it’s vitally important that the Irish government properly survey and take opinions on both sides of the border…

    The decision of the United Kingdom to leave the European Union undoubtedly has an impact on the Republic of Ireland and it is right that discussions take place on a cross-border basis to resolve any potential issues.

  • chrisjones2

    Perhaps but it depends. The UK may choose in some sectors to have a UK first approach. Thats open to us We also have very high quality products that may end up with a price advantage – I suspect we may be seeing some of that now from the £/€ exchange rate. Great- sieze the business

    Its also sad but absolutely normal to realise that Ireland will see itself as competing with NI firms for that business. While we want to be good neighbours we need to realise that

    As for EU subsidies – are they not being phased out? In any case what we do in that area is up to us. As may be our decision on areas like some of the costs imposed by the EU. Its a big new bright world guys. At least future mistakes will be ours so Marlene needs to realise the role of Agriculture is changing for m doling out subsidy to other harder issues

  • BetsyGray

    No matter which way you look this Brexit mess there has been a massive breach of the GFA..this will not end well for Ireland unless all the people of this small island get their heads down and fight it. I for one don’t want to live in a 1950’s Tory theme park.

  • cu chulainn

    The EU will be responsive to the issues in this island if the people in this island get their act together and ask for something. The problem is not the EU but the delinquent British government.

  • terence patrick hewett

    When did history not matter in these two islands Mick? It might as well be yesterday. Which of course it was. If Mr C had bothered to learn what Magna Carta actually meant he would be still picking his nose in number ten.

    I’m in Imperial Rome at the moment: the razors are suprising good. I must bring one back for Jezza.

    Jezza and poor Martin Schulz will never be taken seriously in Britain because of the simple fact that they have beards. The British, bless them, believe people with beards have something to hide: they are not too fond of moustaches either: which they regard as a sure sign of vanity or worse.

    Out of Britain’s 76 Prime Ministers only one Prime Minister, Lord Salisbury, had a full set of face furniture. Benjamin Disraeli had a microscopic goatee, but he was a dandy and an exotic and the Queen’s favourite so he was let off. Clement Atlee had a military moustache, but he was a battle-hardened officer of the Great War. David Lloyd George had a Ronnie but he knew everybody’s father and their mother as well. Bonar Law, Ramsay McDonald, Neville Chamberlain, Campbell-Bannerman, Macmillan and Eden all had a modest croiméal: but after 1945 and Suez the military tea-strainer went out of fashion: I can’t think why.

    So: one beardy and eight caterpillars out of 76 prime ministers since circa 1721 and that is it. The very bearded and sanctimonious Prostetnic Vogon Martin Schulz: less a president more the frontispiece from a textbook on gynecology, has of course confirmed all that the cynical Brits suspected about the EU: he and his European Union are now forever consigned to the trash can. People like Martin Schulz, Guy Verhofstadt and every other EU functionary have their snouts deep in a trough which is so unbelievably vast as almost to be beyond comprehension.

    PM May and Mrs T had a head’s start in the hirsutological department which explains a lot – or not.

    So if you aspire to office: invest in a packet of Mr Gillette’s finest!

  • Kevin Breslin

    I think it’s naive to think Northern Ireland can avoid Strand Two issues that will emerge from this. It is so silly that Arlene Foster after saying the Republic of Ireland can be Northern Ireland’s voice in the European Union, she would suggest her own party would avoid even entering a civic discussion on these matters.

    Regardless of these issues, if you Chris Jones, and the DUP want to hide away from a discussion on an important export and supply market, in the pure faith the UK government is going take Northern Ireland by its little hand and make all of its important decisions even though it doesn’t want to, then it is your loss.

    The same UK as to whom the Republic of Ireland is both a major import market of and export market of.

    All because they cannot speak confidentially about the border they want to a bunch of Irish people.

    Now how is civic society North and South going to respect unionist’s boundaries if they cannot express them publically?

