Brexit and the politics of Northern Ireland
Sir, – Recent events seem to suggest that the DUP has its own particular view of what constitutes and sustains the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The question arises because Scotland, Wales and London do not see any threat to the United Kingdom arising out of the compromise agreement on Brexit arrived at in Brussels this week between the British and Irish governments.
The agreement avoids a hard border on the island of Ireland, maintains the Belfast Agreement, has no effect whatsoever on the constitutional position of Northern Ireland and enables the trade talks to begin. So why does the DUP feel that the UK is threatened?
Perhaps the answer can be found in an issue that arose earlier this year when it emerged that the UK-based Constitutional Research Council (CRC) had given €500,000 to the DUP to fund its Leave campaign. This was the largest sum ever given to a political party in Northern Ireland. When asked for details, Arlene Foster described the council as “an organisation in England that wants to see the Union kept”.
Astonishingly, it transpired that most of the money, except for €10,000, was spent by the DUP, not in Northern Ireland, but in the UK. It has never been explained why the funds were allocated by the DUP in this way.
What is known is that the council does not publish accounts, does not name its funders, has links with Saudi Arabia and has supported the anti-independence Better Together campaign during the Scottish referendum.
In the aftermath of the confidence and supply agreement between the DUP and the Conservative government, the SNP, the UK Green Party, Liberal Democrat, Labour and Conservative MPs asked for more information on where precisely this money came from and the terms of any deal between the DUP and the CRC, given the key role that the DUP was likely to play in the future of Britain in Europe.
By vetoing the Brussels agreement, this critical and decisive role has been assumed by the DUP in no uncertain terms. If the DUP could now provide full information on their agreement with the CRC and the policy positions on Brexit and the Union that formed the basis for their funding arrangement, it might throw some light on their particular concerns and assist in the resolution of the current difficulties facing the British and Irish governments and the European Union. – Yours, etc,
MARTIN Mc DONALD,
Sir, – The shade of Winston Churchill must be chortling if he read, “for the first time in 800 years, Ireland is proving to be in a much stronger political position than Britain, and what does that say about what Brexit is doing to Britain’s strength?” (Fintan O’Toole, Opinion & Analysis, December 5th).
Churchill wrestled with the same issue of Ireland’s power after negotiating the Anglo-Irish Treaty when he asked, on December 21st, 1921: “How is it that the English political parties are shaken to their foundations and even shattered in almost every generation by contact with Irish affairs? Whence does this mysterious power of Ireland come? How is it she has forced generation after generation to stop the whole traffic of the British Empire to debate her domestic affairs?”
Fintan O’Toole’s statement that “Ireland has suddenly become a global superpower” after 800 years was hinted at with prophetic clarity by Churchill nearly a hundred years ago when he said: “Ireland is not a daughter state. She is a parent nation. The Irish are an ancient race.” – Yours, etc,
ROBERT F LYONS,
Sir, – International Office of Migration statistics show that over a million irregular migrants and refugees arrived in Europe in 2015, mostly from Africa, South Asia and Syria.
Though the numbers fell to a third of a million in 2016, thousands still drowned off the coasts of Greece and Italy.
With this continuing disaster on its southern borders, why is the EU so concerned with controlling trade flows across the border of Northern Ireland? – Yours, etc,
Dr JOHN DOHERTY,
Sir, – Over the past 20 years I have seen nothing but genuine warmth by British people towards the Irish. Our distrust of the EU has never been transferred to Ireland. Indeed, EU insistence that Ireland vote again after rejecting the Lisbon Treaty created much sympathy.
That is sadly now changing and being replaced in mainland Britain by rising anger at what is seen as Leo Varadkar’s unwarranted aggression. His proposals are viewed as violating our territorial integrity and seeking to subject us after Brexit to laws created in a foreign country and a court in a foreign land.
When Ireland became an independent, sovereign nation it rejected government by the UK and laws made by our parliament. It is therefore deeply disappointing that the Irish government of all people seems unable to understand this is exactly what the UK is doing by leaving the EU.
No-one wants a hard border. However, we find it incomprehensible that Mr Varadkar is now the main obstacle to the only thing which can allow that between two independent sovereign countries – a free-trade agreement.
It is a tragedy that peace and goodwill built up over the last 20 years is being jeopardised this way.
Dr MARTIN PARSONS
Sir, – I am somewhat puzzled by what I perceive to be the absence in the media of references to the “security” aspects of a border, whether hard or otherwise. Any kind of border involves customs posts on both sides, and history tells us that “republicans” here and in the North will not rest until they are burned or blown up. – Yours, etc,