SDLP to feed a key NI perspective into the EU’s negotiations with the UK?

So what to make of the implications of Brexit for Northern Ireland?

To get the big one out of the road first, no one is going back to war. In fact of all the parts of the UK Northern Ireland is probably the calmest and the least hysterical, and as Newton Emerson put it last night, least embarrassing.

There’s been no substantive response from the administration. The Executive has yet to meet and figure out how it will respond. Sinn Fein and the DUP may find themselves on either side of a binary divide, but this move leaves the current programme for government in tatters.

The UUP leader came out strongly in favour of Remain and along with Alliance is responsible for helping it poll a majority of the sentiment. But the fragmentation of opinion within its ranks and in its base probably accounts for the narrowness in the margin of that win.

Sinn Fein as a party decided to go on the offensive, north and south, over the question of holding a border poll. But it was a jarring contribution to a conversation south of the border more focused on the existential threat to the all-island economy and east-west trade.

Alliance played their own part along with the Greens in keeping North Down and South Belfast in particular in the Remain camp. Naomi Long, as Pete noted, has been a reality checker on some of the wilder notions emerging in the immediate aftermath of the result.

The SDLP’s response has been more measured and focused on developing “a firm determination to protect the Irish national interest”, emphasising the need to ensure that any new borders or barriers must “now be around the island of Ireland, not across it”.

Our own Derek Mooney writing for yesterday picked up Eastwood’s rhetoric, and ran with it:

We need to recognise that despite differences in identity, that Northern Ireland has and will continue to have a great deal of economic and social common interest with the Republic.

To give expression to this common interest the Irish Government to needs to fashion an all-island EU strategy and use its seat at the Council of the European Union to champion the interests of Northern Ireland, particularly the border regions, along with the interests of the 26 counties.

The government should start reaching out now to civic society across the North to become its connection to the EU and should formalise these relationships, perhaps initially through re-establishing the Forum on Europe on an all island basis.

Derek’s party leader Micheál Martin underlined his final point: ie to begin building relationships with other smaller nations once Ireland’s erstwhile EU wingman, the UK, has withdrawn from that supra-national relationship. Chiefly, any future independent Scotland:

I and my party believe that it would be unacceptable for Scotland to be treated as a normal candidate country should it seek to remain as a member of the EU.

It currently implements all EU laws.  It manifestly would not need to be reviewed for its standards of governance and ability to implement EU laws.

It has a strong administration, a distinct legal system and an absolute commitment to European ideals,” Mr Martin told an emergency Dáil debate on the outcome of the EU referendum.

Scotland is strong enough to advocate for itself, but Ireland should be its friend and demand fair play should it seek to remain in the EU.

So can we expect relations in Ireland to begin to shift in parallel though not necessarily in concert with the shifting relations between London and the EU? Well yes, but probably nothing as sudden or as jolting as the border poll advocated by Sinn Fein.

Martin was keen to point out that what Scotland does is Scotland’s business, not Ireland’s. Yet Northern Ireland is almost certain to be a subject the Irish government will be keen to see prioritised in the EU’s bilateral negotiations with the UK government once Article 30 begins.

And the SDLP, rather more than Sinn Fein (who sit in voluble opposition both to the current minority government and Fianna Fail as the largest opposition party), will want to assert themselves as the key Northern Ireland player in feeding into the EU end of that process.

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