Brexit is the definition of a national issue, but we must listen to what Unionists are telling us

Stephen Donnelly in an interview on RTE yesterday at lunchtime, who said that whilst he is happy with the draft deal on the table over the border – Brexit, he says, is the very definition of a national issue – but we must listen to what Unionists are saying about Dublin’s tone.

He points out that gaps were opening up because of a lack of back-channel contacts between the government in Dublin and the DUP’s own backroom teams: no one on the EU side seems to be able to reliably account for how or why the talks collapsed so spectacularly on Monday.

 

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  • MainlandUlsterman

    I’m being thick, can you explain your thinking further?

  • Reader

    Lotso: “Equals” …when did unionists ever have to march for the right to vote?
    1968, Didn’t you know? The ratepayer franchise quite possibly excluded more unionists than nationalists from voting.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    1985, 1986 … I walked from York St to the City Centre myself on both the big rallies. These were formative political experiences for me personally and at the core was NI people being denied a vote on the AIA and having their elected representatives also frozen out and kept in the dark. Nationalists were denied the same vote too, but it may have felt less bad because their lead party had so much input into the ‘agreement’ foisted on the rest of us and largely got what they wanted in it. But nationalists were disenfranchised too.

  • Lotso

    A couple of things to look at in your point:

    Firstly: “Unionism in N Ireland is about N Ireland” …doesn’t unionism pre-date Northern Ireland?

    And secondly: “Throwing NI out against its will goes against principle for a lot of people who might not care that much about the place otherwise.”

    Isn’t that what’s happening now with Brexit?

    If Unionism is “freestanding” and “about Northern Ireland” why the insistence on exiting the EU with the rest of the UK, despite NI voting to remain?

    Lots of contradictions.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I agree Davis is a disgrace and what happened yesterday I see as a fundamental betrayal of British democracy and the British people. Without wanting to sound like Trump, he should be in jail for not publishing impact reports when told to by the Commons – the people’s representatives. That committee’s Tories – and Sammy Wilson – have badly let down the whole process of parliamentary scrutiny. It was a disgrace and I am apopletic about it (can you tell?)

    The mutual recognition thing would tie our hands for sure on changing regulations in a lot of areas. That is how it works. There is no way around it, the hard Brexiters are about to discover, and they are going to lose. UK plc will be bending over backwards to influence the Tory party to go the soft route. Pro-business Tories, even Leavers (see Kwasi Kwarteng the other night on Newsnight), are smart enough to realise there has to be a lot of regulatory convergence for any trade deal to work. Anything else is for the birds. But those weird b*****s on the hard Brexit right will fight like Bond villains to the last for their warped, bizarre, neo-con libertarian vision.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    But on the agreement to keep the border open, I think it can be done if they also say there will be no sea border either, i.e. in that scenario the *whole UK* will be bound by EU standards, not just NI. The possibility of NI divergence from the UK needs to be closed off, as well as keeping the border open.

  • Rapparee

    The DUP are saying an Irish Sea border (customs/reg.) would be in breach of the GFA, so I presume you believe them to be wrong.

  • scepticacademic

    The point I was responding to was the suggestion that we could have our cake and eat it, i.e. have free trade along the lines we currently enjoy without free movement – this is never going to happen. Trade under CETA is not free in the sense of the single European market and does not cover, for example, trade in services, ergo vastly inferior to the status quo.

    The problem with the blunt instrument that was the referendum is that after the event people are interpreting all sorts of intentions (e.g. “we don’t want the full monty”) into what was a fairly bland dumb question. nobody was asked about free movement specifically, nor were they ask about the terms of trade.

  • scepticacademic

    Due to its weak bargaining position.

  • Rapparee

    Am I wrong in my analysis, and if so, do explain.

  • Lotso

    So the real question is “Equals to whom?” … MU implied that somehow, unionist were treated less equal than nationalists. Which is just laughable. No amount of revisionism (which I agree happens all the time on all sides) will square thon circle.

