Still waiting for the Unionists…

The British-Irish Inter-Parliamentary Body still cant’ get Unionists to come along, but Gary Kent, reporting from Wexford, reckons that that is only a name change and year away. The group of bank bench parliamentarians met as usual, but with our former Secretary of State for Wales, etc. in the chair (he hasn’t gone away you know)…

The British-Irish Inter-Parliamentary Body today in Wexford agreed a fairly bland motion on continuing progress in Northern Ireland which Tory MP Robert Walter described as motherhood and apple pie. However, some speakers were able to highlight real problems and to advocate new area of debate and action.

On Northern Ireland, Cecilia Keveaney and Eddie McGrady from Fianna Fail and the SDLP respectively (though some are watching that space to see if two become one) cited the continuing problem of sectarianism and bigotry in ghettoised communities surrounded by more and more “peace walls.”

Some members think the Body should think bigger and examine global issues. Peter Hain put forward energy security and boosting renewables. Eddie McGrady wanted to focus on food production and climate change whilst Baroness O Cathain singled out biofuels.

Back to the North: there was universal acceptance of the need for early devolution of policing and criminal justice powers. The DUP claims a veto over this and will wait for solid progress towards the dismantlement of the Provisional IRA – lock, stock and Army Council. But this wasn’t debated due to the continuing absence of unionists.

It won’t be long before they join. The next meeting of the Body in October will see it change its rules slightly and rename itself as the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly. The unionist parties have indicated that they will send representatives, probably in a year’s time.

It’s been a very long time in coming but unionist participation in BIPA will give it some bite in its bid to become the backbench scrutiny body for the east-west dimension in general and the British-Irish Council in particular.

It was also Peter Hain’s first time as the new Co-Chair. He was widely praised but I enjoyed Chris Ruane MP’s mixed mathematical metaphors that in negotiations Peter was able to “square circles and triangulate.”

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty