Growing up with The Troubles was not easy. In the late Sixties, you didn’t have to live in the six counties to feel their anger and grief, their passion and frustration, that sense of walking a long, dark tunnel with no sign of exit. Despite meeting fine human beings among their diaspora, for decades, I avoided visiting the place and could not shake a Pavlovian connection between an Ulster accent and blind bigotry. The breakthrough of the Good Friday agreement let me hope all that was past. But the resurgence of tribal that brought down Stormont 2 1/2 years ago and the divisive poison of the Brexit Backstop has re-kindled fears and despair among many more than just me.
But while Boris Johnson burbles on about how rich we could all be if the Backstop wee simply discarded and Arlene Fraser channels Ian Paisley with chilling accuracy, few in Britain seem to be taking Eire’s position into consideration or reflecting the half of Ulster that seems Eire as a good friend from whom they do not wish to be detached in any way. In part, this is because Shin Fein continue to practice their own intransigence, including not taking seats at Westminster, to which they were elected.
It takes some gall for any non-Irish to propose any solution for any part of Ireland and I apologise in advance should any of this cause offence. But, sometimes, it takes someone owing fealty to neither side and with nothing to gain or lose to not only be objective, but, more importantly, to be seen as such.
At first glance, the opportunity for objectivity—let alone mediation—seems bleak. All the institutions set up by the Good Friday agreement are moribund and the 2017 general election pushed results to parties at the extreme either way. Both SDLP ad UUP were wiped out; 10 DUP MPs wet to Westminster to wield extraordinary power by holding the balance, while Sinn Fein held to its tradition of performing MP duties at home but refusing to take their seats at Westminster. So, entrenchment is dug beeper?
Not if you dig deeper yourselves.
This Nay’s local and European elections threw up some unexpected trends in Northern Ireland. With the Brexit Party not standing there, UKIP had high hopes.. But their performance was as dismal as elsewhere in Britain. The non-sectarian Alliance won an MEP who wound up with more votes than any of the other thee elected. Preference transfers from both ‘sides’ to this middle ground were huge. The Alliance won an unprecedented 53 council seats (to the DUP’s 122 and SF’s 105) to become a force to be reckoned with.
It may be premature to say that the people of Northern Ireland are tired of partisan extremes. But they are certainly moving that way. Given their history of desperate attempts to retain control of Ulster ever since Jamie the Saxth planted the Scots-Irish there, it would take a wheen of optimism to think the dour cohorts behind Arlene Foster might shift their position when their world has never looked so uncertain.
But what about Sinn Fein? Given their loyalty to all things Irish and that a No Deal Brexit is likely to damage a prosperous Eire as much as their own patch. Was there ever a time when a re-think of their tactics to benefit the people of all Ireland (not to mention friends in the UK and EU) by using powers they hold to influence events. I put to the many patriotic and reasonable people in Sinn Fein to adopt one of the following, depending on which is the most palatable:
- Go to Westminster. By sending seven MPs, Boris Johnson’s tissue-thin majority of 1 evaporates: he’s be 6 votes under water. Even with the DUP, his government could be constrained and a No Deal avoided.
- Resign en masse. Now. In members are unable to thole the Imperial Capital, go talk to the Alliance, Greens, SDLP, independents, etc. and pick the strongest possible candidate to fight each seat, then cause seven by-elections. With support for the centre ground growing rapidly, weakening unionist influence would be unable to stop this. The seats could not be left vacant for 3 months, so seven new MPs, all with Ireland (both parts)s interests at heart could create an unstoppable opposition to a No Deal Brexit.
Whether there is a general election or a minority government, there should be the opportunity for opposition motions to re-run the referendum, guide the government out of its blind intransigence or ask for assistance from the EU to limit any damage.
But, with the relationship with Eire being both the sticking point and the solution to the present Brexit deadlock, would it not be justice for the Irish both sides of the (non) border to seize the initiative and drive the imperial Brits towards a rational solution for a change?