Sunday 24 February 2019

Gerard O'Regan: 'May, the vicar's daughter, has a conscience but the State cannot rely on it'

'She had all the aura of the grubby politician, willing to sell her soul to stay in power.' Photo credit: Steve Parsons/PA Wire
'She had all the aura of the grubby politician, willing to sell her soul to stay in power.' Photo credit: Steve Parsons/PA Wire

Gerard O'Regan

WELL, she did the dirty on us, when push came to shove. That's what happens when political survival is at stake.

But could it be the vicar's daughter just might be suffering from the teeniest bit of conscience? Somewhere in the recesses, she knows she is pivotal by way of preventing murder and mayhem returning to Ireland.

Theresa May will try to convince herself she did her damnedest to do right by us. But no matter how she wriggles, an amalgam of Tory extremists and DUP hardliners has her snookered. We hear their collective bluff and bluster, and a near crazed desire to depart the EU, cutting as many ties as possible. The Irish peace process, in this unsavoury mix, matters not a whit.

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After all, May had returned from Brussels, with the backstop idea signed, sealed, delivered. She assured all and sundry this was indeed a fair deal for everybody. But the naysayers find moderation impossible; they scuppered her best laid plans.

Her options narrowed one by one. She could, of course, do the unthinkable. Go for a middle ground exit arrangement and keep the UK in the EU customs union. That would get most of the Labour Party, plus Liberal Democrats, and the Scottish National Party on board.

But she is a Conservative politician above all else. She would not risk splitting her tribe. Despite that hectoring high moral tone, this is where her gut loyalties lie.

So she did a deal with those who abhor the middle way. And in the process she accepted the Good Friday Agreement would just have to take its chances in the whirlwind of an unknown and risk-laden future.

May is aware of exactly what she is doing. But she may not be without some conscience. Welching on her word on the grounds of grotty political expediency may just provoke a dark thought or two in the wee small hours.

In her heart of hearts, she knows she is blustering a lot of old nonsense when it comes to some of the madcap alternatives to the backstop. And she also realises history will judge her without mercy if she is seen as the person primarily responsible for putting the peace process, wrought in blood and agony, at risk.

Given our all-too-recent tragic history, May surely accepts in the "deep heart's core" playing such politics with the future of these islands carries some moral responsibility to do the right thing?

A fascinating aside in the fractious Westminster argy-bargy this week showed Scottish National Party MP Ian Blackford speak passionately about her cavalier approach to the Good Friday Agreement and the peace process.

It was ironic it was left to a politician who represents the far away and visually enchanting Scottish constituency of Ross, Skye and Lochaber to put Ireland's case in the Commons.

His remarks, coupled with cautionary comments from South Down unionist MP Sylvia Herman, provided some badly needed balance, by way of exposing the risk of violence along the Border. But Blackford's deeply felt charges just might have touched something in the consciousness of the prime minister. They obviously niggled at her overnight.

The following day, of her own volition, she said she wished to rebut his charges in the strongest fashion. Her voice rising, she insisted she was absolutely committed to the Good Friday Agreement and all it stands for. But given the political cavern she wilfully dug for herself, her words sounded hollow and self-serving.

It seemed as if she was having a kind of internalised argument - desperately trying to convince herself of the righteousness of her actions. It could be she is adept at self-delusion. But at that moment she had all the aura of the grubby politician, willing to sell her soul to stay in power.

The religious influence of her formative years may well force Theresa May to wrestle with her conscience. But we now know if necessary she will sell out Ireland.

However, come the cliff edge at 11pm on March 29, she may yet be forced to abandon her fair-weather hardliners in a last ditch bid to leave the EU with a deal.

But the Irish Government can't take any chances. This is the season for looking after number one.

Irish Independent

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