    There’s no way Northern Ireland will be getting “opportunities” that the Republic of Ireland won’t take advantage of and vice versa. That’s just what happens when you have the same mountains, same rivers and some of the same problems.

  • Kevin Breslin

    1. The exchange rate is going to hurt when it comes to importing fuel. Northern Ireland is the biggest feul importer in these islands.

    2. Not a single competive advantage has been gained by Brexit bar a reactionary monetary policy the UK could’ve introduced anyway and which helps Great Britain more than Northern Ireland.

    3. Northern Ireland was a net beneficiary of the EU so forget costs imposed and think budget deficits gained.

    It really is a big bright world, for those who aren’t afraid to be connected to it.

  • Kevin Breslin

    The EU has already taken a selfish, strategic and economic interest in both the Republic of Ireland and Scotland… Both of which are still in the EU.

    I agree cu chulainn, pretty much it is up to the United Kingdom to determine its relationships with the European Union. I mean if Boris’s hilarious reverse ferret on Turkey is anything to go by, then it is reasonable to assume the UK won’t be going too far out of its comfort zone, or making radical changes to its relationships.

  • mickfealty

    Exactly why any such exercise as to be open gated and open handed… and not in the narrow Nats only terms so hastily (and angrily, I’ll warrant) assembled proposal made in the wake of the Brexit poll…

  • Oggins

    Chris the whole point is that for the good of the people on this island, we need to come together to ensure we have an adequate say in this matter.

    If a forum is formed, the EU cant ignore it.

    If you take away the Trojan horse fears, its actually a good idea

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Fellow wandervogel! For myself I will keep my beard, tph, and continue to try and “mend” the period 1910/22 as best I can.

    Yes, history matters. “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” No-where is it truer than the wee six! Until this ill remembered inheritance is properly understood, it keeps regurgitating in our politics like a particularly bad case of food poisoning. The well known Marxian addition to Hegel (“Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce”) might almost have been made for the relationship between the old pre-1920 UUC and some modern Unionist groups such as the DUP. And it might be thought a not unimportant contribution to this “farce” is the very “proletarianisation” Mick quite rightly asks for, but in the very local shape of a crude and simplistic populism rather than any consciousness self-empowerment of the working class.

    With the Belfast agreement finding all those assumptions of a porous sovereignty through joint EU membership which Richard Kearney showed the big boys in the 1980s now congealing into potential contradictions with the exit from the EU looming, it will certainly need a far, far stronger nod at the issue of joint sovereignty to sensibly articulate full Irish citizens and full British citizens buckled together in deciding the present and future of this one little polity.

  • chrisjones2

    Of course the EU can ignore it. Within the treaties it MUST ignore it as the negotiations are EU /UK

    And see above. I don’t see Trojan Horse as an issue. …it’s the reality of how we get any voice in the process

  • chrisjones2

    Sorry Mick I was too long winded. My point is that talking is fine but some here against Brexit see this as a form of negotiation. It isn’t and cannot be any more than say Kent talking to Calais on immigration issues

    We should cooperate. Talk and engage but recognise that then our economic interests may diverge and the negotiations will be done EU to UK. Arguably too any key issues agreed with Ireland need to be UK Ireland. I’d between the 2 sovereign Govenments

    I don’t see this as a wee house Unionist issue. It’s just the practical and legal reality of what will be a fast and complex process. Anything not done inside that fence is likely to be ignored

  • chrisjones2

    I fully understand that. But who farmers side with is irrelevant and while Enda may offer a hand of friendship when it comes to whose beef is bought Irish or Northern Irish would you like to put money on his priority?

  • Oggins

    Chris your contradicting yourself by say how do we get a voice. Here is an opportunity.

    If there was an All Ireland forum, the UK and EU would have to listen and respect it. It would be shocking and poor PR.

  • chrisjones2

    Read above ….any voice in some all Ireland Forum is a waste of time. The real negotiations are being done UK – EU. Even Ireland has no real say

  • chrisjones2

    That is very very naiive I am afraid and grossly overestimates Ireland’s influence in the EU

  • billypilgrim1

    He’s got you there Chris. Unionism is being offered a voice, via an all-Ireland forum, or whatever you feel comfortable calling it. It’d be absurd to stand aloof from such a forum on the grounds that you wouldn’t have a voice.

