There is no threat to the Union. Irish bickering north and south over the reality of Brexit has to be replaced with practical cooperation, fast.

Newton’s latest observations on the “curmudgeonly” Arlene can be counterpointed with an incredibly wise article in the Indo by Brendan Keenan, Belfast born and bred but long anchored in Dublin and with a strong sense of reality for the interests of both. Arlene’s dour comments  can be contrasted  unfavourably  with the regal visionary style of Nicola Sturgeon. But Arlene doesn’t have the field of  government to herself. In practice they are both pragmatic and when it suits them, even cooperative towards political opponents.

On Arlene, Keenan takes the opposite view  to the criticism of the First Minister currently prevailing in Dublin.

The surprising degree of hostility towards Mrs Foster was based on her attack on Dublin for trying to poach foreign investment from the North, and declining the invitation to attend the Taoiseach’s civic dialogue. The only point about the former is whether it is true, while the latter is like blaming the turkey for not turning up to Christmas lunch.

Since her speech, a burst of Trumpeting has put more pressure on Ireland’s FDI strategy, to add to OECD anti-avoidance measures and EU tax calculation proposals. The temptation to get the most from that decline in FDI to the UK, even at the North’s expense, must be well nigh irresistible.

There is, however, the clink of pennies dropping. The Taoiseach and first minister met in Dublin, showing Mrs Foster is willing to talk business – not faff about. They met as part of the cross-Border council. Its communiqué after the July meeting set out an excellent list of what must be done.

A beefed-up council is also the best body to get it done: the objective being an all-island model whose acceptance will be the basis of Ireland’s final Brexit vote in the councils of the EU.

This splendid analysis just  happens to coincide with my own view. It also contains compelling  detail about the need for north-south cooperation, culled and extended from the recent ERSI study of the implications  of Brexit affecting the island.

Nothing could be further from flashy FDI than milk but have a look at what a hard Brexit might do to what is probably the biggest all-island market.

Almost 600 million litres of raw milk crossed the border from the North last year. Imports of drinking milk were valued at €175 million.

A tariff border for milk could see the closure of processing facilities in one jurisdiction, the building of previously unnecessary ones in the other and increased costs all round. Similar analyses, perhaps on a smaller scale, could be made for a whole range of intermediate products, services, networks and joint ventures.

Much of this is no doubt included in the ESRI’s analysis by its new economic model COSMO, but the social, political and psychological effects of such a cleavage on the island cannot easily be captured, although their effects can easily be imagined.

They include the reversal of much of what has been achieved in the past 20 years. There is more to it than the ending of violence in the North, even if that was the main achievement. The chance to forge the kind of relationships between the two parts of the island that one finds among other rich European states with common borders has been wasted.

Now, as with so much else, wasted opportunities are turning into danger. It is deeply distressing that the most noticeable response so far has been an outbreak of name-calling. It really is time to stop faffing about.


Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London

  • erasmus

    Is it a ‘splendid analysis’ specifically because it coincides with your own view?

  • Zorin001

    I thought Newtons final paragraph probably said it best

    “If this reveals any liberalising tendency, it mainly indicates how very slowly she intends to proceed – and of course, that is the classic failing of all unionist leaders: reform, but too little, too late. The tragedy is that Foster could do so much better.”

    I can see the DUP playing politics with the Brexit and Border issue to appease the base up until the exact moment they realise the countries up the creek and then go cap in hand to either Dublin or London for a sweetheart deal only to be given a stinker of an offer and be told “take it or leave it”.

  • Karl

    You’d think Arlene would at least be seen to try fighting the good fight. Brexit means Brexit wont do much for the Norths dairy industry and 175million means more to her than it does to Edna.

  • Brian Walker

    You got it, philosopher!

  • eireanne3

    Loved your (or Newton’s?) rather archaic adjective ” curmudgeonly” to describe our First Minister
    I looked up more modern synonyms

    A curmudgeon is a grouch, crank, bear, sourpuss, crosspatch, a person who is easily annoyed or angered and who often complains,
    The individual is crusty, ill-tempered, bad-tempered, surly, difficult and cantankerous,

    Curmudgeonly usually refers to an old man – hardly surprising in the context of describing our FM since Arlene’s political ideology derives from old men.

  • Gary Thompson

    Would thran be a better adjective to describe the fragrant Arlene?

  • eireanne3

    the BBC says “thran” (ulster-Scots) means “obstinate; stubborn; awkward”

    This leaves out the sheer bloody-mindedness and bad temper as described in standard dictionary definitions of the English word “Curmudgeonly” so No, I don’t think it is a good synonym !!

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Is the penny we hear dropping not that Ms Foster IS actually perfectly willing to co-operate with Dublin, just through the agreed structures we all said we’d use? Really, in 2016, can nationalist leaders be surprised their non-GFA all-island body idea is not snapped up by unionists? And it’s not just Foster, I would be more aligned with Alliance and I too think the all-Ireland body for dealing with Brexit is a sh** idea – at best an unnecessary distraction, at worst deeply undermining of the GFA structures, which regulate and calm unionist-nationalist political relations on the island. Pretty worrying to see these attempts to fling them aside quite so readily. We need to cherish and nurture the GFA structures.

  • hotdogx

    The problem with the GFA structures is that it involves London.
    The real reason in having an all island discussion is that it only concerns us- no outsiders should be involved who won’t have to live with the consequences of their decisions. This should help us find an Irish solution to an Irish problem.
    Unionism can continue to try to ignore the Irish in Ireland until the bluff is called

  • MainlandUlsterman

    “Ourselves alone”, yeah I know the routine.

  • Reader

    hotdogx: This should help us find an Irish solution to an Irish problem.
    Does the ‘Irish solution’ involve exclusively Irish money?
    And in what sense is the UK leaving the EU an entirely ‘Irish problem’? The RoI can decide very little without EU approval and NI can decide very little without UK approval. You’re proposing a talking shop.

  • John Collins

    Well Paisley often joined forces with Irish Ag Ministers, like Yeats and his arch ‘enemy’ Blaney, to make the case for NI farmers in Brussels, when their respective British counterparts would not help him. So N/S cooperation can and does work at times and even Paisley, hardly a fanatical republican recognised that