  • Sub

    Look its as simple as this. All I have to go in relation to any poster here because I have never met any of them is their posting content. There are other posters on Slugger who are Alliance supporters or indeed party members. Not one of their postings content resembles yours in any shape or form. However when compared to hard line Unionist posters your posts are similar to theirs. Your use of the term “counter terrorists” when describing loyalist murder gangs was very telling. It was a term you deliberately chose to use in one of your posts. Its a term that none of our Alliance supporting posters would ever think of using. By the way im not the only poster to question your claim to be an Alliance supporter. Im happy for anyone to claim allegiance to any party or political view point but do not expect me to unquestionably believe them. Thanks.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    “Lots of contradictions” – OK, let’s resolve them:
    1. “…doesn’t unionism pre-date Northern Ireland?” Yes, but there is no one alive with any memory of pre-Northern Ireland days. The previous forms of unionism in Ireland are for the history books. If we’re talking about unionism now, which we are, my comment stands, unionism is all about Northern Ireland staying in the UK. It doesn’t even necessarily require you to be anti Scottish or Welsh independence, though most unionists are.
    2. “Throwing NI out against its will … isn’t that what’s happening now with Brexit?” Well, no. Is NI being thrown out of the UK? No. Even if the sea customs border happened, which I massively don’t want, it still wouldn’t amount to being thrown out of the UK. Everyone is bending over backwards to say the GFA must be respected, including me. And it says NI’s future membership of the UK can only be ended by the choice of its people in a referendum and that whatever the choice is, that must be respected. It also says the current choice is the UK and that that must be respected. I really don’t see any great chance of the GFA being ditched.
    3. “If Unionism is “freestanding” and “about Northern Ireland” why the insistence on exiting the EU with the rest of the UK, despite NI voting to remain?” You’re confusing a few things here and it’s a bit of a non-sequitur logically. I’m struggling a bit to see any inconsistency between NI unionism being an indigenous NI, freestanding thing, that is about N Ireland’s status as part of the UK, and exiting the EU with the rest of the UK. Those things are completely consistent.

    To have another go though at (3), I think where you might be coming from is that, because the Remain vote in NI was bigger than the Leave vote, unionists, if focussed on NI, would simply go with that. Logical problems you run into there:
    – the Brexit vote was on the question of whether *the UK* as a whole should leave or remain in the EU. It was not a vote for NI to effectively ‘remain’ in the event of the rest of the UK leaving, which is a different question entirely. So “NI voting to remain” is a phrase commonly used but actually slightly misleading. A majority voted for *the UK* to remain. This included 40 per cent of unionist voters by the way. It’s far from clear that these people by voting remain wanted NI pulled further away from the UK. You’d have thought most probably didn’t mean that.
    – unionists, as I said, are focussed on N Ireland very strongly, specifically N Ireland as part of the UK and maintaining that. Leaving the EU, if the whole UK does it together, does not (in theory at least) tear NI away from the rest of the UK. So it’s quite natural for unionists to want the whole UK to act as one together in this.
    – being focussed strongly on N Ireland matters does not of course logically require you to agree with everyone in the place. Leaver unionists (of whom I’m not one) are entitled to their view as much as anyone else.

    Long way of saying, there was no internal contradiction in what I was saying, really.

  • David Crookes

    Bless you for that generous answer, MU, and sorry that I afflicted you with late-night pompousness earlier on.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    “It’s complicated by all the rules and laws and governances that some Unionists insist on preserving that make NI different from the UK.”
    So, devolution? I thought that was a good thing that nationalists wanted more than UK integration – is that not right?

    “It’s complicated by this pick and mix attitude that can be taken by them as to what parts of Britishness they want to see imposed on everyone.”
    I don’t see unionists imposing Britishness on everyone; rather it’s an identity unionists have for themselves.
    British sovereignty in NI does apply across the whole province, if that’s what you mean. But that’s because, as fully accepted by all shades of nationalism in the GFA, it is the present wish of the people of N Ireland for NI to be part of the UK. Sovereignty is not like political power, it cannot (without extraordinary difficulty) be shared, it tends towards the indivisible – i.e. one nation’s laws apply in one place. Some may be interested in exploring joint sovereignty for the future, but it is not what we all agreed for now.

    As to the “pick and mix” thing, is this (apart from devolution) because N Irish Britishness has strains that are quite different from Shetlands Britishness, South Walean Britishness, Britishness as experienced in London, Liverpool, anywhere else? Well yes it does – but every part of the British people and every individual British person defines Britishness for themselves. It takes many different forms and those in N Ireland are no ‘less British’ than any other. The GFA indeed expressly says Britishness in N Ireland is a valid thing that must not just be recognised by “be accepted”.

