Irish Government must be Enforcers, not Co-guarantors

The Irish government are fond of reminding us that that they and the British government are co-guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement.

I’ve always understood a guarantor in financial terms as the person responsible for ponying up if the debt isn’t paid. Well, the north is going further and further into the red financially as well as dearg le fearg (red with anger) at lack of any meaningful progress and the guarantors don’t seem to be fulfilling their responsibilities.

Secretary of State James Brokenshire announced last night that there will be an extension in the negotiations and that there is no appetite for another snap election. Today we will perhaps learn a little more of the detail he has in mind in terms of time frame and format when he address the House of Commons.

Sinn Féin would have been happy enough to go into another election. They’re riding a high tide of increased votes which they see as an endorsement of their strategy of collapsing the executive and being hard-nosed in the negotiations. There’s no reason why they couldn’t repeat the feat in their eyes.

The DUP might want another election in the hope it would galvanize unionism into uniting behind them, but it’s a risky strategy when the embarrassment factor of RHI is still there and some leading lights lost their seats and are still smarting over that.

None of the other parties want an election in case they lose back ground gained in the most recent one, or in the case of the Ulster Unionists, get obliterated completely.

So it’s back to negotiations in a form as yet to be set out. And once again the co-guarantors aren’t left holding the chit and Dublin and London breathe a sigh of relief.

The problem in this strategy is that the British government consistently, and Brokenshire most recently, fails to acknowledge they are also party to the talks, not simply an external broker. As well as that, any legislative change in the north, for example, can come only from Westminster and not from Dáil Éireann. That inequality of arms means the Irish government has an even bigger role to play, not just as co-guarnators but as enforcers.

The Irish government seems to have forgotten that the Good Friday Agreement was endorsed overwhelmingly by the majority of people throughout Ireland. No one in Britain voted for it, so why should they care if it happens or not? Minister Charlie Flanagan just needs to get stuck in to James Brokenshire and insist that between them come up with an implementation plan for the previous agreements.

Flanagan’s first reaction on RTÉ news when it was announced that talks had broken down was the single-transferable appeal to the parties to keep talking to each other. He didn’t even reference the need for him and Brokenshire to sit down with one another and come up with a plan.

In the coming months it is likely that Fine Gael will have a new leader and consequently a new Taoiseach. It’s fair to say that at this point in time Enda Kenny has a few issues on his plate. Ensuring his party leadership contest is conducted with decorum, handling the thorny issue of the Garda Commissioner and of course, after tomorrow, the impact of Brexit when Article 50 is triggered.

In light of all of this, what should a new leader do? Keep going with the current policy of doing nothing other than restating platitudes? Or rethink the Government’s strategy on the north and how it fits in with Brexit; and get busy fast!

Trade tariffs, borders, curtailment of free movement are all issues that the Irish government will be forced to deal with by Europe. They need the politicians and public opinion in the north on their side when they’re making these deals. Let’s face it, not even the most hardened of Unionists wants to have to show their British passport when they’re going down to the rugby in Landsdowne Road.

The Irish government needs to say to their friends in London: “listen lads, if you think the dreary steeples will be grand if we just do nothing, they won’t. And if you listen to us, when we say Sinn Féin have to get some things, AND if you engage with Unionists, AND if you engage with serious people involved who are on your side (in the way Blair and Ahern did before the Good Friday Agreement, and after) then we might get somewhere. But if you think you can obsess about Brexit and put the north on the back-burner, you’ll regret it, sooner or later.”

Sometimes it just takes the Taoiseach and Prime Minister to chopper in for the afternoon in order to focus minds. Neither seems remotely interested and unless they engage quickly, they will have to deal with the fallout.

Enda Kenny and Charlie Flanagan have probably a couple of weeks, depending on Brokenshire’s timetable, to ensure enforcement of what has already been agreed. That’s what their own electorate voted for. It would be irresponsible for them to leave the vexing issue of the north as a crisis for the incoming Taoiseach to deal with when it the opportunity exists for it to be noted in the first day brief as something to just keep an eye on.

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  • Don’t think the Irish electorate gives a fig. That will be the calculation. Why would Southern Parties give SF a get out of the hole hand up?

  • 1729torus

    RoI’s capital should be moved from Dublin into the middle of the country. There’s too much conflation of Dublin’s interests and the national interest. Not everyone values close relations with the UK to the same degree as someone like David Norris.