    You certainly won’t have a voice if you sit it out.

    Unionism has seriously been hoist on its own petard here. Just wait till the reality of post-CAP agriculture starts to hit home…

  • billypilgrim1

    If the interests of Ireland (island of) and the EU should happen to align, then Ireland will be very influential indeed in the EU.

    And those interests do appear to be somewhat in alignment, don’t they?

    Northern Ireland might very well be a major site of political wrangling resulting from Brexit. No other country in the EU is so intricately intertwined with the departing state as Ireland is.

    Northern Ireland mightn’t matter a damn to either the EU or the UK, but then the river Boyne didn’t matter a damn to either James or William – until it suddenly meant everything. If we had a smart political leadership they’d understand this, and they’d be on manoeuvres as we speak.

  • Oggins

    That is your opinion. The opinion of the irish government and large sections of NI (parties, business groups), is that we should make our voice heard. Thus this post by slugger.

    Very simple.

    Dont worry, your obviously not invited to the forum, so your time is not wasted. Much like my own!

    You have gave no other reason why its a waste of time? I have countered that with a public forum and voice it will put the right pressure on the EU, and UK.

    Can you add any more weight to your point? Do you honestly think that a public voice for Ireland, would not make the UK or EU listen? The EU can’t afford to alienate the Irish or add further fuel to the irish leaving the EU or other member states.

    The UK government, needs to show that NI is being thought about, and if we had an irish forum, this would apply pressure.

  • Chris – drop me an email [alaninbelfast AT gmail DOT com] so I can get your Good Food Show ticket to you! I can’t find a good email address for you …

  • eamoncorbett

    That is plainly wrong , Ireland does have a say and a substantial one at that as one of the regions most affected by Brexit . In the first instance the GFA has to be respected and secondly peripheral regions have always been looked after by the Commission with regard to funding and this will continue probably with greater intensity in the Republic post Brexit . You seem to be suggesting that May will decide without influence on all aspects of Brexit without taking into consideration the differing views of at least 2 regions , she could well do but that would create a rift in NI politics greater than anything seen since the signing of the GFA. The Prime Minister cannot simply brush aside the democratically expressed wishes of NI and Scotland , to do so would be to deny the very existence of these regions.

  • mickfealty

    The key thing to consider the (generic) ‘forum’ idea is that is usually a disguised political bid to ‘capture stakeholders’. They cannot but create a reaction in other, competing interests.

    What they aren’t is open handed or open gated. They certainly don’t lead to the kinds of open intelligence that Slugger, at its best, is capable of generating.

    If it’s not capable of generating intelligence (or a win), then I question what sort of public goods it capable of generating?

    A conversation is a much better framework so that when it comes to the channels (like the Ministerial Council) where real decisions are made there’s something fresh to feed in/chew on.

    The more open it is, the more likely it is to contribute to the building of mutual trust around how we tackle our mutual futures.

  • terence patrick hewett

    And so say all of us Seaan: I am writing a cookbook based on Tristram Shandy at the moment: yes really!!! and I have to say I am having a grand old time: I can hardly stop laughing: page 50: 15,000 words. Maybe Hugh Leonard’s Silent Song would not be better. How could anyone be so Oirish as to go off at a taangent!

  • SeaanUiNeill

    I was once researching a book on 1688/89 and came across Sterne’s father’s account of being an officer in one of the Irish Regiments in England during the “Irish Scare” of 1688, when James’s Irish soldiers were simply told to look to themselves in the disintegration of his army. The Royal Irish were taken for Catholics (some of them actually were) and only saved from a massacre by taking Anglican Communion (enthusiastically) in the open in front of the mobs of their would be assassins (who then cheered them for an hour). Sterne Sr is just as dry as his son might have been in recording it all………

    I look forward to the cookbook. My wife once bought me this for my birthday:

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Can you point to the provisions of the Good Friday Agreement that Brexit breaches?