    So telling people that doing things in a Northern Irish British way is less British than doing them in an English British way is just wrong. There is no single template of Britishness, divergence from which makes you lesser. We are regional in this country and we have strong regional identities and strong regional versions of how we relate to the wider country. They are all good and all equally ‘British’, however different from each other. The country is its people, at the end of the day.

    I agree, no need for divisive borders at all – fully support you on that. Though we do need to respect the wishes of people in the Irish Republic not to be part of the UK, so I would respect their right to their independence from us.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    oh was that analysis … not sure what there is to say on that really.

    I’m not sure what you’re disagreeing with here … do you think people from outside are somehow making unionists be unionists? Seems uncontroversial to me that unionism exists in NI quite independently of what support there is elsewhere for them. Great if it’s there, if it’s not, well hey unionists are still there.

    ‘Paranoia’ is an obvious trope, which picks up on the anxiety unionists do feel and just pretends such anxiety is unreasonable. The truth is we really don’t have anywhere near as many allies as Irish nationalism does and we genuinely have to defend ourselves from all sides quite regularly, whatever we do – even moderate unionists find themselves in that position, up against deeply ingrained misapprehensions out there about N Ireland which colour a lot of comment on the place. It is hard work countering it and a lot of unionists, seeing the forces stacked against them, don’t even bother.

    If there appears a constant state of crisis, and there has been in my lifetime, it’s because we’ve had to withstand 30 years of a major attempt to push into a united Ireland by force, which was a tad stressful; followed by the leaders of that campaign becoming the majority voice of nationalism and continuing their attacks on us by other means. Countering those kinds of people has put huge pressure on unionist people and unionist politicians and they have my huge sympathy. They aren’t all my cup of tea and some have bad attitudes themselves, I have no problem conceding that. But I do think after the Troubles that unionists should be cut a lot of slack. Most ordinary unionists took a lot of crap for the crime of opposing the terrorists and like ordinary nationalists who did so also, they were heroic in the Troubles. Let’s not see each other, please, in terms of the worst elements in each other’s communities. All reasonable people are embarrassed by hardliners on their own side.

  • David Crookes

    Thanks, Seaan! The trouble is that the old emotional certainties of the past are hard to abandon. It’s like throwing your bedclothes out the window on a wintry night.

    When I was born, only seven years after the end of World War II, it seemed to unionists that warm days would never cease. The union was for ‘us’, and anything else was for ‘them’.

    If the union is to survive, and flourish, it will need to serve both ‘us’ and ‘them’, and it will need to reach out intrepidly to the people who live across the border.

    But maybe in time we shall be able to build upon the good relations that the UK and the RoI have enjoyed in recent years, and arrive at a new set of relationships involving every part of our two-plus islands.

    Of course MU is right. There is a lot of work to be done on each ‘side’. An act of severance which was in many ways vicious has encouraged members of both ‘sides’ to behave in a variety of unvirtuous manners.

    And the Troubles may have stopped, but for as long as people of my age hold on to the emotional certainties of the 1950s, we shall be part of the overall problem.

    Then will everything get better once the Old Fogeys leave the stage?

    Not if the Old Fogeys are replaced by Young Fogeys!

    It’s funny. Young people of today may reject the dress codes, the musical tastes, and the religious loyalties of their grandparents, while holding on happily to the visceral political certainties of their ancestors.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Of course it is a common trait in both camps, it is a pattern of self interest and of political dishonesty encoded by choices made by Unionism over a century back, as I frequently point out. David is simply laying down the ground rules for the sort of normal politics we lost when Unionism took to the gun in 1913.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    No, it ruled that triggering article 50 in itself was not in breech of the Belfast Agreement. It did not say that the terms of exit would not breech the Agreement. How could it when no terms had as yet been negotiated? But perhaps more importantly it showed that while the Belfast Agreement was an important ntetnatuonal treaty. it had no existence in English common law and accordingly could not be challenged in an English courts. It was “non-justable” in English law. What the judgement did not state was that the terms of exit do not effect the Belfast Agreement. If you check the briefing document for members of the European Parliament will find that it is made clear that certain aspects of the Belfast agreement will require re-drafting.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Worryingly what the Supreme Court judgement showed was that the Belfast agreement has no existence in English common law.

