“Those who imagine there’s constitutional advantage from Brexit should not be tempted up a cul de sac. .”

It’s hard to find a considered analysis that doesn’t contain some class of axe grinding. Martin Mansergh as a former FF TD and Senator is hardly free of such possible accusations, but he makes more effort than most to cut to the heart of the problem:

Half a year has gone by since the Executive collapsed, with lingering hopes but no certainty that it will be restored in a calmer autumn atmosphere.

The parties are not constrained by toothless government deadlines, given the absence of credible sanctions.

To everyone’s relief, the DUP and Sinn Féin can at least agree that MLAs’ salaries should continue to be paid, pending a functioning Assembly.

He provides some useful political context for the two main players:

The wider context is important for both Sinn Féin and the DUP, and offers both risks and opportunities.

It can be a double-edged sword to be an all-Ireland party operating in different roles in different jurisdictions, where apparently inconsistent positions can be compared by political rivals.

Presumably, the extra money negotiated by the DUP will temporarily insulate Northern Ireland from some of the austerity facing the UK, as the early effects of the Brexit decision begin to bite.

Whenever an election is called in the Republic, Sinn Féin might have difficulty explaining why it should be in government in Dublin, if it were still refusing to be in government in Belfast.

Any party in the DUP’s position after the Westminster election, holding the balance of power, would have used it to extract as much advantage for Northern Ireland as reasonably possible. The party quite properly refused to be taken for granted by the Tories.

Of course, there are also risks attached to its situation. Now that the DUP has become a key factor in British domestic politics, on which the very life of a vulnerable government depends, it is under the British media and political spotlight as never before.

Caricatured as antediluvian, it can expect ongoing criticism and attack, ostensibly based on high-minded concern for the peace, welfare and denied rights of Northern Ireland, from opponents and critics of the British government.

The question arising is “will their hardening of positions prevent compromise being made”? And what of the most critical issue facing Brexit? Almost everyone involved in the problem of the common border wants flexible solutions

As Mansergh notes:

Brexit, it is agreed, needs practical solutions that will minimise interference with cross-Border trade and movement.

As negotiations proceed, it is important that the political voice of Northern Ireland is heard, speaking with authority as a devolved government that is the product of a functioning peace process.

Those who imagine that there is constitutional advantage to be gained from Brexit should not be tempted up a cul de sac.

There will be neither a shift of opinion towards a united Ireland within the EU among unionists enough to justify a Border poll, nor a shift of opinion in the Republic towards an Irexit and back towards the UK.

And what of the advancing possibility of a united Ireland. Mansergh usefully names some obstacles many northern commentators have been slow to acknowledge:

A political competition as to which nationalist party north or south is the most zealous promoter of a united Ireland can do little to advance actual achievement of that objective, and we have been around that circuit many times before.

Finding the necessary adaptations to protect the real gains in relations and the free movement of the past 20 years is the only challenge.

Without belittling any of them, it has to be questioned whether the issues put forward as reasons for not entering an Executive outweigh bigger interests of the people living in Northern Ireland.

The more symbolic an issue is, the more likely it is to raise a head of steam.

The trumpets of equality are not going to bring down the walls of Jericho. To expect that every point of disagreement or contention has to be resolved before going back into government is unrealistic. [Emphasis added]

Although perhaps a different walled city, and a horse of an entirely different colour, to the one Gerry had in mind.

  • Accountant

    Well done Slugger guys for moving past the 12th groundhog. It would be nice if our politicians could also pause their unfinished business and get focused on the really pressing matters – yes, schools, hospitals, social care, but mostly the once in a lifetime/near existential threat posed by Brexit (and who knows, getting into a debating and voting chamber might also enable progress on some of the less important [IMHO] cultural differences).

    The NI politicians cannot allow David Davis and the French farmers to park the border until the end of Brexit negotiations. What happens if Boris and his lame duck boss tell the EU to “go whistle” on the financial settlement, as he threatened yesterday, and we are out with no deal ? How dare our politicians deny us the right to determine (if DUP boasts are to be believed) or at least influence the real sovereignty issue of the day ?

    Time to think bigger picture, SF and DUP.

  • murdockp

    Sinn Fein don’t even talk a language of unification. They don’t have a post in their party for a shadow unification minister unlike the Koreans who have one. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ministry_of_Unification

    My point is SF like the kid about to fight asking his mates to hold him back in an effort to avoid having to fight as deep down thry don’t really want a united Ireland as it is almost impossible to sell to their2 people who are hooked on state aid. . How else do they sell free healthcare at the point of need being withdrawn ? Cuts to benefits? Withdrawal of DLA cars? Withdrawal of free housing? Higher income tax? They can’t blame the bankers as that ship has long since sailed.

    If SF are serious about a united Ireland they need to create a shadom unification minister post and start telling the electorate what this unified state is going to look like both North and South.

