Wednesday 18 September 2019

Editorial: 'Foster's blunderbuss hits target on need for deal'

DUP Leader Arlene Foster speaking to the media following a meeting with Britain's prime minister Boris Johnson at Stormont House in Belfast. Photo: PA
DUP Leader Arlene Foster speaking to the media following a meeting with Britain's prime minister Boris Johnson at Stormont House in Belfast. Photo: PA


DUP leader Arlene Foster yesterday accused the Irish Government of being belligerent and intolerant in its pursuit of a backstop agreement. At the same time she appealed for it to "dial back on the rhetoric".

In gunboat diplomacy there is a risk of becoming so tone deaf and colour-blind as to fail to distinguish the red lines from red herrings. If we continue with the current disastrous course, logic and language get lost and it won't be long before the blame-bombing begins.

By the time its acrid smoke clears, the landscape for negotiation will have been obliterated.

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But Ms Foster's message matters, even if it was delivered by blunderbuss.

"It is important we focus on trying to get a deal moving forward instead of just focusing on a no-deal scenario," Ms Foster has counselled.

It is as relevant for London as it is for Dublin. New British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who visited the North yesterday and dined with the DUP, has so far shown no appetite for sitting down to negotiate. The EU and Dublin must first cave in and agree to his pre-conditions.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is in an unenviable position. Officially he is precluded from acting, given the EU bloc is responsible for negotiating.

He may well feel justifiable indignation at being trapped in a double bind by Britain's failure to consider for one moment how complex extricating itself from the EU would be.

He may also bristle at the vacuous enthusiasm of Mr Johnson for technological solutions which have yet to materialise for the avoidance of a hard Border.

But one consideration should concentrate hearts and minds. In the event of no deal, and with no government in place in Stormont, the North could find itself back under direct rule from the UK. This would reduce the Good Friday Agreement from being a shining beacon of hope to a dry cinder on history's tip-head. We have just 13 weeks to avoid this.

Britain has got itself into an unprecedented mess over Brexit, but sitting back and watching it stew in its own juices is in nobody's interests.

Last week saw our Taoiseach pilloried in the British press as "Lenny Verruca".

Michelle Obama famously said: "When they go low, we go high." But a less quoted part of that speech is also worth remembering: "We brush them off when we can, and we deal with them when we need to."

If ever there was a time when we needed to, it is now. London, Brussels and Dublin must locate a common sense of political responsibility commensurate with what is at stake.

It was Richard Nixon who said: "The man of thought who will not act is ineffective; the man of action who will not think is dangerous." Neither the pursuit of power, nor primacy of party, can take precedence over the long-term harmful impact rash decisions can have on Europe, and the people of these islands.

Irish Independent

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