  • the rich get richer

    Sure isn’t Enda Hiding Idly By in case his own Party find Him , so They Can Sack him………….

  • Tom Smith

    A plea for a pan nationalist front. That’ll go well.

  • Gavin Smithson

    The SOS will guarantee NI position in the U.K. at the end of the day

    ROI should not and cannot enforce anything. It has no jurisdiction in the U.K.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Well that’s just beyond the pale isn’t it?

    which of course is the origin of the phrase.

    https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/beyond_the_pale

    I certainly believe there’s definitely a need to decentralize government in Ireland, but it’s rarely justified as cost-effective.

  • dfoley

    my uneducated reading of all of this…

    brexit is a disaster for the unionist position in ni. the fact that they largely voted for it is worrying. outside of ni, the union was not being talked about a year ago. they are now talking about it in the financial city of london (that bit i know a bit about).

    the irish border issue is the single biggest challenge westminster face on exiting the eu.

    london certainly have no interest in footing the bill for ni for eternity. little england is coming first from now on.

    gerry & co have been thrown a lifeline and have pulled down stormont. feck off super dupers. back to direct rule from westminster we go and let them pull the strings from now on. this is called gerry entering the game before the end game.

    oh and pull the strings, pull the strings, westminster will and deals with the eu and ireland will be done. they now have to be done. and the clock is ticking. tick tock. tick tock.

    within the timeframe of brexit actually happening (2 years, possibly 10) we will see joint authority over ni in some form.

    within 10 years of joint authority we will see westminster pack up and call it a day.

    in the words of a great man, it’s squeaky bum time folks.

  • harmlessdrudge

    The SOS cannot guarantee the NI position in the UK at the end of the day or any day. It has already been conceded that this is a matter for democratic adjudication by the majority of the people. Thus, N.I. is not a part of the UK like Yorkshire, which doesn’t have incorporated within it, against their wishes, a large and growing number of people who see themselves as, and wish to be, citizens of another country.

    Statements about jurisdiction are technically correct because both sides have accepted the principle of consent. If it is abrogated you may find yourself having to suck up what you dish out, and sooner than you might like.

    What will you do? Suck it up or move to the motherland?

  • BonaparteOCoonassa

    “Theresa May misconstrues the Union as an English commonwealth. Instead, the best hope for “these islands” is to weather the storms of Brexit together”

    Yes, if ‘commonwealth’ means ‘we take and everyone else gives’.
    As for “weathering the Storms of Brexit together” some of us who had no part in Brexit see no reason to weather the storm when we can put in to a safe port.

  • Its hyperbole heaped on top delusion time.

  • Mike the First

    “The Irish government seems to have forgotten that the Good Friday Agreement was endorsed overwhelmingly by the majority of people throughout Ireland. No one in Britain voted for it, so why should they care if it happens or not?”

    The Agreement was approved by the UK Parliament.

    The people of Northern Ireland voted for the Agreement; the people of the Republic of Ireland voted for a couple of constitutional amendments coming out of the Agreement.

  • Granni Trixie

    I agree (if it’s what you are saying) that something gotta change in how the process is being run if there is to be any different outcome.
    As regards Sf being in a good place for an election if it comes to that, I can see why you say that. However what you leave out in the equation is however they try to spin it, in public discourse sf are instrumental in pulling the plug and there is no appetite for another election. At the very least the public are tending to sum up what happened as the two big power blocs not getting their act together.
    Same if DR is introduced – they will get the blame North and South.

  • AntrimGael

    You are correct Patricia, the Irish government SHOULD be demanding that Britain sticks to the GFA and implements it in full as a binding international agreement. However they won’t for several reasons.
    1. FG sees SF as a serious political rival in the South and will do minimal lest it helps the Sinners electorally in the 26 counties.
    2. FG is partitionist, historically sympathetic to Unionism, hostile to Northern Nationalists and will go along with whatever Britain and the DUP say.
    3. Dublin is fighting too many fires in other areas at the minute, particularly with Brexit, and in the wider picture doesn’t want to annoy or push Britain lest it affects any Brexit outcome or deals.
    4. FG doesn’t want to annoy the Southern media who are rabidly partitionist and who would crucify them if they annoyed Britain/Unionism. Look at the hostility FG faced a few months back when one of their TD’s even hinted at a future coalition with SF, the Southern media went even crazier than normal and FG suffered in the polls.
    I mean if Dublin is still scared of asking London to tell the truth about the Dublin Monaghan bombs they are hardly going to mention tbe GFA to them.