  • eamoncorbett

    The problem is even if the big 2 patched up their differences in the morning , they are completely at odds when it comes to Brexit . The DUP are in favour of a hard Brexit for Britain and a frictionless border with the 26 , SF favour special status for NI which has been ruled out although one MEP suggested Irish passport holders in NI should be able to vote in Euro elections.
    The DUP need Stormont, Sinn Fein don’t and that’s a big part of the problem ,a problem that only the 2 governments can solve . SF are gamblers, this option could have negative consequences for them .
    The DUP are also gambling to a lesser extent with their loveless marriage to the Tories. The ordinary citizens of NI are the losers in this power game which if not checked will inevitably end in chaos.

  • Surveyor

    Dole in the South is £166 per week as opposed to £75 per week here. Not that it matters as the number of people signing on here has decreased for the 16th consecutive month.

  • runnymede

    Yep I’m sure the outline of a 32-county socialist republic will bring Unionists across in their droves.

  • murdockp

    forget about the dole, our guys are not stupid they know the system. the DLA and a Motability care are the way to go which is why the claimant count in the North is close to 200,000 people.

  • murdockp

    we it certainly will not bring the Catholics out in their droves

  • mickfealty

    And what underlies that surely is that two such rigid parties can never successfully work together under the rigid institutions they co-redesigned at St Andrews.

    The brutal truth is that Brexit was a DUP victory, and it would be hard for any nationalist party to work with them under such circumstances (another reason perhaps that Brexit was not such a clever idea for Northern Ireland)…

    The only option if the GFA is not to be binned (and remember neither of these two signed up to the Belfast Agreement), is for nationalism to take it’s own opportunities for wins, however modest. Tribalist fatalism (which saw SF take very little part in the Brexit debate) does not offer rich rewards for anyone.

  • 05OCT68

    If SF are serious about unification they have to attract investment & private sector jobs, a near 68% of the work force in NI are in public sector jobs so lets have a little bit less talk of the DLA & benefits. Promote an affordable health care act. Outline how education would be provided and what would be included in an agreed national curriculum. SF have a dilemma, a functioning normalized NI with a smaller public sector, greater private sector, zero tension on parades etc are whats needed to make Unification attractive in the South. The downside of this for SF is if Nationalists are more content with the status quo in NI. I’d argue that SF should take the chance, the worst case scenario is they will have improved the lives & prospects of all people in Ireland.

  • Zeno3

    “a near 68% of the work force in NI are in public sector jobs”

    That’s a bit out. It’s slightly over 25%.

  • 05OCT68

    Happy to to be corrected, I’m using 2008 stats now, NI public sector jobs 31% the rest of GB 19%. What about the rest of the comment?

  • Zeno3

    What I would do is pick 3 areas West Belfast, North Belfast and Foyle and bring as much investment as possible. That would demonstrate their ability to show NI what a UI would be like. But I don’t believe they have that ability. If they had Catholic areas would not be as badly off as they were under unionist control.

  • Accountant

    I wouldn’t concede that one so quickly, OCT. While “only” 31% of direct jobs are public sector, 68% of jobs are directly or indirectly supported by public sector.

    My fear is DUP strategy seems, even more than SF, to create the failed state, which is unattractive to RoI.

  • Zeno3
  • 05OCT68

    Thanks Accountant.

  • runnymede

    Yes funnily enough that vision has little appeal, despite SF’s conviction that it is what the ‘Irish people’ secretly desire…

  • 05OCT68

    “Irish people”?

  • runnymede

    If you mean claimant count unemployment, it is about 30k in NI


  • murdockp

    DLA claimant count is 210,000, reason the two payments are greater than the dole payment.


  • Georgie Best

    There is at least some possibility that Brexit will end up in the bin, or else it will become a much compromised Brexit that won’t do damage. This would be the best outcome. A macho Brexit would do tremendous damage in NI and the British would be too distracted to mitigate the damage.

  • 05OCT68

    It would explain the DUP’s public confidence that unification will never happen, whilst opposing all things Irish in the North.

  • james

    “SF have a dilemma, a functioning normalized NI with a smaller public sector, greater private sector, zero tension on parades etc are whats needed to make Unification attractive in the South. The downside of this for SF is if Nationalists are more content with the status quo in NI.”

    Hammer. Nail. Head.

  • Surveyor

    What’s the average rate of money then that these people are claiming every week if you add on the DLA component? Is it more than 166 quid?

  • mac tire

    An 18 month out of date article to back up figures that don’t currently exist.

    I sure hope you don’t run your business this way. The good people of Newry would not deserve it.

  • Barneyt

    Why is socialism a nationalist thing? Unionism and socialism works but from what you say we have a political separation over and above a religious one.

  • 05OCT68

    It’s also a dilemma for the DUP, a functioning NI will mean the DUP has to be more accommodating to Nationalism, a softening of it’s hardline position may not play well with it’s base.