Friday 14 December 2018

Hard Border - and all its problems - looking likely

Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney
Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney

The British political scientist Prof Tim Bale summed up Brexit rather pithily in Dublin recently. "The bad news is that there is no good news," he said.

Viewed from another standpoint, we can say that the bar for what now passes as good news on Brexit has come down and down. So, we can give one piece of Brexit "good news" today as we report that Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney reportedly believes a deal to keep the common travel area (CTA) between the islands of Ireland and Britain is imminent.

Yes, it is encouraging to find that the CTA, in existence since the foundation of this State and long pre-dating the European Union in all its manifestations, will persist despite Brexit's other depredations.

In practical terms, it means that citizens can move freely across both islands and that co-operation in areas like health care and social welfare can be sustained as before. It seems a little ungracious to note that there was rarely too much danger of that one ending otherwise. So, let us simply log it as a gain when it comes.

But nothing of the same can be said of another Brexit issue that this newspaper reports today. It is that, should a 'hard Brexit' happen, and right now we have few reasons to believe it will not, then there are huge security issues for authorities in the Republic to face.

Gardaí conversant with Border issues say they already face serious difficulties with criminals who exploit the two jurisdictions. The reinforcement, if not the full return, of a pre-ceasefire Border would compound these difficulties.

British Prime Minister Theresa May says there will be "no physical infrastructure on the Border". But that implies an electronic border, or another name for the same thing.

There must be prompt redress for bank victims

The Irish have long been deemed a fair-minded people with a limited capacity for anger and no great capacity to sustain such anger. But the banks' failure to give redress on tracker mortgages could change all that.

We have had a week of national anger at the treatment of up to 30,000 borrowers who were wrongly deprived of their tracker mortgages for many years. The Central Bank has reported on how slowly and poorly many of the 11 lenders have been in paying compensation.

Politicians across all parties agree that it is utterly unacceptable. Ordinary people are infuriated.

Today, and later this week, Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe is due to meet the senior people from the various banks. In the run-in to these vital meetings, the Taoiseach has spoken strongly and explicitly about the need for prompt action here. But the mood music behind all of this is not very encouraging. There is a strong sense that the regulatory powers here are not all they might be.

The experience in this country is that banks only respond to being potentially hit where it hurts - on their balance sheets. This grim reality must be uppermost in Mr Donohoe's mind as he begins these meetings.

Every and all means to oblige the banks to act on this issue must be deployed. We are beyond vague promises or generalised undertakings here. We need action on delivering redress and appropriate compensation to help restore borrowers' shattered lives.

Irish Independent

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