The past week has not been a good one for North-South relations as the EU funding was pulled for the Narrow Water Bridge. Mick noted the general disengagement of the Irish government in an earlier post but as I sat at the NI21 Conference, I listened to the Junior Finance Minister, Brian Hayes TD, give his verdict on North-South relations which to me highlights our current problem in this area as he said;
There has been too much navel gazing concerning issues like this by politicians in Dublin and Belfast. The Peace Process and North South relations are very important but they are not the only game in town. We need to lift our heads up and look at what is happening next door. We need to take a much keener interest in political developments in Britain; particularly on Britain’s relationship with the European Union.
While I agree with his sentiments, Hayes misses the fundamental point in that we are not even taking a great deal of interest in what happens in one another’s jurisdiction. He even acknowledged this problem in the first lines of his speech as he recalled telling a colleague that he was visiting NI21 over the weekend only to get a reply that he wasn’t aware of that particular road.
If Hayes wants to take a greater interest in Britain and Europe, a good place to start would be to encourage his government colleagues to look over the border once in a while. The decline in economic initiatives and the general political disengagement is not a healthy sign for the future as we approach potentially turbulent political times ahead.
North-South relations are not the only game in town as the Irish government appears to have given up playing it a long time ago. Once upon a time, the symbolism of the two governments of this island coming together really did inspire hope and optimism. From Sean Lemass and Terence O’Neill to Bertie Ahern and Ian Paisley-these meetings did show the best in our leaders. In the economic sphere too-co-operation over electricity, agriculture and commerce showed that the island of Ireland could yield important benefits when we worked together.
That idealism has however, fallen completely by the wayside as the entire project has lost its way under directionless leadership. This is the real problem with the North-South relations project. We have only ever made progress on common issues when the political will was there to do it and we will never achieve any substantive progress while we continue to let North-South projects fall by the wayside.
David McCann holds a PhD in North-South relations from University of Ulster. You can follow him on twitter @dmcbfs