Jeffrey Donaldson: “There is no correlation between EU membership and terrorism on this island….”

I’m eternally grateful to Brian for his patient and intelligent probing of the Brexit issue for Slugger. It’s one of those questions that having dominated our lives and helped sell books on either side of the Irish Sea which now has been quietly pushed back into the background.

I cannot think of many political stories which have produced quite so much eschatological abstraction on the basis of such few known knowns. That’s probably because leaving the EU involves departure from a set of binding treaties that have sculpted most of the modern world around us.

It’s also because the known unknowns where inflated by both sides in the referendum to the point where rational discussion of the reality of Brexit was almost entirely excluded. The reality is that a “freed” UK might do as many deals as it wanted the morning after a no deal Brexit.

In reality, it won’t. One, because whatever the long range weather forecast, no British PM (from Johnson or, God forbid, Nigel Farage) will do anything to put in danger access to the EU market place. As we have seen with Ireland, overnight economic change takes at least two generations.

The other reason is not just that there are very few available, but that those that are broad enough to bring huge opportunity will not come without broad social and economic damage. The wild talking up of such opportunities has been a hindrance to an early settlement.

As the academic Mary C Murphy has noted despite sharp differences in attitudes towards the EU between Unionists (broadly Eurosceptical) and Nationalist (broadly Europhile) most issues around the EU were not policised and rarely had a polarising effect in Stormont.

This is why it feels like Brexit has thrown that settlement to the four winds. But interestingly Jeffrey Donaldson was in Dublin yesterday to challenge the Taoiseach over the one known unknown that is holding up a deal, regardless of who picks up the reigns of power the summer.

However, in his speech to the IIEA, he anchored his remarks in the Foster/McGuinness letter of August 2016, and argues that had the spirit within that letter continued relationships on the island might not have deteriorated in the way they have:

I firmly believe had these institutions functioned throughout the period of the Brexit negotiations and if the spirit of the Foster / McGuinness letter of August 2016 had been reciprocated by everyone in London, Dublin and Brussels then we would be in a fundamentally better and different place.  

The Northern Ireland Executive could have provided a forum for the Northern Ireland parties to try and reach a consensus.  

Equally, the North-South Ministerial Council would have provided a forum within which Belfast and Dublin could discuss and agree on a mutually beneficial position on Brexit.  

That has not happened and instead we have reverted to the politics of megaphone diplomacy.  

From that he went on…

Leo Varadkar is the first Irish Taoiseach to subcontract Northern Ireland policy to the EU Commission, instead of emulating Sean Lemass, who tried to settle the border issue, not by bringing outsiders in to lean on unionists but by means of trilateral talks between Belfast, Dublin and London.  

And the snowballs Ian Paisley threw at the time would melt in later years and reveal them not that far apart as the principle of consent became the bridge that brought our two traditions to a meeting point.

Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney knew from an early stage that the border was sensitive but they viewed that not as a delicate matter where consensus was needed but rather as a bargaining chip which could be used by Brussels.  

At a time when cool heads were needed in Brussels, Leo Varadkar was photocopying articles from the Irish Times about a 1972 Provisional IRA bombing of a customs post. He was sharing this article amongst the other EU leaders. But to what end? What was his point? 

The border post was targeted by republican terrorists because it represented the United Kingdom Government not because we were outside the EU. The same republican mindset attempted to murder a police officer last week in East Belfast by placing a bomb under his car.  

There is no correlation between EU membership and terrorism on this island. 

And…

Not a single credible voice in unionism supports the backstop in its current form and Parliament has three times now overwhelmingly rejected the draft Withdrawal Agreement because of the backstop.

Yet, Dublin continues to ignore this reality, takes a purely partisan view, has abandoned the need for consensus and is driving us all now towards a no deal Brexit.  

To be clear, the DUP does not want a hard border, does not desire and is not advocating for a no deal outcome but that is where we are heading unless there is a changed mindset in Dublin and Brussels. 

A no deal Brexit will have major implications for both economies on this island, especially for the agri-food sector.  

On the other side, as far as the backstop is concerned, Leo is backed by almost every party in Dáil Eireann. Fundamentalist Brexiteers in Britain saw Ireland as the chief hostage in the negotiations. The purist proposals, had the EU acceded to them, would have spelt Irish economic disaster.

What Donaldson seems to be looking for is buy in for the creation of a new all island consensus. Taking down the level of hyperbole on both sides of the sea and the border would be a welcome start.

PORTOBELLO AREA OF DUBLIN [JANUARY 2015] REF-101466” by infomatique is licensed under CC BY-SA

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