  • andrewjohn

    Before the last election there were those who said similar to the above. As it turned out nationalism hit the polls in droves and completely vindicated the SF position. There is evidence that the termination to pull Unionism into a fair and respectful place has ebbed. Now is the time for all parties to show Unionism that welching on beals is not acceptable. It they get away with this time there will be no end to it.

  • Granni Trixie

    Vox pops,NICVA and TU reps, voluntary groups etc are all talking about their concerns about the consequences of SF and the DUP not doing a deal and about having no budget and what’s going to happen to the health service etc. They are not on the same page as core SF.

  • Korhomme

    If you mean something like, a united Ireland must be a new polity, not the sectarian Catholic state (crocodile) swallowing the sectarian Protestant one, I can’t disagree; there’s too much that is rancid in both to expect that any form of union could be a success without some major changes in both.

    But, the more literal experiences of a new capital aren’t exactly resounding successes; think of Australia and Canberra, of Brazil and Brasilia, and Myanmar and whatever that new capital is called. All these places are too far from the economic hubs of their countries. What sounds a good idea, to replace the old and decadent with the new and vigorous, is no guarantee of success.

    And, where would such a new capital of the island actually be? Geographically, it would still be in the ‘south’.

  • Tarlas

    If we invert that paradox:

    Don’t think the English electorate gives a fig. That will be the calculation. Why would English Parties give DUP a get out of the hole hand up?

    We end up with similar vectors. We are all in the hole!

    But what had been agreed and signed off in contract, should have been honoured and implemented.

  • erasmus

    The amount of misinformation I read about the South on Slugger is mindboggling. I’m an FG voter and it’s news to me that I am ‘partitionist, hostile to nationalism, and sympathetic to unionism’. They did more for NI nationalists than any other party: viz. the Anglo-Irish Agreement.
    I agree with you about the Southern media. However they will prove to useful paranoia-quenchers, viz-a-viz unionism, if, as appears likely, things move in a Joint Authority direction.

  • Ciaran O’Neill

    Have you ever heard of John Bruton? While you yourself might not be partitionist, the vast majority of FG members would certainly be. And they would be openly proud of it too

  • Fear Éireannach

    Those who negotiated the GFA, SDLP, SF and FF should have put in something clear about the EU in the main text, but they did not and we now all pay a price for their laxity. This has now limited the actual power of the Irish government to use legal means to protect the GFA. Also the British have slithered around, saying vaguely positive things (which are probably lies), so it is hard to get at them. The Irish government have put a lot of work into getting the EU onside. What is needed now is for the NI assembly to clearly ask for the EU to grant it special privileges, which should now be possible after the election.

    But the problem is the British government are delinquent and they control the place.

  • Fear Éireannach

    Why not just call him SS?

  • eamoncorbett

    AG might have been talking about the Cosgrave era when FG was a partitionist party but since the Garrett Fitzgerald era times have changed . FG have been reluctant to criticise unionism for intransigence, but as for having any influence over SF in the current impasse, I don’t think so .

  • eamoncorbett

    No, but Sinn Fein has and if I had a choice , I would chose the jurisdiction of any Irish government than the SF/DUP coalition. Northern Ireland politics is a revenge game with no end , it’s non voting electorate already having given up , and it would appear that the guarantors of the GFA are about to give up .Surely you can see that something eventually has to give in a situation where stalemate rules the roost , do you seriously believe that Sinn Fein will just govern meekly in any new assembly and will not push their agenda any further. NI is fast moving to a situation where the assitance of the Irish government will be necessary if any kind of successful government is to exist in the future.

  • JOHN TURLEY

    John Bruton who became known as John Unionist,As for Mr Kenny he never showed any interest in the North until a few weeks ago when he used it in an effort to hold on to his job.

  • Df M

    Now that is a sweeping generalisation – does trying to understand Unionist concerns make someone partitionist? I think most FG voters would support a UI if conditions were right and we seem to be moving in that direction.

