Sunday 15 September 2019

Eoghan Harris: 'Time to let go backstop tiger before it eats Irish economy'

Cartoon by Jim Cogan
Cartoon by Jim Cogan
Eoghan Harris

Eoghan Harris

The Government and the Green Groupthinkers will be glad to hear I was tempted to take a week's leave from the backstop, but when my country needs me, I believe, like Commander Ericson in The Cruel Sea: "Leave is a form of treachery".

As the backstop pushes us towards the abyss, let me repeat what I believe with every bone in my body, and make another appeal.

I believe the Irish Government, not the EU, has been driving the hard line on the backstop for electoral reasons.

Please log in or register with for free access to this article.

Log In

I believe the Government could avert a British crash-out but is not doing so for fear of losing face.

I believe the Irish media, having backed the backstop, are rigging the result with selective news and partisan comment.

I believe the British government when it pledged last week it would "not put in place infrastructure, checks, or controls at the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland".

I believe Tommie Gorman was being disingenuous when he airily told Morning Ireland last Friday: "There is nothing new in this." It was certainly new to me, and to every single person I met in Skibbereen.

I believe we can easily pin down the British offer with a bilateral treaty.

I believe Johnson effectively offered such a treaty when he added the UK "would be happy to accept a legally binding commitment to this effect and hope that the EU would do likewise".

I believe the EU could not oppose such a treaty because it would look like bullying two island neighbours.

I believe that having discharged Britain's obligation not to put up a physical border, we cannot credibly demand the UK somehow ensures the EU does the same.

I believe that when Simon Coveney keeps bigging up the backstop, he must think Johnson will blink - or sell out the unionists.

I believe both these positions are delusional and will lead to disaster.

Let me repeat three predictions I made here in the past year.

First, I predicted Johnson would leave without a deal rather than back down on the backstop.

I believe he has no choice. The backstop would confine Britain to the single market until we and the European Union were happy about the Border - which we might never be.

Second, I predicted Johnson would win the coming general election with a comfortable majority. Last week's polls show he is up 17pc - and destroying rivals both to left and right.

Third, I predicted that even if he does not need the DUP, he will not dump on Northern unionists - as our tribal Government and media hopes he will do in a betrayal of both republican principles and the Good Friday Agreement (GFA).

To me these are not predictions but rational conclusions from facts our Green Groupthink have refused to face.

For three years Green Groupthink has clutched at a series of straws in which the recurring default hope is that the UK would betray the majority of unionists.

Let me list these forlorn hopes: a second referendum, (dump the unionists), Corbyn would rescue us, (dump the unionists), John Bercow would save us (dump the unionists), parliament would save us (dump the unionists), Nancy Pelosi and other Adams admirers will save us, etc.

But now it just boils down to hoping Johnson will betray the unionists.

In pursuit of this tribal hope, our Government and Green Groupthinkers and their BBC fellow travellers are playing a dangerous game in Northern Ireland.

First, in defiance of the GFA which rejected majoritarianism, Coveney keeps repeating that "most of the political parties in Northern Ireland support the backstop".

Coveney brazenly ignores the hard fact that a huge majority (81pc) of unionists are against the backstop.

Gorman reinforced Coveney's line on RTE's Nine O'Clock News, referring to the letter from MLA's to Donald Tusk supporting the backstop.

He listed the parties - Sinn Fein, SDLP, Greens, Alliance - then paused and added "the middle ground", before telling us the two unionist parties had not signed it.

Does Gorman think of Sinn Fein, but not the UUP, as the "middle ground"?

This cavalier dismissal of 81pc of unionist opinion is compounded by the casual way some media blamed the Fermanagh bomb on Brexit.

The current tensions in the North are fed by many diverse factors. They include three years of green flag-waving by the Government and conflating Brexit with the GFA.

But mostly they are fed by Sinn Fein continually demanding a united Ireland poll, and by inflammatory speeches such as those of Martina Anderson.

Let me remind the Green Groupthinkers, who imply Brexit is feeding the Recurring IRA, of the following facts.

The dissidents are not motivated by a desire to keep Northern Ireland under EU law - they are against all laws, Irish or British or European.

The dissidents are not angry because Boris Johnson won't listen to the Irish Government - they are angry because there is an Irish Government.

The dissidents are not protesting against a "hard border" - they don't recognise any Irish border - despite it having been accepted by every mainstream party and the UN since 1998.

The dissidents are not a product of a "vacuum" created after SF collapsed the power-sharing executive. They oppose the very principle of power-sharing and made that clear by bombing Omagh in 1998.

The dissidents are not products of "the failure of politics". They despise politics as we understand it.

That is why neither the British nor Irish Governments should make pacifying the dissidents a matter of national policy.

Let me conclude with the appeal I mentioned at the start, an appeal addressed to the Labour movement.

Professor Brian Lucey recently wrote an apologia for the Government's policy in the Irish Times titled: "A hard Brexit and a hard border are bearable, at a national level."

Bearable by academics in permanent and pensionable posts maybe. But I doubt working people will find a hard Brexit bearable.

That is why the Labour and trade union movements have a solemn duty to take off the green jersey, don the red jersey, challenge Fine Gael's gormless green flag waving and look after Irish working people.

Time the Labour movement told our Government to tell the EU we wish to begin bi-lateral talks with our neighbours. Brendan Howlin has loyally backed the Government but surely there are limits to that loyalty?

Labour has little to lose by taking its head out of the green jersey - and it has a huge constituency to win. It has history behind it too. The national bourgeoisie have never been a friend of Irish working people. James Connolly warned about the green flag over Dublin Castle. Today a green jersey flies over Government buildings.

Time all true republicans and social democrats remembered that the tricolour also has an orange band as an earnest commitment to a future brotherhood when the backstop will be only a bad memory.

Sunday Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Don't Miss