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