Sunday 25 August 2019

Johnson's visit to Belfast did little to reassure anyone that he has a plan

Our view

Editorial Comment

After years of political impasse and amid the chaos of Brexit, Boris Johnson's visit to Northern Ireland last week will have done little to reassure anyone who fears for the survival of the peace process.

In the past Johnson has shown a staggering lack of understanding about the complexities of Northern Irish politics and last week's brief trip to Belfast offered up more of the same.

Johnson has once again displayed a seemingly wilful ignorance about Brexit's potential to shatter the peace process and devastate the economy of the six counties.

For Mr Johnson - like his arch Brexiteer cabinet colleagues - leaving the EU is all that matters and hang the consequences. If quitting the EU means a potential return to violence in Ireland so be it.

Their attitude is a frightening echo of the 1971 Home Secretary Reginald Maudling's description of the situation in Northern Ireland at the time as being at "an acceptable level of violence".

As they try to get Brexit over the line - deal or no deal - Ireland has become nothing more than a thorn in the side of the Brexiteers and were they not so reliant on the DUP it's easy to imagine they would be happy to ignore it altogether.

Johnson - like his great hero Winston Churchill - has frequently displayed complete disdain for Ireland and the Irish and his visit to Belfast last week was clearly more about shoring up his minuscule commons' majority than restoring devolved Government.

For proof of that you need look no further than the attention he lavished on Arlene Foster and the DUP.

While other party leaders were afforded official meetings with the Prime Minister, Mr Johnson attended a private dinner in the five-star Culloden Hotel with Ms Foster and her DUP colleagues on whose support the future of his Government depends.

Mr Johnson had earlier claimed he was determined to reinstate Stormont and pledged to act in a non-partisan manner to do so.

By the time he'd finished his starter with Ms Foster that pledge - like so many of Johnson's previous promises - was in tatters.

And were the other Northern Irish leaders who met the new Prime Minister impressed by Boris?

After what was described as a "blunt" meeting with Mr Johnson, SDLP deputy leader Nichola Mallon sounded less than impressed with Boris' grasp of Northern Irish affairs.

"We went into this meeting concerned that he would have a limited understanding of the complexities and fragility of this place and those concerns have been confirmed," she said.

"It is very clear that he views and understands the situation through the eyes of the DUP," she added.

Alliance Leader Naomi Long sounded even less confident after her "frank and candid meeting" with Johnson.

"I don't know if the prime minister has a plan; if he does he certainly disguises it well, but I hope that if he does not have a plan today that he goes home tonight fully aware of the need to get one, and get one fast," was Ms Long's take.

Given the Brexiteers' scorn for Ireland, it will be a one of the great historical ironies if the renewed "Irish Question" proves to be the rock their self destructive ambition perishes on.

Enniscorthy Guardian