On St Patrick’s Day we celebrate the safe old rivalries and cherished differences

Well it’s St Patrick’s Day after all and by the time many of you will read this, we’ll know if we’ve landed the Grand Slam.

England cannot wait to get back to Twickenham. Back home. Back where they do not lose. At least certainly not in Eddie Jones’s time.

This is a day when distinct identities can be safely contested with no holds barred within a reconciled whole – as in this fine piece of personal testimony by the Irish Times’ prophet in residence, Fintan O’Toole.

The delight of British-Irish relations in the decades after the Belfast Agreement is that they had finally evolved to be kind of boring. The sharing of a small space in a big world had become as normal as it should be. To each other, the British and the Irish are no big deal.

But the fact of it all being no big deal is a very big deal indeed. Just because it is undramatic, we should not let this state of affairs be taken for granted. It is hard won and it should not be lost sight of in all the larger political upheavals.

And there is hope in the ordinary. Even when times were bitter and national relations were complicated, Irish and British people just got on with the business of being beside each other.

The New York Times has an outspoken take on Leo in America.

The White House opened its doors to the leader of the original “shithole” country this week. The irony was that a president who wants only the smartest and best-looking immigrants was embracing a nation once known for sending famine-stricken, disease-laden, crime-breeding foreigners to our shores.

For that matter, how did Ireland’s prime minister, Leo Varadkar, the gay son of a Hindu father of Indian descent, merit time from a president who has stirred up a thousand little hatreds from the darkest corners of America?

The Taoiseach got his moment because on St. Patrick’s Day everybody wants to be Irish. But no one in power has betrayed the Irish-American story more than President Trump. He’s been joined by a handful of Hibernian toadies who have made a mockery of their heritage.

Earlier in the week, the prime minister of a tiny nation tried to nudge the mighty United States back to the moral high ground. “It’s really tough to see a country that is built on freedom not being a world leader in that space anymore,” he told an audience in Austin, Tex

But sticking points remain over Brexit, where the Daily Telegraph brings us back to earth..

Sources on both sides of the negotiation said there were now no insuperable sticking points in the negotiations over a deal that would provide a largely status-quo transition until at least December 31 2020.

Negotiators are scheduled to work throughout the weekend in a bid to finalise a legal text for the 21-month agreement that will be hailed by Downing Street as a significant win for Theresa May, and a key stepping-stone on the road to Brexit.

There still remain concerns that Ireland might yet scupper a deal at the eleventh hour over demands that Mrs May make “more progress” on the question of the Irish border

Ireland is seeking verbal commitments from Mrs May that the UK accepts the need for a ‘backstop’ solution – commitments which the prime minister gave at Prime Minister’s questions this week, but which Dublin feels did not go far enough.

But despite Irish pressure, senior sources on both sides told The Telegraph that progress on the transition deal would not be linked to progress on the Ireland issue where the EU and UK continue to have conflicting positions over how to avoid a hard border.

Resolving these differences will be the subject of “intensive” talks between the UK, Ireland and the EU starting on March 26 – the Monday following next week’s EU leaders’ summit where the UK hopes the transition deal will finally be confirmed.

An Irish government source said that the planned talks were “welcome” but warned they could only be successful if the UK “commits to taking forward this work on the basis of the draft Protocol [backstop solution]”. Mrs May has already said it is “unacceptable” as drafted.

 

 

 

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