North and South makes sense, even if unity doesn’t

The Belfast Telegraph welcomes the SDLP’s major policy document, Making Sense of North and South. It argues that common sense and practicalities should guide Unionist responses to its detailed proposals.

What is striking is the comprehensive nature of the proposals for co-operation, from policing to waste disposal. Among the new institutions would be an all-Ireland intelligence agency to tackle terrorism and crime, an all-Ireland Law Commission, an all-Ireland Criminal Assets Bureau and an all-Ireland sex offenders register.

Does a North-South approach to common problems make sense? Undoubtedly, particularly in economic matters, and it should be possible to draw a distinction between cross-border co-operation with and without political implications. Both sides can benefit from joint trade missions, to exploit overseas markets, and the SDLP’s plea for a common corporation tax of 12.5% – compared to the UK’s 30% – would be supported by many unionists, as well as nationalists.

More controversial would be the development of all-Ireland policing and justice, through joint police training and a Law Commission to promote the harmonisation of laws. The SDLP want more exchanges of personnel, involving police, prison officers, court clerks and even members of the judiciary.

The intention must be not only to raise the SDLP’s nationalist profile, when it is lagging behind Sinn Fein, but to demonstrate that there are practical steps that can be taken even before a deal on devolution. Some of the suggestions make a lot of sense – like much more co-operation in agriculture, health and education – and Dublin, as well as London, should be anxious to help the cause of moderate nationalism.

Unionists will always be wary of all-Ireland ambitions, but that should not rule out co-operation that works.