The road to influencing the Brexit future isn’t closed. But is Adams now detaching Brexit from the future of the Assembly?

Why are staunch defenders of the  GFA  not rejoicing since the UK Supreme Court found that  nothing about Northern Ireland’s removal from Europe breaches any law, treaty or part of the constitution and there will now be a UK parliament vote on article 50?  Newton Emerson puts the question in the Irish Times with his tongue firmly in his cheek.

Any failure to accept the finality of the judgements against them not only perpetuates a false impression of damage to the peace process but undermines the power of the courts to correct it…..

There was a demonstration of how dangerous this can be last Saturday, when Gerry Adams told a Sinn Féin conference that Brexit is a “hostile action” that will “destroy the Good Friday Agreement”.

His comments were not a one-off. They were echoed by Michelle O’Neill, Sinn Féin’s new Northern leader, on her appointment by Adams two days later. O’Neill added that Brexit contravenes the consent principle….

But writing the agreement’s epitaph was as irresponsible as it was groundless. Given the challenges ahead, political leaders should be assuring supporters that at least the legal basis of peace is not threatened. No single party owns the agreement – especially Sinn Fein.

 

But of course it was always about politics and only briefly and tactically about law. With the Assembly’s future at issue it’s over to Westminster  where Sinn Fein do not take their seats. However less transparently but arguably more importantly, it’s also over to the joint ministerial committee of UK and  ministers from the three devolved governments convened  to monitor Brexit developments. NI ministers  have a whole month to make their divided presence felt.   In the Belfast Telegraph, Prof Rick Wilford describes the machinery

 

 So, the focus is well and truly on our MPs (and peers) as Parliament plays out this high political drama. Apart from debates in the Commons and Lords, our MPs are enabled to scrutinise government proposals via Parliament’s extensive committee system, including the 21-strong ‘Exiting the EU’ Select Committee, on which both Mark Durkan and Sammy Wilson serve. As for Sinn Fein, its abstention from the UK Parliament means that it has to exert its influence by proxy, lobbying the Secretary of State, trusting that its voice will be heard, and pressuring the Irish government to act on behalf of NI’s interests, many of which, not least the vexed border question, are shared by Dublin. The inter-governmental forum in which our ministers, with the exception of the First and Deputy First Ministers, do have a voice on Brexit is the Joint Ministerial Committee (JMC) of the UK, which brings together the UK government and the devolved Executives. Although Stormont is now dissolved, the NI ministers remain in post until midnight on election day, March 2, and so can participate in any JMC meetings that are scheduled between now and then.

 

The Supreme Court rejected the notion that the Sewel Convention  legally requires Parliament to get consent from the devolved bodies before legislation is passed.  While it acknowledges that “the convention operates as a political constraint on the activity of the UK and therefore plays an important role in the operation of the UK constitution…  a convention is not a law and the courts do not enforce conventions”. Professor Rory O’Connell, the professor of human rights and constitutional law at the UU bridles at the ruling.

The Supreme Court approach is in many ways very traditional. This lends strength to its main ruling that the Government cannot trigger Article 50 without an Act of Parliament.

The traditional suggests that neither the process of devolution to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, nor the adoption of unique constitutional arrangements in Northern Ireland, has changed how the courts decide constitutional questions.

This judgment, or rather and more importantly the Brexit vote itself, has exposed serious tensions between the traditional UK constitution and the constitutional settlement in Northern Ireland.

In the short and medium term, Northern Ireland political parties and civil society will have to develop political strategies to ensure that Northern Ireland’s interests are represented at all stages and levels as the Brexit process moves forward.

Boycotting the Assembly will hardly help.  Gerry Adams has been musing about it to the Irish Times. What is this?  As far as Sinn Fein is concerned, does the future of the Assembly now depend only on the outcome of the RHI inquiry?

“It’s a standalone issue which is above and beyond whatever programme we put together to proceed with . . . That has to be sorted. It’s in the process of being sorted now. It’s not subject to negotiation. Or anything else. It needs to be dealt with. The confidence needs to be restored. And then we’ll proceed.”