    It is always interesting to read the judgement itself rather than newspaper reports which usually simplify matters.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Exactly, the Agreement is not domestic law. As I understand the matter the Supreme Court ruled the challenge regarding a breeching of the Belfast agreement “non- justable” as it was matter that only the Commons itself could rule on.

  • Dramadrama

    Thank you for that detailed reply. I can understand where you’re coming from now, on this issue.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Yeah not sure on that. But the GFA itself is not domestic law as such, yes.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    again, your gimlet eye not trained quite so hard on the nationalist version of this. In which as Exhibit A I cite the words and deeds of The Republican Movement.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    no worries. I am deeply pompous myself.

  • David Crookes

    If the Grand Opera House ever puts on a Muppets Tribute Night, you and I can be Statler and Waldorf.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    you don’t, but if I tell you my own view and you refuse to accept it is my view, we can’t really have a conversation, can we? It’s not so hard – some people who value the union and despise terrorists and terror apologism do support Alliance. My dad being one. I am not the only one. There is no contradiction in that position. I say ‘support’ loosely – I fall somewhere between them and the UUP of the major parties; the truth is no party really fits the bill entirely. As a social democrat, I want a left of centre, pro-Union but not banging on about it, liberal, pro-business party.

    I am not a big fan of the main unionist parties as such as they are too much on the right and have too much baggage and I think centrist parties are a better way to promote the Union.

    You mistake my detestation of Sinn Fein for hardline loyalism. No, it comes from the middle. Centrists can be against extremists, funnily enough. And while many associate centrist politics with being relaxed about everything, I disagree – I think decent, social democratic values have to be defended vigorously against thugs and charlatan ethnic warriors posing as social progressives.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I’m ageing less well

  • David Crookes

    But look at the experience you’ve got…..

  • David Crookes

    Let me speak obliquely. According to what I hear from a highly placed source, The Secret That May Not Breathe Its Name in a Sincere Friendly political party is not the fact of a certain gentleman’s membership of the IRA, but the strong ‘encouragement’ which Protestants will be given to relocate when the UI comes.

    Of course this ‘secret’ is predicated upon the idea that the Sincere Friendly Party will be the most important player on the pitch when the UI comes. I don’t accept that idea.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Is this ‘encouragement’ to be stick, carrot or both? Not that it matters what form of ethnic cleansing they choose, it’s still ethnic cleansing.

  • William Kinmont

    So many and varied options that it defies definition . From Rees moog to bonfire yob. No wonder protecting its status is resulting in deadlock.

  • David Crookes

    Severe stick.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Try reading judgement itself. I have.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Hi David, having broken my right arm I’m having a lot of trouble actually typing. Single finger left hand or or the dictation software on my iPhone. The trouble is as writer I think with my fingers! You are of course correct and it is a matter of trying to somehow get past the activistic encodings of a century and a half of bad political habit.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    How’s it any more “aggressive”
    than wishing for a continuity of the union cross one’s life time? Surely reunification is legitimate aspiration just as the continuation of the union is politically? As you’re suggesting neon lights, the rhetoric of aggression which unionism is indulging in is it self aggressive!

  • SeaanUiNeill

    I have as yet to meet a rank and file Tory currently I n the Commons who thinks of NI as other than a burden to be passed back to Ireland as soon as possible. When you speak of the Conservatives being committed to maintaining the union are you actually speaking to any of them face-to-face? Look, I know what the media says, what they have to say in public, but it’s important to actually go out and meet these people and find out what they’re really thinking, as that is how they will act in reality, as Monday’s fracas showed. Scotland and Wales are taken for granted as the Union by such people, yes,….but Northern Ireland?

  • Senor Deplorable

    No,there’s nothing at all aggressive about wanting to eradicate the homeland of another people. Nothing at all 🙄

  • Senor Deplorable

    Lol

  • SeaanUiNeill

    The entire Belfast Agreement itself is an agreed treaty set on eradicating “the homeland” of “another people” when the population the six counties decide they want reunification with Ireland, and a rejection of partition. And you are perhaps forgetting that unionism itself eradicated “the homeland” of those Irish people living in the six counties in 1920!

