Friday, December 08, 2017

Irish border issue threatens Tory-DUP coalition



Chris Hazzard, Sinn Féin MP for South Down, addresses the meeting

By Theo Russell

 A DELEGATION of Sinn Féin MPs last week told a meeting at Westminster that a return to Northern Ireland border controls “would make the border a target for the dissident republican groups opposed to the peace process,” and said that in response Sinn Féin will be calling for a new poll on the border.
 To a question from the New Worker, Sinn Féin special advisor on the border Conor Heaney said “there is every possibility that the peace process, which is very fragile, could unravel rapidly”.
Chris Hazzard, Sinn Féin MP for South Down, added: “There are already protests about border issues, and there are fears over civil unrest. There is great anxiety across the North of Ireland, in all communities, over the border question.”
These warnings have now been backed by Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and ex-Labour prime minister Tony Blair.
The Irish border question is threatening a major crisis for the Tory-Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) coalition. It could block a Brexit deal, or even bring the Government down if the DUP ends its “confidence and supply” pact with the Tories.
The DUP says it will block any “special status” for the North-South border after reports in the Times said British and European Union officials are already working on a deal. Its leader, Arlene Foster, said the DUP would reject any deal leading to a new Irish Sea border, referring to the maritime border which would result from a special deal on the land border.
Last Thursday senior DUP MP and ex-Finance Minister in the Executive Sammy Wilson went a step further, warning that if there was any attempt to "placate Dublin and the EU… then they can’t rely on our vote”. He said the pact “was based on our votes in return for their support for the union”.
Ironically the DUP hasn’t seen a penny of the promised £1bn extra money as there has been no Northern Ireland Executive since January, and since then the Tories have allowed the DUP to block its restoration.
Piling on the pressure for Theresa May, European Council president Donald Tusk has backed Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s demand that any Brexit package “must be acceptable to the Republic of Ireland before the negotiations can move on”.
Varadkar said last week: "The border between Ireland and Northern Ireland is a symbol of cooperation, and we cannot allow Brexit to destroy this achievement of the Good Friday Agreement."
Five years ago, the British government used a Daily Telegraph poll to rule out a border poll. Since then political and demographic changes have moved in favour of abolishing the border, and in the 2017 general election the Unionist parties took less than fifty percent of the total vote for the first time.
The Tories have neglected the peace process since the collapse of the Northern Ireland Executive in January, allowing their DUP cronies to continue to block key parts of the Good Friday Agreement. Now they may have to pay a high price for leaving the other parties to the peace process, including the Irish government, out in the cold for so long.
On Sunday Tony Blair, whose government negotiated the 1998 agreement, said a hard border “puts the peace process at risk,” and poses real challenges to the peace process.
He said: “For the first time Britain and the Irish Republic will be in different jurisdictions, and pointed out that a ‘special’ border deal would have to include free movement of people. That would mean the border moving to UK ‘mainland’ ports and airports.”
Blair’s agenda is to openly campaign for a second referendum. But from the viewpoint of Ireland as a whole, border controls, and hence Brexit, objectively undermine progress towards greater integration between North and South and eventual re-unification. Hence the threat to the peace process.
It is almost impossible to see how these problems can be resolved in the post-Brexit years if the wishes of the vast majority of people and parties in both parts of Ireland are to be met.
As a veteran Irish liberation campaigner here in Britain commented to the New Worker: “As soon as I heard the Brexit vote result, I knew there could be a united Ireland in my lifetime.”