“To hell with the future and long live the past”. Allison Morris turns it around when contemplating a border poll. But has the EU Commission just changed the odds by uniting north and south against them ?

D


The new Ulster University campus  under construction 

In this year of different centenary  commemorations north and south (sorry,”markings”),  Allison Morris has written a terrifically interesting piece in  the Irish News . When it comes to  weighing the issues for a border poll, she raises the desire for a better life above the call of background, tradition and history, yes even the history of the Troubles.

Without labouring the point, contrast this with the run of comment in the Newsletter which seems bent on reversing a historic trend to turn unionists into the community of grievance.  Now this is a difficult target to hit. I’ve no appetite for, for example, lionising Vol Martin McGuinness as an apostle of peace but I wince at weaponising the unionist and security forces targets of the IRA  for yet another round of whataboutery. Most of us who care and remember have made our minds up about Martin McGuinness. Those who come to him afresh will have to turn from the polemic to elsewhere to get a fuller picture.  The most recent is far from bland. Other versions are available.    

To argue for scaling down the whataboutery doesn’t  mean creating a country of amnesiacs  but it does argue for a more proportionate discussion of the legacy  that favours the future. “We can’t have a good future without justice”?  That is a great proposition but how much justice is achievable?  We don’t suppress the question, we demand a far more open discussion based on more and better evidence. That’s why for example I favour a Pat Finucane public inquiry and reject the idea that it’s  a Sinn Fein  benefit just because  his son is Sinn Fein MP  for North Belfast. And yes, I know all about the old talk.

As an amateur historian I’m as riveted as anybody by the controversy over the Kilmichael ambush. I  can hear the  loud echoes of the Altnaveigh massacre. I look forward immensely to painful centenary arguments over Free State government’s summary executions of old comrades to crush the anti- Treaty side of the split IRA.  Today more quiet persuasion is required to get old paramilitaries to – call it confess, or explain –  if necessary under privilege. It may fail; it still hasn’t fully succeeded for the civil war of a century ago.  But the space needed for  disclosure is quietly reducing all the time. A fix on the legacy is attainable. History has its place. And most of it is in the past.

Now we’re discovering that the present can be every bit as troublesome as the legacy. After all their  high principled  concern for the peace process  during the  Brexit  negotiations, the EU commission has given priority to  the the greater  life and death  issues  in the pandemic  in a dramatic escalation over the row over vaccine supply.

Under the Brexit deal, all products should be exported from the EU to Northern Ireland without checks. But the EU believed this could be used to circumvent export controls, with NI becoming a backdoor to the wider UK.

  The EU invoked Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol which allows parts of the deal to be unilaterally overridden…

In a new regulation the European Commission states: “This is justified as a safeguard measure pursuant to Article 16 of that Protocol in order to avert serious societal difficulties due to a lack of supply threatening to disturb the orderly implementation of the vaccination campaigns in the Member States.”

Invoking Art 16 is exactly  what Boris Johnson  briefly threatened to do over the logjam at NI ports,  but rapidly thought the better of it. The EU may so likewise  but  Covid is a much bigger issue for them than pesky NI . The Dublin government won’t be keen to obey  and  will want to cool down temperature.

It doesn’t mean ” creating a hard border” anyway –  just  a ban on  exporting vaccines made in the  EU destined  for the EU/ the Republic being  exported into GB via  NI / EU single market. Geddit? (GB doesn’t seem to need them anyway but the  point is made) . All the same Arlene Foster  has an open goal

“By triggering Article 16 in this manner, the European Union has once again shown it is prepared to use Northern Ireland when it suits their interests but in the most despicable manner – over the provision of a vaccine which is designed to save lives,” she said.

“At the first opportunity the EU has placed a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland over the supply chain of the Coronavirus vaccine…

“By triggering Article 16 in this manner, the European Union has once again shown it is prepared to use Northern Ireland when it suits their interests but in the most despicable manner – over the provision of a vaccine which is designed to save lives,” she said.

Mrs Foster , SDLP leader Colum Eastwood and the taoiseach Micheal Martin are all on the same side!

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has spoken directly to European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen over the use of the highly politically sensitive Article 16.

A Government source described deep unhappiness in Government Buildings over the move, describing it as “completely unnecessary” with the potential for “explosive political implications”.

   SDLP leader Colum Eastwood MP has said the decision by the European Commission undermines progress made to defend the interests of the island.

“The disproportionate decision to invoke Article 16 of the Ireland Protocol by the European Commission is a grave error in judgment that undermines the work that has taken place over the last five years to defend the interests of people on this island.

As it’s a perfectly futile act matching  Johnson’s short lived  illegal supension of the Protocol  it won’t come to it but  it  shows  the EU  can go  every bit as crazy under pressure as  the Brits. This latest row shows up  the  inadequacy of the whole arrangement. But let’s not forget.  It’s all due to Brexit

Wouldn’t it be terrific if all the Assembly parties formed a united campaign   backed  the business people who really know what they’re talking about  to mitigate the crazy situation at the  ports?  Arlene and Michelle together storming the barricades of the Berlaymont? Jim Allister gets it exactly wrong. The campaign would not be about saving the Union but saving the economy.  The Protocol will survive but  its practice can be amended.  Useless and far too late   to wait three years in a fruitless attempt to  withdraw from it in the Assembly  when  the phrases “Hard Border” and “Peace Process” will exert  their usual hypnotic effect on the politicians. Instead, let’s have a frank admission from the DUP right now that “we never knew it would be like this” and no self righteousness from old Remainers please.

Leave the slagging off to twitter. Anyway where was I?  Over to Allison..

What unionism, and a large section of nationalism celebrating the poll, do not seem to take into consideration is that 50 plus one does not mean a united Ireland is inevitable, because when it comes to our children, in the main, the aspiration for a better life overtakes identity.

And so unifying our island is not as simple as more of us than them, it’s about where will I be better off, where will my children be better off, where will I be looked after properly in my old age or if times are hard?

It’s about health – the pandemic has shown us that – it is about education and employment opportunities, so we do not continue to haemorrhage our future young talent to America, Canada and Australia.

And it is about respect, is this new Ireland going to respect my rights, my children’s rights, my grandchildren’s rights, will it be compassionate, will it be prosperous, with there be decent housing and jobs that pay a living wage?

Or will it still – as the south is currently – be dictated by billionaire property developers, pricing young people out of the housing market?

I have an Irish passport, I am an Irish woman. Regardless of what side of the border I live on I will always be an Irish woman, I am comfortable in my identity. I don’t need flag waving patriotism to secure my vote, I need facts, figures and answers as to what kind of society is being proposed.

What kind of world are my generation going to leave behind?

There are of course those on both sides of the debate who would vote tomorrow to sleep in a cardboard box on the pavement as long as the border either remained or was removed.

But the majority of people whether nationalist or unionist, Irish or British, a bit of both or neither, need more information.

Five years seems like a reasonable time to get answers to all those questions, so any future border poll can be a referendum based on facts rather than feelings.

The division of the past should have no place in the debate but as with all conversations here it seems to dominate the discourse.

Brexit may well have accelerated the debate and brought forward the possibility of a poll sooner rather than later but it is far from the only factor at play.