by Gerry Lynch
Friday, 7
October 2022
Spotted
13:08

Strange outbreaks of positivity over Northern Ireland

The deadlock hasn't been broken, but there are encouraging signs
by Gerry Lynch
Both sides have hinted at a deal over the Northern Ireland Protocol. Credit: Getty

After nearly two years of ugly in-fighting over the Northern Ireland Protocol, there has been a sudden outbreak of positivity from key players in LondonDublin, and Brussels about the possibility of a deal to amend or replace it. Even self-styled “Brexit hard man” Steve Baker, now a UK government minister in the Northern Ireland Office, told Tory conference-goers he was “sorry” his behaviour had weakened Anglo-Irish relations. He later asserted to BBC Radio Ulster his willingness “to eat a bit of humble pie” to achieve a deal.

The Northern Ireland Protocol is a device to ensure no customs checks are needed on Ireland’s land border after Brexit. It does so by effectively keeping Northern Ireland in the EU Single Market for goods, although not for services, and creating intra-UK customs checks between the region and Great Britain. Changes to EU regulations on goods will automatically apply in Northern Ireland. This means, for example, this week’s EU ban on Apple using proprietary charging ports in its devices will extend to the region even if they remain permitted in Great Britain.

Unionist politicians of all stripes, including those who had been strong Remain supporters, worry the Protocol is a conveyor-belt to a slow economic divorce with Great Britain. The largest Unionist party, the populist-Right DUP, is refusing to enter government unless it is replaced, which means that under Northern Ireland’s complex system of power-sharing, a government can’t be formed at all.

Yet, overall, elections to Northern Ireland’s Assembly in May saw pro-Protocol parties emerge with a comfortable 53-37 majority. We may be seeing the emergence of a second political cleavage in the region. As well as its traditional ethno-sectarian division between British Protestants and Irish Nationalist Catholics, a new Remain-Leave division is being cemented by the continued disputes about the border and the Protocol.

A key sliver of pro-UK voters has sided with Nationalist parties on the Protocol and other constitutionally charged EU-related issues. Some are pro-EU progressives; others are more conservative business types for whom an open border is a pragmatic necessity. These voters powered the staunchly pro-EU and cross-community Alliance Party to its best ever Assembly result in May, while Sinn Féin become the region’s largest party for the first time ever.

With no government likely to be formed before a 24 October deadline, however, a bleak midwinter re-vote is likely. Nobody expects to see more than a handful of seats change hands. Northern Ireland’s political culture tends towards deadlock that is only ever broken by painfully slow negotiations. Thus, the warmer mood from outside is particularly welcome.

Although real gaps remain to be bridged, most parties have an interest in a deal being done. Above all, it would remove the risk of a UK-EU trade war erupting during a winter where it would be of primary benefit to Vladimir Putin. More subtly, it would be of assistance to both London and Brussels in the war of values, hard evidence that free democracies are better than autocrats at finding solutions in messy territorial and ethnic disputes. An agreed and flourishing post-Brexit Ulster would be a fine counter-blast to the hell Moscow has made of the Donbas.

Within Northern Ireland, it would give Unionist parties space to navigate an electorate where allegiances have suddenly become more complex. Only Sinn Féin, with real prospects of becoming the largest party on both sides of the border after an election due in the Republic by early 2025, can afford a Sphinx-like equanimity, comfortable in its ability to advance its agenda with or without a deal.

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Stephen Walsh
Stephen Walsh
1 month ago

The headline is not supported by anything in the article.

John Dellingby
John Dellingby
1 month ago

While I hope a fair and amicable deal (details of which are lacking in the article) can be done that maintains an open border and doesn’t compromise British sovereignty in Northern Ireland, I am wary as the Irish government has little to no incentive to actually pursue a deal that benefits the UK in this regard. Setting aside historic grievances and an institutional anti-British stance within virtually all levels of Irish politics, so long as Sinn Fein are the most popular party on both sides of the border, it won’t happen.

For Sinn Fein, the Protocol is unification in all but name. Why would they want it scrapped or replaced, ditto their voters? Being tough on this and denying UK jurisdiction in Northern Ireland is what they want. As things stand I don’t see Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael wanting to give them ammunition.

Jim Nichols
Jim Nichols
1 month ago

“The Northern Ireland Protocol is a device to ensure no customs checks are needed on Ireland’s land border after Brexit.”

Why do so many articles on this subject automatically accept the EU’s side of the story as regards the motive behind the NIP?

At least prefix it with “the EU says…” or similar.

Richard Calhoun
Richard Calhoun
1 month ago

Strange … claiming outbreaks of positivity but absolutely no evidence or detail provided in the article.
Speculation and time wasting at its worst!

Last edited 1 month ago by Richard Calhoun
CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 month ago

Having recently dragged an 80 old former British Army veteran from Plymouth to Northern Ireland against all medical advice, to face a vexatious prosecution, only to have him subsequently catch, and die of COVID 19, in Belfast, I find nothing whatsoever “encouraging “ about Northern Ireland.

All too predictably this callousness is currently being repeated by the vindictive prosecution of yet another British veteran, known only as “Soldier F”, for the events of so called Bloody Sunday more than 50 years ago!

All this malevolent charade is being presided over by the Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland, one Siobhan Roisin Keegan, (born 1971), the first woman and first catholic ever to hold the office.

As Sinn Fein says “never forgive and NEVER forget “.

Last edited 1 month ago by stanhopecharles344
John Dellingby
John Dellingby
1 month ago

In regards Soldier F, he does seem to have at best been extremely irresponsible from what the evidence says. For the veteran in the first case you mention, I think putting him on trial for murder was outrageous based off what I know and I think almost everyone in his position would have done the same thing.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 month ago
Reply to  John Dellingby

Soldier F may or not have been “extremely irresponsible” however this has now become a ‘Show Trial’ has it not?

Last year the case against two other former British soldiers in a very similar predicament to soldier F collapsed on the grounds of “rules of evidence”. The Northern Ireland Crown Prosecution Service, NOT surprisingly, decided to abandon the case against soldier F. Astonishingly this has now been reversed!

Sadly this pantomime has been presided over by Ms Keegan and can serve no purpose other than to discredit the Northern Ireland Judiciary.

It is interesting to speculate that had the British Army NOT intervened in September 1969 to prevent an internecine civil war, Ms Keegan (born Newry 1971) might never have been conceived let alone born.

John Cardin
John Cardin
1 month ago
Reply to  John Dellingby

He shot a man with a learning disability in the back. How on earth is that acceptable behaviour? It was also completely wrong for him to be paraded around Belfast in the middle of the pandemic like he was some sort of War hero.

Last edited 1 month ago by John Cardin
Dermot O'Sullivan
Dermot O'Sullivan
1 month ago

Above all, it would remove the risk of a UK-‘EU trade war erupting during a winter where it would be of primary benefit to Vladimir Putin.’

Touché.

Richard Calhoun
Richard Calhoun
1 month ago

Strange … claiming outbreaks or positivity but no evidence or detail it the article.
Speculation and time wasting at its best !

Doug Pingel
Doug Pingel
1 month ago

You can be as humble as you like but you eat Umble Pie