    You’re the third person I’ve put this to in recent weeks and the first two have produced diddly squat. I haven’t been through it with a fine tooth comb but I’m yet to find anything in Brexit that breaches the GFA. I stand to be corrected …

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Why the GFA structures can’t be the basis for processing the local politics of this, I know not. Can anyone enlighten me?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Can I just advise Enda Kenny to read the actual Good Friday Agreement and remind himself what it says. Then separate that out from this virtual version of the GFA that seems to exist inside the heads of some nationalists. The former is the historic deal; the latter is navel-gazing flakiness and not anything agreed with anyone else.

    Kenny says:
    “… there are many people in Northern Ireland entitled to Irish passports who might find themselves in a country that has withdrawn from the European Union having voted in 1998 for their freedom of movement up and down this island at will, as they have always been able to do short of when the Border was in place.” What does that even mean? I genuinely don’t know what he’s talking about there. “When the border was in place” …?? “Voted for freedom of movement at will”…??

  • mickfealty

    It hurts an ideological framing that many nationalists have endowed with huge significance. But, in my reading at least, it’s dependent on continued observance of an important bilateral treaty.

    Even Mairtin is now telling us to ‘calm down dears’ he’ll still get us a our 55 mill in peace funds.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    But Mick, can you point to any provision of the GFA which needs either state specifically to be a member of the EU? Isn’t this stuff that Brexit breaches the GFA just hot air? I can’t find anything.

    I get it’s not what most nationalists wanted but was it not daft to imagine they had a veto over a non-devolved national UK matter like foreign policy? A lot of this is a Dog Bites Man story – Irish nationalist political activists find selves feeling alienated by the UK and wanting different things from most Britons.

    Actually, their voters are much less bothered by all this. The polling shows pragmatism and patience in the electorate which seems to be lacking in the agitated pacing back and forth of many nationalist politicians and commentators.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Just to note once again the deafening silence on how exactly Brexit “breaches” the GFA …

  • mickfealty

    Nope. It simply isn’t there. And I agree with most of your analysis. This is why the forum idea (stakeholder capture I prefer to call it) is insufficient unto the day, as I see it.

    Nationalist over confidence in this matter is probably why so many feel so cut adrift at this moment. That’s a good argument for getting down to much broader conversation about where this is taking all of us, north south, east and west.

    In other words what we used to jargonise as ‘the totality of relationships’. You can be pretty sure the Tories have been doing depth calculations on what they need to do to manage their own constituencies.

    The scale of the issues facing Ireland (many of them beyond the Irish government’s direct control) calls for a human voice of some description, as well as some things to bring to the table which are both resonant and actionable…

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Agreed. While some of the response has been shrill, I do hear and take seriously nationalist discomfort over this. Level headed realism and open conversation needed about what’s fair here and what’a true to our historic settlement of 98. Much of my annoyance is a fear that’s being too lightly cast aside now. We need to go back to its terms big time now.

  • mickfealty

    Hit the target midships MU.

  • terence patrick hewett

    Jaysus Seaan: £167!!! Well I am up to page 88 – 30,000 words. It’s an apprentice piece for a book on language: it is your fault for planting the seed for a Slugger article on language. Well I am going to go for it: a seriously academic book: if you read it backwards!!!

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Let me know when it comes out! I once mentioned a seventeenth century antecedent to her work in conversation with an american academic who had written book on Blake. Ten years later I found she’d expanded our conversation to 900 pages published by Brill of Leiden and at 184 Euro last time I looked. Lots of great research on her part. Good luck with your own work!

  • terence patrick hewett

    I am rather fascinated with the impact of the nuclear explosion of 1066 on Anglo-Saxon and P and Q Celtic because the difference between Old Irish/Welsh and Middle/Medieval Irish/Welsh is as violent as it was on English. Blake of course was Blake: and thank God for that!