Adams rejected the idea that Sinn Féin seized the opportunity afforded by the cash for ash scheme to collapse the Executive because it suited its broader political purposes of responding to grassroots disenchantment with the DUP, managing the transition to the post-McGuinness era and reorienting its political strategy in both parts of the island. “No, that is the only reason why they were called. All the other issues which were the backcloth to this we could have dealt with.

I’m blowed if I know what to make of this one. Meanwhile Enda has been tying himself in knots about an coalition with Sinn Fein which he wouldn’t be around to form anyway. I’m blowed if I know what that’s about too. Which one is the spider and which is the fly?   No doubt somebody will be eager to explain.

, , , , , , , ,

  • MainlandUlsterman

    The agreed wording of the GFA is reality too – it is considerably more real than any imagined alternative people wish they’d agreed instead. The law may seem dry at times but it deals with the tough realities of life and what is fair or not fair. It is the best tool we have to live harmoniously with each other. Don’t dismiss it so casually or it might look like you’re not up for playing fair.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Yes I think Brexit is terrible for unionism, one of the many reasons I campaigned against it, though far from the main one.

    I understand people’s anger as I feel angry about it too. But what I’m just challenging is this idea some Irish nationalists have that their anger has a special right to spill over into violence, that somehow they are uniquely the victims here and that the world has to adjust for their every issue.

    They have a right to be angry but they should temper that by reflecting it’s just the result of democratic votes. They don’t have a veto on U.K. foreign policy and nor should they expect to.

  • Obelisk

    I’m actually a bit insulted by that. Are your views of Nationalists so stereotypical that you must see dark threats behind every harsh word? Maybe by ‘not accept’ I mean civil disobedience and legitimate attempts to ignore the border, mass protests, that sort of thing to grind down what Britain builds up against the wishes of the inhabitants. Or, to put it another way, if someone in the Labour party came out strongly against something and proclaimed they ‘would not accept something’ what do you think they would mean by that?

  • Obelisk

    Once again, you are misconstruing what I think as inevitable consequences of an action as support for an action. I support every form of protest except violent ones. I don’t like the fact you think I’m condoning violence because I am not saying the people will lie down and except the indignity of having their country torn apart yet again because of Britain’s uncaring actions. The people are in fact going to be very angry and some of them are going to use it as an excuse for mayhem. But only some. The rest of us believe it or not can fight against this using other methods.

  • Obelisk

    You know fine well this feeds into a bigger historical grievance. We didn’t want a veto on UK foreign policy. We wanted as little to do with the UK at all. Yet all our connection with the UK brings is misery upon misery. A self perpetuating sectarian time capsule with an unworkable government, a joke of an economy that subsists on subsidies and soon a massive border ensuring everyone who lives within thirty miles of it is going to have their lives complicated and impoverished.

    You’re one of those moderate Unionists I believe who hoped to sell the benefits of the Union to the Nationalist community in the hopes of cementing it. How do you feel that’s working out right about now?

  • the moviegoer

    Yeah, but because Enda’s days are numbered he can speak the truth instead of being Machiavellian, unlike Varadker and Coveney. The point he made is a general one – for more and more people Sinn Fein are a potential government party. I don’t foresee a FG-SF coalition after the next election but it will be the last election where SF’s fitness to govern will be a campaign issue.

  • Fear Éireannach

    The judges did not express any opinion on whether the GFA was a well written document. In fact 20 years after it was written it has been shown that it overlooked an important matter, simply because the drafters did not think the people of Britain would act in this malign way. A new agreement is needed that clearly addresses this issue in a watertight way.

  • eamoncorbett

    And if your neighbour builds a fence in order to create a barrier ,how does that make for future co operation . Immigration controls and customs posts hark back to a horrible period in this islands history , and with the US and Britain becoming more and more isolationist , the old animosities and grievances that were slowly being buried are being nourished and revitalised.

