Opinion

Saturday 15 December 2018

The North needs the EU just as much as we do

The current DUP leader, Arlene Foster, plunged in unthinkingly to announce her support for the Leave campaign Picture: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
The current DUP leader, Arlene Foster, plunged in unthinkingly to announce her support for the Leave campaign Picture: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Tim Pat Coogan

Anglo-Irish relationships are currently at a better state of equilibrium than I can remember them at practically any other stage in a long life of researching the outcome of the entanglement of British and Irish history.

Naturally, I would like to see them not merely stay that way, but see the current harmonious situation, which owes so much to the Good Friday Agreement, being built on and improved.

I therefore find it appalling that there seems to be no advertence on the part of what might be termed the Ukip mind-set, which advocates leaving the EU, of the risk to Anglo-Irish friendship posed by Brexit.

Let's be clear about it. These people are proposing that customs posts should be rebuilt in nationalist areas in Northern Ireland. Omeath, Jonesborough and border areas from Crossmaglen to the Foyle are the sort of places where such structures will be erected if Britain leaves the EU.

Are the Brexit people really serious about calling for fresh courses of IRA ballads like 'A Bonfire on the Border'?

This is a wrong and a dangerous position. A key component of the Good Friday Agreement for republican doubters was the prospect of closer north-south links through the cross-border bodies.

In fact, this prospect proved to be more apparent than real.

The most meaningful cross-border body that we have seen in operation produced the malodorous Nama/Cerberus deal.

And what most Irish people don't realise is that, bad as what occurred appears to be, it is far from the end of the story.

Some of the ideologues of unionism apparently attempted to return to the bad old days of discrimination and gerrymandering by attempting to go behind the Good Friday Agreement and denature the MacBride principles, which prevent US companies from investing in areas where discrimination is practised.

It is a long story, which would take us from the main argument against supporting the Leave campaign; suffice to say that only the vigilance of Irish-Americans in Florida prevented a breach occurring in MacBride.

Peace, like liberty, requires eternal vigilance. The economic reasons for the six counties staying in the EU apply to that area as much as they do to the 26.

Unionist politicians have proved demonstrably incompetent at replacing the smoke-stack industries with the sort of cutting-edge, job-creating technology which the IDA has brought to the South.

It would be argued that some progress has been made by the Northern authorities but no one can deny the heavy dependency on agriculture that still exists in the six counties.

Agriculture needs the EU in the North as much as the South - the current anxieties over bad advice on investment in milk production notwithstanding.

But unionist politicians are ideologically averse to looking at the bigger investment picture outside of state investment.

I spoke at the headquarters of the American Mutual Corporation, whose then CEO put his hand in his pocket to bring Gusty Spence and other loyalist leaders to America so that they could see for themselves that Irish-Americans were acting for peace, not the Pope.

The loyalists were impressed with the sincerity of those they met and subsequently furthered the peace process.

But a couple of weeks before my talk, David Trimble, the Unionist Party leader, talked at the same venue to warn his stunned audience that the peace process was a dangerous beast which could lead to job losses in the security industry.

Similarly, at the outset of the referendum campaign, the current DUP leader, Arlene Foster (pictured), plunged in unthinkingly to announce her support for the Leave campaign.

This is a dangerous and wrong course for any Northern Irish political leader.

It is probable that had the present generation of republican leadership, which vigorously negotiated and defended the Good Friday Agreement, been older at the time of Sunningdale, the then young braves would have accepted that formula.

So what was the war for, ask theoretician republicans within the movement.

But they grudgingly accept the agreement in the manifest absence of any other credible alternative and accept the proposition that through increased trade and co-operation, the benefits in peace will ultimately move towards a united Ireland.

Trying to sell this argument to a new generation of republicans in Crossmaglen and Cullyhanna becomes dangerously more difficult when the argument is countered by the sights and sounds of new border posts being erected.

So far, dissident republicanism has made little or no headway because of the calibre of some of those involved and the taint of the drugs trade.

But border posts would certainly provide a convincing debating argument for those who asked what was the war for, but nevertheless gave the peace process a chance.

A sizeable segment of respectable republican opinion reluctantly settled for a half a loaf, rather than no bread, but they also settled for hands across the Border, not barriers.

The Government should stop pussyfooting about canvassing British opinion.

The recent Stakeknife revelations should remind us what could happen if the Good Friday Agreement goes pear-shaped.

If Britain does leave the European Union, the worst-case scenario should be that any new border checkpoints should be built at places such as ports, where goods and people leave for England - not through the heartland of nationalist Ireland.

Irish Independent

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