British Prime Minister, Theresa May is in Belfast today to make a speech at… sorry… to give a speech to local business leaders. The speech will re-state her “absolute commitment” to avoiding a hard border, post Brexit.
Her statement of commitment is welcome, just as welcome as it was when first made over two years ago, but with only seven weeks to go to the March 29th exit and after 18 exhaustive months of negotiations, surely it is not asking too much to expect her to say how she will turn this commitment into reality?
This is a crisis of her own making. She says she is committed to no hard border, but then she also says that she is equally committed to having a Brexit that takes the United Kingdom of Great Britain and parts of Northern Ireland out of the EU’s Customs Union and the Single Market, as well as out of the EU institutions.
The hard truth is that she cannot commit to ensuring no customs union, no single market and no hard border at the same time. You can do two out of three, but you cannot do all three.
Many, many years ago I went to see the great Billy Connolly perform live at the Gaiety theatre. He talked about his brief time working as a riveter in the Clyde side shipyards.
At one point he asked the audience if we recalled those old British Pathé newsreels of jaunty, merry Glasgow shipbuilders waving their hats and cheering loudly as the ship, on they had been working, was launched and slid into the Clyde.
As Connolly reminded us, though the newsreels portrayed these workers as delighting in the completion of another fine ship, the simple reality what they were actually waving goodbye to their jobs as most of them would be laid off the next day.
Today’s DUP is very much like those shipbuilders. In happily cheering-on the prospect of a hard Brexit they are celebrating the end of any economic future for Northern Ireland.
This Broadsheet.ie column explains how one low-key but deeply sincere Dublin GAA action did more to get the DUP’s Arlene Foster to move, than months of politicians and pundits haranguing
Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc. Though I am tempted to pretend that I recall this dusty old latin phrase from my days doing inter-cert latin in Synge St., the truth is that I only know it from watching The West Wing.
It is the title of episode two of season one and its significance is explained by the President Bartlett character when it translates it to his staff saying:
“‘After it, therefore because of it.’ It means one thing follows the other, therefore it was caused by the other. But it’s not always true, in fact it’s hardly ever true.”
Yet another “The West Wing” truism. If only today’s real thing were as clever as Aaron Sorkin could right it. Nonetheless, the point is well made. It’s a common mistake in politics to so imagine that there is order and logic in events that we manage to project some form of order and sequencing on to them.
In politics, the cock-up theory more often applies than the conspiracy one.
There have been a few Fr Ted references here over the past few days, so let’s start off with another one. Remember that episode of Fr Ted where the lads need to raise money to fix the water leaks in the parochial house?
You know the one, they destroy the car Bishop Brennan gives them for the raffle and thus have to rig the draw to ensure that Dougal’s ticket wins it. Ted gets Fr Billy “Spinmaster” O’Dwyer to do the disco before the draw, but there’s a problem. Fr Billy has only one record with him and it’s “Ghost Town” by The Specials. Undeterred, the Spinmaster plays it over and over and over again, oblivious to the fact that the crowd have stopped listening.
I like Ghost Town. Not only is it a good song, it is a serious piece of popular social commentary, but even the loyalist Special fan would concede that forcing anyone to listen to it over and over again could turn them against it.
This is something that Sinn Féin’s “spinmasters” Mary Lou MacDonald and Michelle O’Neill could do well to bear in mind.
Truth and Reconciliation Platform (TaRP) event at Kennedy Institute, Maynooth University: Stephen Travers, Seamus Mallon, Eugene Reavey and Dr. Rory O’Hanlon (Pic via https://twitter.com/TaR_Platform)
In a week when a referendum campaign that has managed to divide some of us comes, mercifully, to an end; it is worth recalling that this week, in fact this day, marks the twentieth anniversary of a referendum that briefly united us across this island.
Twenty years ago today, almost 2.5 million people across this island went to the polls to vote on accepting the Good Friday Agreement. Just over 2.1 million of them said Yes to the Agreement while 360,000 voted against.
The results, North and South, endorsed what the parties had agreed at Stormont Buildings and saw Northern Ireland set to see a return of devolution based on partnership government.
Heady days. But anyone who thought that having such a sizeable public endorsement and mandate for the Good Friday Agreement was going to ensure its smooth and speedy implementation was soon to be sorely disappointed.
I opened my third Broadsheet column with a 1962 quote from the former US Secretary of State, Dean Acheson:
“Great Britain has lost an empire and has not yet found a role”.
When that column appeared at the end of May 2016 the U.K. Brexit referendum vote was still three weeks away. We still had hope.
Almost two years later and Acheson’s quote seems truer than ever. Over the past few weeks we have seen increasing evidence that the UK Cabinet is incapable of agreeing a common and unified position on the Customs Union and the Single Market.
On one side you have the beleaguered Prime Minister and Tory leader arguing for a “customs partnership” that would see the UK just outside the existing EU Customs Union but remaining so aligned with it and EU standards as to render borders unnecessary.
Amid all the analysis and commentary on Brexit, might I suggest you check out the Beerg Brexit Blog written by an old friend of mine, Tom Hayes.
Originally from Dublin, but now based in the North of France, Tom is one of the most experienced and skilled employer relations negotiators in Europe, something reflected in his Brexit Blog.
Whereas most look at the hard politics of Brexit, especially from the British side, and I tend to look at it solely through the prism of how it effects relations on this island, Tom looks at the process as a negotiator.
While you are never in any doubt, reading any of his blog posts, that Tom thinks that Brexit is a massive folly, each week he examines developments and tests them for how the progress, or hamper, a negotiated outcome that would serve the interests of both sides.
This is my most recent Broadsheet.ie column – it appeared on Monday September 4th – you can view the original online here
Much to his own delight Gerry Adams was once again grabbing the headlines last week. Ignore the fact that they were not the headlines that other political leaders would relish – for Adams, a headline is a headline, even if it contains more than a whiff of cordite.
It came on foot of the furore following Adams telling his local LMFM local radio station that jailing the provo murderers of the innocent Co Louth farmer, Tom Oliver, would be “totally and absolutely counterproductive”.
It was an outrageous statement to make, only made worse by Adams added assertion that the 1991 crime was “politically motivated killing”. It was not.
This is my Broadsheet.ie column from August 21, 2017. You can find the original online here
According to its Brexit position papers issued last week, the British Government is absolutely determined to avoid a hard Brexit and is hell bent on making sure that there will be no changes to how the border between the two parts of this island operates.
If only it were true.
It isn’t. As many others have already pointed out, you have barely to scratch the surface of the British government’s argument to quickly realise that its glistening yet imprecise language masks a dark and base core.
Last week’s papers were not about the massive machinery of the British government and civil service setting out its key positions on crucial realities arising from Brexit, but rather they were a crude and infantile political attempt to prepare a platform from where current British Ministers can accuse the EU27 of imposing borders and costs when the inevitable hard Brexit happens.
The former Tory Chancellor, George Osbourne called it right a few months back in a tweet when he predicted that the EU/UK Article 50 negotiations will end in failure in 2019 and that the UK will crash out of the EU with no deal and end up a transitional arrangement that resembles Norway’s.