  • eamoncorbett

    The GFA will only last as long as its signatories desire it to last , right now there are huge changes afoot . Brexit is going to change the relationship between Britain and Ireland and by the looks of things between hard line Unionism and hard line Republicanism . Your posts seem to suggest that things go on forever , surely recent events have informed you on that subject.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    So you’re wanting nationalist parties to withdraw from the Good Friday Agreement?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    It provided fair, agreed structures through which British-Irish relations are to be conducted. They were designed to cope with tricky issues like this. If you have a better set of arrangements you think can get cross party support and international agreement, let’s hear them. If not, maybe we try and make what we agreed work?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    You misunderstand, I don’t see the GFA as there to make nationalists buy into the Union – just to accept the reality of it, take part in politics within it while they wait for Irish unity, and play a full constructive role in N Ireland in the meantime. I wasn’t expecting it to convert people to the Union as such but perhaps I did take nationalist leaders at their word when they committed themselves to accepting the legitimacy of N Ireland and to trying to make power-sharing work – and the GFA was explicit in pointing out, that’s *historical grievances notwithstanding*.

    I get that something like Brexit will fuel separatist feeling among many nationalists and it damages the UK in many ways. But it doesn’t breach the GFA in letter or in spirit. You can still feel kinship with the Republic after this, still have an Irish passport and so on – none of that changes. We hope the EU will agree to let both countries operate the Common Travel Area and so on. And we hope technical solutions can be found that prevent the border being experienced as hard.

    Really, it’s reasonable to be worried but not reasonable to declare disaster just yet – we need to see what comes out. But it’s clear both the UK and The ROI will be arguing forcefully for a soft border. It may be Brussels in fact that forces it to be a hard one, if that happens. But will they? I doubt it. The reality is, your interests as northern nationalists are listened to way more than unionist interests ever are. So really spare us the victim complex.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    And what do you say to those people thinking of using violence?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Nationalism in NI is led by SF though and their commitment to exclusively peaceful means dates only back to the Mitchell Principles and the GFA. When I hear nationalists talking about tearing up the GFA and that violence is “inevitable”, am I wrong to construe this as indicating we can no longer rely on SF to stick to its GFA commitments? When SF finds something “unacceptable”, in the past the rattle of guns cocking was never far behind. They may have changed – let’s all hope so. Of course they could wave through some deniable “dissidents” to do the violence – that would make their point for them without getting them kicked out of mainstream politics. Watch that space …

  • Obelisk

    Is this your version of asking all Muslims to condemn the violence of a few so we can be sure they’re ‘good enough’?

    I’m not going to dignify that with a response.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I agree Brexit is a shot in the arm for those opposed to the GFA, or who had signed up to it thinking somehow it was a path to a united Ireland and realised too late it isn’t. They were going nowhere; but now they have been gifted a grievance. And boy do they love a grievance. They are going to milk this for all it’s worth. The hyperbole is already at 11 on the dial and we don’t even know the outline of the deal yet.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Response noted – you had no answer.

    Ambivalence towards violence is the key to it all really. Not support as such, but ambivalence. That in the past has created the space for terrorism and in the present allows people to vote for a party like SF, and now to talk in terms of blood being spilt over a political argument. Do you not see the problem with it? If you’re serious about non-violence then you can’t keep agreeing when the violent blame the non-violent for their actions.

  • Obelisk

    Yeah well we took everyone else at their word over the Irish Language Act. The realisation that we were comprehensively had has been eye opening to say the least in regards to how agreements operate. In fact, that’s sort of the root cause of what’s happening. We bought into making, and I say the following very deliberately, ‘THE NORTH OF IRELAND’ work for the better part of the past twenty years. Firstly under the SDLP, who in the end failed us and secondly under Sinn Fein whom, for the past ten years since St.Andrews have made an effort to make the whole thing work.

    And what we got was the truth, that somewhere after St.Andrews the DUP twigged that Sinn Fein was so desperate to make things work that they would suffer almost anything to keep the show going. It may have been for purely strategic reasons to attract southern voters, but the intent was there to make it work. Did the DUP see the strategic value in using Sinn Fein’s co-operative attitude to forge a cross community consensus underpinning the union? No, they abused it. They offered not one iota to my community or other communities and instead of building a broad base of support for the north they retreated into tactical victories designed to please their base. On every issue Sinn Fein tried to make a stand on the DUP bulldozed them, knowing that with one eye on the south they were likely to fold and fold they did.

    So what did all our efforts of trying to make the North of Ireland work get us? To a situation reminiscent to my parent’s generation of the years before 1969, of Unionist dominance and I am sure that is how the DUP liked it. Power-sharing became a fig leaf for as good as a return to the old days as they were likely to get.

