Thursday, 22 February 2018

Why The Good Friday Agreement Will Never Deliver a Lasting Settlement in Northern Ireland

The Irish Taoiseach (PM), Leo Varadkar and every other political party in the Republic of Ireland see Brexit as a threat to the Good Friday Agreement. They never seem to notice that the Good Friday Agreement itself is the biggest threat to the long term political stability of Northern Ireland. I can't be the only citizen of these islands that looks at Northern Ireland as a kind of special needs statelet that needs constant supervision from outside in case they start self harming and burn the place to the ground. Again.The inability of Northern Irish politicians to govern Northern Ireland effectively for prolonged periods without being baby sat by the UK and Irish governments is due to fundamental flaws in the Good Friday Agreement itself. In the aftermath of Brexit, we constantly hear Irish politicians, north and south, talk about how the terms of the Good Friday Agreement must be respected. It has yet to dawn on any of them that perhaps an agreement that continually fails to deliver lasting, stable, and efficient governance for the people of Northern Ireland is an agreement not fit for either purpose or respect. The truth is that Northern Ireland's peace process will still be processing the peace, with no finished political product for years to come as long as the Good Friday Agreement is the template for a lasting settlement.

This is because the Good Friday Agreement is founded on two diametrically opposed views on the constitutional status of Northern Ireland. It recognises that Northern Ireland will stay part of the United Kingdom as long as a majority of the people of Northern Ireland prefer that option and it acknowledges that a united, independent Ireland will come to pass, if and when, a majority of the electorate wish it so. The constitutional status of Northern Ireland is the defining issue that motivates both Sinn Fein and the DUP above bread and butter issues. For Sinn Fein, their number one objective is to remove Northern Ireland from the UK and for the DUP it is to ensure that Northern Ireland remains a part of the UK. It is not possible to have a stable and lasting devolved government in Northern Ireland when these constitutional tensions are enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement and are the primary concerns of both parties. It is time for a new approach to try and solve the political stalemate in Northern Ireland.

I have often heard Sinn Fein politicians, including Gerry Adams, talk about reconciliation with unionists and about building bridges between the two communities. However, Gerry Adams, in a recent interview with Andrew Marr on the BBC stated, "I wish to see an end to the British connection with Ireland." Well, I wish someone would explain to Gerry Adams that in seeking to build bridges with unionists he will need to meet them half way on that bridge. Talking of severing all links to Britain is never going to win unionists over to an all Ireland political arrangement. Besides, Sinn Fein are never going to convert a single unionist to the merits of a united Ireland whilst they still glorify and commemorate IRA terrorists who murdered members of the unionist community. Sinn Fein trying to sell a united Ireland to unionists is like rape victims being lectured by Harvey Weinstein on respectful sexual etiquette.

As many constitutional nationalists and moderate unionists have pointed out before, there is no point to a united Ireland if the people are divided. The main thing that divides the people of Northern Ireland is identity. Any kind of lasting settlement in Northern Ireland will require the forging of a new identity with common shared allegiances. Northern Ireland will always be divided with the potential for the reigniting of violent conflict if we continue to believe its only two options are either remaining part of the UK, or uniting with the rest of Ireland and complete separation from Britain. One possibility that is never countenanced is a confederate solution to how the home nations of our islands are governed. This would require a complete dismantling of the current constitutional arrangements that govern both the UK and Ireland. In a confederate system England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales would be independent states that pool a limited degree of sovereignty to a central authority in which no one nation is able to dominate. Such an arrangement could also be a solution to the democratic deficit that Scottish and Welsh nationalists feel occurs within the current United Kingdom. A confederate system could accommodate both Irish unity whilst retaining political links with Britain. Of course, some Irish nationalists would ridicule the notion of the entire island of Ireland entering in to a confederation of equals with the nations of Britain. Instead, they are content to remain in a union with twenty seven European states where more and more power is ceded to the centre and where the interests of smaller nations are dominated by larger states.

At the end of the day Ireland has closer links to Britain than it does to any other European country. Apart from the UK being Ireland's biggest trading partner we speak a common language and share much culture in a way we don't with any other country. Large swathes of the populations of both islands have family or ancestral links on the other island. According to research carried out by Bradford University in the nineteen nineties, one in four Britons have some Irish ancestry and large swathes of Irish people, including in the Republic, are descended from Britons. In 2017, I heard Ian Paisley Junior of the DUP describe himself as Irish on RTE, but Ian Paisley Junior also considers himself British. Contrary to what some nationalists believe the two need not be mutually exclusive. I have had conversations with other unionists who also see themselves as both Irish and British. In a truly united Ireland we will have to forge political institutions that can accommodate and respect the fact that many Irish people also see themselves as British. A durable and lasting political settlement in Ireland will firstly require the jettisoning of the Good Friday Agreement and for both nationalists, north and south, and unionists, to embrace a lasting settlement built on genuine compromise and not one side getting what it wants to the detriment of the other.

Of course, the pro-EU parties in the Republic of Ireland, that's all of them, will point out that as EU members Ireland will have no right to determine its future relationship with the UK once it leaves the EU in 2019. However, that's a whole other article on why its time for the Republic of Ireland to join the United Kingdom and leave the European Union.















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