Behind the Paddy’s Day rituals, how deep is the Stormont crisis?

With so much guff, bluff and ritual about it, St Patrick’s Day is a poor bellwether for judging the state of affairs in Ireland remotely – and perhaps no better on the spot either.

One glance at privileged youff crowding Botanic Gardens in defiance of lockdown, you might have groaned with me: “ Not the Holylands again. “ However BBCNI’s news story was encouraging.

 

..when officers were called to the scene on Wednesday afternoon, it took less than an hour for the area to be cleared.

The Botanic story may be a metaphor for the political scene. Two articles in the Irish News discuss the dire state of Assembly politics on either side of the divide, greatly aggravated by the protocol row.

For Tom Collins “Ireland’s misfortune is  to have Micheál Martin in charge at this crucial time”

The uncomfortable truth is we are a nation dangerously close to the precipice following England’s decision to take the United Kingdom out of Europe

And Boris Johnson knows the union is tottering.

The only person in these islands so lacking in political intelligence that he cannot see the new realities is An Taoiseach who this week dismissed calls to debate the future of this island, and the case for reunification.

Whatever Martin may think, people are in the trenches now. Irish unity is the best hope we have of getting them out of them.

Martin says he wants to work with the Northern Ireland Assembly and with the British government to build consensus.

The First Minister – toadying to loyalist paramilitaries – is unfit to govern, the executive is a shambles, the assembly is a joke; the British government is in breach of international law and its commitments to the Northern Ireland Protocol; and one of its leading ministers has repudiated Peter Brooke’s assertion that Britain does not have a selfish and strategic interest in Northern Ireland.

By their actions you shall know them. The British government is lobbing grenades at the peace process, and the taoiseach is kow-towing when he should be marshalling the support of Irish America, and President Joe Biden, to protect it.

The world has changed. Brexit has torn the bonds that once held the UK together. Northern Ireland and Scotland, let us not forget, voted remain.

A leader with vision would be acting now to promote a managed reworking of the constitutional arrangements in these islands.

Britain’s misfortune is to have Boris Johnson as prime minister. Ireland’s is to have Micheál Martin

 For Newton Emerson:  “Leak shows the DUP knows how much trouble it’s in.”

The minutes of a DUP meeting have been leaked to the News Letter, revealing a party that knows how much trouble it is in over Brexit but has no idea what to do about it.

The meeting of the South Antrim constituency association, conducted online on February 25, was attended by MP Paul Girvan, MLAs Trevor Clarke and Pam Cameron and 15 other party members, mostly councillors. Five people sent apologies for their absence.. Clarke is recorded saying an “Irish Language Act will be delivered before next election”, two weeks before leader Arlene Foster revealed this in the assembly. Another note adds: “Arlene needs to sell it to the country!”

So the DUP has learned its lesson from the 2017 collapse of Stormont and the deal the following year that almost restored devolution, before Foster got cold feet over promoting language legislation to her party and its voters.

However, nobody in South Antrim extends this lesson to Brexit – another instance where the DUP has to swallow its pride and sell a difficult compromise. The comparison is valid. There is no reason why inspecting an occasional packet of ham at Larne has to be more contentious a few months from now than bilingual street signs were three years ago.

Perhaps the most revealing detail in the minutes might seem the most trivial. The association’s treasurer reveals that just 12 membership fees are fully paid up for the year in this DUP heartland constituency.

A crucial, little-appreciated fact about unionism’s largest party is that it is a tiny political organisation.

OK so two columns do not make a crisis. But  they  are supposed to have their ears to the ground.

The FT is a relentless observer of the negative fallout from Brexit. It gives us a glimpse of how Ireland fits into the vastly bigger world for the US and the UK on “Paddy’s Day.”

Although a ritual occasion, ritual is not to be despised. The Biden administration doesn’t waver from the” no hard border” mantra that the GFA has become in all interested international capitals except London. It may not amount to more than moral pressure, but it is being exercised. With what effect? God knows. Britain’s  foreign secretary Dominic Raab weighed in  on the opposite side – opposite to Ireland’s as well as the wider EU –  with a case that is too complicated for Irish America to be bothered to follow – apart from homing in on its fatal flaw, that it may have breached the international agreement  they believe  protects little Ireland.

The United States must be “equally robust” with the EU when it threatens to compromise the Northern Ireland peace process as it is with Britain, Dominic Raab has said. “Our argument has always been that it has been the EU, by trying to erect a barrier down the Irish Sea between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, that is the one challenging both the Northern Ireland Protocol and the Good Friday Agreement,” Mr Raab told the Aspen Security Forum, an annual US foreign policy conference. 

I doubt if this made much impact with Uncle  Joe in  his default folksy mood. (Tempting  to add ” and a White House burnt down by an Ulster Protestant  who was killed soon after – in  Biden’s beloved Baltimore)   

On Wednesday Biden touted his Irish heritage and quoted the Irish poet Seamus Heaney. He added: “I’m speaking to you from a White House designed by an Irish hand, and a nation where Irish blood was spilled in a revolution for independence, and for union and freedom through the years. The story of the Irish Americans is the story of people who have weathered hard times, but always come through, spirit intact.”

Martin said he wanted to thank the US president for his “unwavering support for the Good Friday Agreement”. He added: “It has meant a lot and it has mattered, including as we negotiated Brexit.

Although Biden administration officials have struck a cautious note on the Northern Ireland protocol, US lawmakers on Capitol Hill have been more outspoken. 

A senior administration official told reporters on Tuesday evening that the US viewed the dispute as “a trade issue to be resolved between the UK and the EU”. “The administration is interested in having strong relations with both the UK and the EU, and we hope that they’re able to find ways to work well together, particularly ways that are in the interest of political and economic stability for the people of Northern Ireland,”

Several lawmakers from both parties have also threatened to block a UK trade deal with the US if the Good Friday Agreement is threatened. Most recently, lawmakers including Bob Menendez, the chair of the Senate foreign relations committee, issued a resolution that said any new trade deals with the US should take account of whether the conditions of the peace deal were met.  Northern Ireland deputy first minister Michelle O’Neill said a virtual meeting between herself, Northern Ireland first minister Arlene Foster, Biden and US vice-president Kamala Harris had been “hugely beneficial” and “provided a valuable opportunity to discuss how we can build on the progress we have made and continue working to protect the interests of all our people”. 

Photo by Sudipta Mondal is licensed under CC0