    So congratulations to the DUP. They tricked us and made us look like idiots for a decade. Good for them. I hope they enjoyed it. I also hope they appreciate that they didn’t make hay while the sun shone and that it is now going to be much, much more difficult to appeal to that rising Catholic demographic majority they are either going to have to convince to vote for them or at the very minimum to remain in a state of apathy. So if anyone has thrown the spanner into making the north work, look no further than Foster, Campbell and Givan.

    As for ‘feeling kinship with the Republic’ I don’t want to feel ‘kinship’ with the Republic. I want to live in a real country where issues are about economics and social services and voting for a party that reflects my personal beliefs and not my tribe and I do not want to indulge the bizzare Unionist fantasy that the North will one day be like that. No it won’t, because the north was founded for sectarian reasons and will always be poisoned by that legacy. It’s like dreaming of a prosperous future for North Korea once the Kims are gone. There is no future for North Korea once the Kims are gone and there is no future for Northern Ireland without the sectarianism that justifies it’s existence.

    As for ‘technical solutions’ you are hoping this can be mitigated in some way? Need I remind you that the ‘technical solutions’ will be employed for and targeted at both goods and people (non irish citizens, possible eu citizens). Anything that in any way retards trade or movement across the island is a.) going to damage our economy, the differences will only be ones of degrees and b.) an insult to the Irish nation. Laugh at the hyperbole all you want but I can’t think of anything else to describe someone coming along from the outside and dictating to the Irish people who or what can move throughout their own country. And yes, this will be the second time this has happened at the behest of England. Stirs some very painful historical memories for us.

    And do you know why Nationalist interests are listened to more than Unionist interests? Because one day almost a hundred years ago they took almost everything they wanted and we’ve spent those hundred years playing catch up with them. Their complaints are the complaints of the rich man forced to share with the beggared partner he stole from. It’s very easy to have a victim complex when you have genuinely been a victim.

  • Obelisk

    Well we can’t put all our psychopaths in uniforms to give them state protection so unfortunately yeah, there are some maniacs who will likely pursue violence and we can’t stop that. But who knows, maybe in thirty years time they’ll be TDs or MLAs and they can moan about how back in the day they did things that people in the future will label torture but which still seem reasonable to them.

  • Fear Éireannach

    British-Irish structures are all very fine, but unless they deliver a border at least as convenient as the norm on other land borders within 1000 Km, and legal processes to guarantee this, then the British are not sincerely engaging in the process and it is a waste of time.

  • Fear Éireannach

    Then we are back in 1990.

  • Fear Éireannach

    Are you a pacifist, MainlandUlsterman? Do you think that one should turn the other cheek in every situation?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    This is been thought through in some detail for centuries: the distilled wisdom on this resides in the law around assault and self defence, which tends to be fairly similar the world over. In essence you can only use force on someone if they are physically attacking you. So no I’m not a pacifist. I just believe political violence is completely unacceptable. In N Ireland of all places we should be aware of what happens when people stray from that belief.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Well let’s see what they come up with. My expectation is there will be some difference from now but not much.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    What we can control though is our attitude to the maniacs. Are we prepared to side with “themmuns” against the bad guys from our own community? I am.

  • Croiteir

    Because the people in Strabane, Belleek etc voted for this, they may not have realised this, but they did. I don’t blame them, they were sold a pup by nationalist politicians who sought peace at any price.

  • Croiteir

    Perhaps – I prefer to say, without any satisfaction, the late sixties

  • Fear Éireannach

    Provided that difference is a positive one, making cross border trade and travel easier rather than harder, then there isn’t a problem. However, the atmosphere would be greatly improved if the British government would clearly say that.

  • Madra Uisce

    Its a pity your politicians arnt . They prefer to stand shoulder to shoulder with them as we saw during Sunningdale,AIA,Drumcree andTwaddell.

  • Madra Uisce

    They have a right to be angry but they should temper that by reflecting it’s just the result of democratic votes. Oh the irony of a Unionist lecturing anyone on accepting the result of a democratic vote.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    You’re doing that thing of pretending the 1918 Westminster election was a referendum for the island as a unit on leaving the UK? I think you’ll find it wasn’t. Just as SNP seats in Scotland don’t have that effect now.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    What, Alliance?
    And what party do you back?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Are you?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Amen to that