  • Reader

    JOHN TURLEY: John Bruton who became known as John Unionist…
    That’s a bit like calling someone up here a “Lundy”. I suppose there’s not a lot of room for nuance in southern politics, with you lot still hanging on to the Civil war parties.

  • Reader

    BonaparteOCoonassa: …some of us who had no part in Brexit see no reason to weather the storm when we can put in to a safe port.
    You have a plan? Do tell.

  • andrewjohn

    And what are the Alliance party doing to help move things on?

  • Old Mortality

    ‘ Let’s face it, not even the most hardened of Unionists wants to have to show their British passport when they’re going down to the rugby in Landsdowne Road.’
    If you really think that’s going to happen, as opposed to hoping it will happen, you are very deluded.

  • erasmus

    He was an outlier. Why not focus on the late Peter Barry whose mantra was ‘ending the nightmare of the Northern nationalists’.

  • Dan

    Irish nationalism is in turmoil over us leaving the EU.
    Its quite fun to watch.

  • Barneyt

    Perhaps they did not expect to win brexit

  • dfoley

    i had to look up the meaning of “hyperbole”. great word by the way.

    yes my “prediction” might seem delusional – and it is probably rather ambitious – but there is a real issue at stake here (a customs border) and it has to be addressed and resolved soon. this is not like the irish language act / marriage equality / long kesh maze etc etc that can be kicked into the long grass. this has to be sorted. and quickly.

    the english / city do not want this issue. let me assure you of that. they will look for ways to make it go away and new ideas will come to the table. they certaintly do not want an open land border with the eu. the irish gov. (with their eu member veto) also now have a huge card to play. will they step up? history suggests doubtful, but who knows.

    all we know is that no one has a clue how to fix all of this. and that in itself creates an environment where a lot of things are possible.

  • dfoley

    agreed. perhaps it was a favor to the tory right or perhaps it was just a tactically stupid own goal. however the dupers would never do that would they?

    some unionists however, who you might call more pragmatic, warned against the dangers of brexit on the unionist position… mike nesbitt being one of them. and look what happened to him! no room at the inn for pragmatism i’m afraid. never, never, never. oh wait.

  • Barneyt

    Well it seems there was some financial inducement to support Brexit. Short termism. I’ve read that republicanisms abstained in droves…and naturally would opt for some sort of self determination. However, such a vote would be a vote to strenghten the UK union…ironically. SF has to wear two heads when dealing with NI and the ROI…and I see the game they have to play. If the DUP were walked into this, then it has only served to assist the reunification agenda. Another irony.

  • john millar

    Taking lessons from people who cannot differentiate between perpetrators and victims is a non starter.

  • Tochais Siorai

    Lazy stereotyping.

    Bruton was something of a outlier in FG. Part of the smaller IPP / Farmers Party tradition which joined up with Cumann na nGaedhail in the 30s to form Fine Gael.

  • Tochais Siorai

    Just used that word before I saw you used it. Describes Bruton in FG pretty well I think.

  • Tochais Siorai

    Not sure you know politics in the Republic or society down there too well, AG you do seem prone to a fair bit of stereotyping in your analysis sometimes. Anyway

    1 FG don’t see SF as a major electoral rival to any significant degree whereas FF do. SF seem to be morphing into a 21st century version of them.

    2 FG have had more empathy with Unionists perhaps (not that Unionists ever had the nous to make anything of it) but have been no more partitionist than any other southern party, apart possibly from the Greens who of course are an all Ireland party anyway.

    3 True to an extent but if push comes to shove the UK won’t be long finding out where Dublin sees its future.

    4 Southern media rabidly partitionist? Nah, a few nutjobs in the Independent do not a rabidly partitionist media make but there is some unthinking ignorance of northern issues and concerns at times alright. But that goes the other way too. The level of ignorance among many northern nationalists about the politics and society of the Republic is quite astounding at times.

    Don’t confuse being anti-SF with being partitionist. It’s the combination of SF’s economic illiteracy and paramilitary past rather than any northern influence they’re afraid of. The electorate had no problem voting for Mc Aleese but they had for Mc Guinness.

  • Ciaran O’Neill

    Page 8 of the current issue of The Phoenix. Give it a butchers

  • Ciaran O’Neill

    No, being in favour of partition makes you partitionist. Its pretty obvious. That includes the “time just isnt right to talk about unification” crowd