May's past statements on Ireland are worrying
Published 13/07/2016 | 02:30
Three weeks ago, Theresa May wandered the streets of Co Down, speaking with a tone rather like that of the Grim Reaper.
A Brexit, she warned, would bring despair and severely affect the island of Ireland.
It would be "inconceivable" that there would not be any changes to border arrangements and the agricultural sector would be particularly badly hit.
In fact, for a 'Remain' campaigner who has been accused of keeping her powder dry during the build-up to the referendum, it seems that Mrs May saved some of her strongest comments for her trip to Northern Ireland.
It is unlikely that the 59-year-old was thinking at that stage that she would be handed the keys to 10 Downing Street a mere 22 days later.
But now, Mrs May finds herself trying to balance the weight of England and Wales, who want out of the European Union, with Scotland and Northern Ireland, who took her Remain message to the ballot box.
Yet in her own words, "Brexit means Brexit" - and despite telling the people of Northern Ireland that it would be a very bad move, she will now lead them out.
One Conservative Party colleague described her this week as somebody who "says something today and does it tomorrow".
That creates a problem for Ireland because the version of Brexit described by Mrs May on June 21 will be hard to swallow.
"Put simply, Northern Ireland outside the EU could not prevent free movement and continue with an open North/South border," she said at that time.
And on the economic front, Mrs May said the arguments for remaining in the EU were "compelling".
"Not only does Northern Ireland rely on EU exports to a greater extent than nearly every other region of the UK, 50,000 jobs here are linked to EU trade," she said.
"The local agri-foods sector is a major economic player and, importantly, Northern Ireland is a net beneficiary of European funding."
Perhaps the best measurement of what Mrs May's appointment means for Ireland is the responses of the nationalist and unionist leaders.
DUP First Minister Arlene Foster said Mrs May had "a positive history of working with the Northern Ireland administration".
But in Dublin yesterday, Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams said that her appointment would present difficulties for the peace process and Anglo-Irish relations.
Aside from Brexit, Mrs May has in the past forcefully said she wanted the UK to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights, which underpins much of the Good Friday Agreement.
However, Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald played down her stance on that yesterday, saying: "She has in the course of the campaign rowed back on earlier comments she had made on that."
Ms Fitzgerald, who knows Mrs May better than any other Irish minister, reckons she is "very easy to work with" and "very pragmatic".
However, Mrs May's past statements suggest that the Government must be resolute when dealing with her.