  • Senor Deplorable

    “even when there isn’t one”. I had a good chuckle at that one when all the savages do on this site is endlessly plot for their utopia and irrationally dismiss anyone who opposes it.

    You are right though in that the unattractive essence of an Irish state outweighs everything else. The bog savages need to take a long hard look in the mirror to see why that is.

  • Senor Deplorable

    The Belfast Agreement is a work of treachery that belongs in the ashes of history. Good riddance.

  • Eradicate meaning what in this sense exactly? That a popular vote would take place in which a United Ireland was the outcome?

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Well, it was certainly Unionism’s last chance to seriously build a bridge to the future which would have carried it out of its negativity. The problem for Unionism has always been that time just does not stop, even for it. Canute probably found the North Sea “treacherous”, I’d imagine.

  • David Crookes

    Seaan, I’m truly sorry to learn of your affliction, and hope that your period of unidigital frustration will not last for too long. I drove home from church tonight gleefully contemplating the possibility of a last-ever sixties-and-seventies rugby match. After reading your message, I’m starting to wonder about the wisdom of the project.

    Discipline yourself to let the broken arm heal. Don’t do any ‘important’ things that will hinder your recovery. Cultivate your pyjamas. Above all, don’t neglect frivolity. During what will be long hours of both day and night, read anything, watch anything, and listen to anything that will convulse you with mirth.

    May it not be long until some spiritual descendant of Amanda McKittrick Ros is able to meet you, shake your right hand, and relate afterward, ‘I cordially seized his extension.’

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Yes, the Conservative Party is a disgrace

  • MainlandUlsterman

    So have I and it said what I just said – I think! Am I wrong?

  • SeaanUiNeill

    A disgrace perhaps, but I wonder which part of “England first” the DUP failed to understand?

  • SeaanUiNeill

    I believe you are wrong, MU, and that love to argue it all out with you, point by point but alas I’m in bed with broken right arm for forseeable future! I’m having trouble accessing my PDFs of the Agreement and various judgements. Luckily my iPhone has dictation software, which throws up its own problems with trying to argue complex things!

  • MainlandUlsterman

    poor you! get well soon – and stop typing!!

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Dictation software works well enough for simple replies, but the real problem comes with anything more complex! But by far the biggest annoyance is my difficulty in checking things out properly! I usually try and be accurate and detailed in my replies, especially with anyone deserving a proper answer, like yourself. It’ll be a few Weeks before I’m really able move about again and lift books by the look of things.

  • Reader

    Lotso: No amount of revisionism (which I agree happens all the time on all sides) will square thon circle.
    I answered the question you asked. You chose the question.

  • Neville Bagnall

    We are in mostly in agreement, something like this will be the way forward. Everything is fine as long as there is alignment and/or mutual recognition. However this has implications for any other trade agreements the UK wishes to conclude. The standards have to be maintained.
    The negotiations will be about how much UK trade freedom is restricted by alignment, how much of that is imposed by Ireland issues, and how much is required to conclude a new EU-UK FTA.
    Further, if the EU has a tariff or a quota on a trade item, and the UK wishes to have freer trade with a third country, the UK has to be able to assure the EU that the trade item cannot enter the single market through the UK. That implies rules of origin declarations on exports to EU and some degree of checking, again something in need of agreement and impacted by the promises on Ireland. These complications could also apply in reverse.
    Finally a new item that I have seen raised for the first time today. The EU has MFN clauses in some of its existing FTA’s. If they give the UK any privileged access to EU market, they have to offer the same to the other party in those agreements. So chances are any privileged access (like reduced customs procedures) will come with extra obligations to avoid opening that can of worms.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    I’d imagine that the description of the NI issue as something “that it is for the people of the island if Ireland alone by Agreement between the two parts respectively and without external impediment to exercise their right of self determination by consent” (I’m quoting from memory) does not exclude such active Irish Government Interest in political issues here. Although it does exclude any active role for Westminster. I know you invoke overall Westminster sovereignty and regard the exit from Europe as an internal UK matter, but more properly it is something which should have been handled by a North/South ministerial council with appropriate issues being discussed by the British/Irish Council. It was never simply a domestic UK thing in the light of the Agreement.