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|From: Irish Political Review: Editorials|
|Date: May, 2021|
One of the curious effects of Brexit is the way it has made West British elements in Ireland hate Britain and become Irish nationalists out of resentment at being let down by Britain.
For a long generation Fintan O'Toole, Irish Times supplier of pretentious gush, saw Europe and the world through the British prism and imagined himself to be cosmopolitan in outlook. He made a fortune giving the British media a view of Ireland that contented them. And then, having the Irish gift of the gab, he voiced their feelings for them in their moment of desperation over Brexit with a rhetorical extremism which they were unable to summon up themselves. But it was all to no avail. The English masses had got an idea into their heads in the mysterious way that is customary with them. The flow of Irish eloquence was lost on them. And it is in any case a futile form of eloquence, to which the media-popular term "narcissism" might be accurately applied.
(James Stephens said that he dreaded coming back amongst the Dublin literati and encountering at every turn people with mouths full of vocabulary.)
"Narcissism" has been freely attributed to Trump and to Putin, both of whom had policies to change things which they had some success in putting into effect. Trump had the object of ending the American attempt to establish itself as the Government of the world. Putin's object is to call a halt to the process of erosion of the Russian State, and he responded to the EU-sponsored anti-Russian coup d'etat in the Ukraine by agreeing to a return of the Crimea to the Russian state.
Narcissism is an exercise in fantasy in place of action. Narcissus fell in love with his reflection in a pool of water. Perhaps he disturbed the pool of water by trying to kiss himself in it. If so, that was the extent of his action on the world.
O'Toole, when Brexit was at issue, described it in terms of nationalist insanity—nationalism and insanity apparently being synonymous in his mind. But Brexit happened, and England is rather pleased with itself just now. The present leader of the Labour Party, who kept up a campaign for a second referendum to negate the first until that approach caused the Party to lose its most solid block of support in the General Election, does not even want to talk about it anymore.
Labour might have reduced Brexit to little more than a token if it had not opposed Teresa May's deal. But Starmer wants no discussion of that. He has now become a Jingoistic flag-waver for Brexit Britain. And O'Toole has apparently become an Irish nationalist supporter of squeezing Northern Ireland out of the UK.
He was a superficial extremist of the British Europe illusion and now, in resentment at the loss of that illusion, has become a superficial extremist in support of an EU punitive/Irish nationalist extremist use of the Protocol to get the North out of the UK.
His article in the Irish Times of April 27th is headed Johnson's Dangerous Gibberish Is Surreal But It Is Also Dangerous. It begins: "It's not when Boris Johnson is lying that you have to worry. If he's lying, that just means he's still breathing. No, the real danger is the gibbering. It's what he does when he can't be bothered to think of a lie…" etc. But recently he took the trouble "to make up two wild untruths", and then "gave up and let the stream of consciousness flow".
Over the decades O'Toole idolised an England that had no actual existence, and so when he came to hate it he did not know what it was, and he sees its normality as an aberration.
The vast majority of what is said in Parliament consists of familiar clichés that are batted to and fro. It is dead language.
Virtually everything said in Parliament about Northern Ireland, whether in war or peace has been cliché. Cliché is the reassuring stuff of English political normality. That is its ballast. Some politicians say nothing at great length with considerable articulacy, others do it in other ways. The operative reasons why things are done are, according to Kipling, mumbled in obscure places in schoolboy slang in "the argot of the Upper Fourth Remove".
Johnson's first lie, according to O'Toole, is that the Northern Ireland Protocol was never intended "…'to create any kind of barrier down the Irish Sea'…" As proof that it was intended to establish a barrier between Northern Ireland and the rest of Britain, he refers to Regulation 2015/2446, which is 557 pages long. The length of the regulation throws prima facie doubt about the possibility of its being a clear statement that there would be a Customs border cutting off Northern Ireland from the state which provides it with everything except its party politics.
Johnson's "second fabrication" is that it was the EU, and not the UK, that set the precedent of invoking the suspension of the Protocol rules allowed by Article 16. But then, in the second sentence following, O'Toole concedes that "The EU Commission did very stupidly invoke article 16 …on January 29th".
Whether it was stupid or not, it is a fact that the EU did invoke it. And Johnson, in seizing on that fact as setting a precedent, did what any British statesman would have done.
The incompetent President of the Commission was compelled to cancel the implementation of what she had done. That did not mean that she had not done it. If she had been sacked for abusing her authority, the invoking might have been de-invoked. But that was not done.
As to what was "intended" by the Protocol: the different parties to it had different intentions. The EU Commission may have been intending to punish Britain for leaving by breaking up the UK. Fine Gael may have been thinking that it would succeed where Collins and De Valera failed, and would bring in the North—the North which it did not really want in! The British intention was to get the Brexit Referendum result implemented against the will of the Parliamentary majority that was preventing it—and that was trying out the possibility of establishing government by Parliament (as opposed to the elected Prime Minister and his Ministers). This was a thing which was tried and failed around 1650. Parliament, facilitated by an innovating Speaker, was intent on preventing a Brexiteer Government from governing, and also from calling an election (a traditional prerogative of Government)—but Parliament did not itself have the coherence to unseat the Government and set up another one in its place.
Johnson made a deal with the EU with the intention of ironing out any defects when sovereignty was resumed, and he held out against Parliament until the Scottish Nationalists broke ranks by allowing the Government to call an election. Then he won a clear majority in the election, and set about putting things to order in the British interest.
It was perhaps fortunate for Johnson that Covid struck so soon after Brexit was accomplished. He acted decisively in pursuit of a vaccine while the EU dithered. And then the EU decreed that NHS medicines come under the Protocol, and that Britain should only supply Northern Ireland with medicines which were approved for use by the EU.
We said repeatedly during the Brexit campaign that the British purpose was not simply to restore its own independence but was also to restore Europe to the condition that would enable the traditional Balance of Power approach to become functional again: Divide and Rule. Unity in Europe is experienced as suffocation in Britain.
So far Europe has been playing into Britain's hands. Its founders kept Britain out for good reason. Their successors two generations on are disconcerted by the loss of Britain. And the Irish Government, especially through its Fianna Fail element, is doing itself no good by trying to play the part of intermediary between the EU and Britain, and by encouraging doctrinaire Liberal intransigence by the EU towards its new nation-states in the East.
* * *
Proinsias de Rossa, former leader of Official Sinn Fein/IRA, asks in a letter to the Irish Times on April 23rd, "Why Is A United Ireland Necessary?" It might have served some useful purpose if he had asked that question fifty years ago, before the War was fought. Maybe the cleaning women at Aldershot Barracks would still be alive. [They died in a botched operation conducted with the tendency with which de Rossa was affiliated, Ed.]
De Rossa now laments over "the many thousands who died during the civil war that raged in Northern Ireland from 1970 to 1998, now euphemistically and callously called 'The Troubles'."
In what sense can it be called a civil war? Does he meant that it was a war that disturbed the unity of the British Isles?
It was certainly not a civil war within Northern Ireland. The Provisional movement did not declare war on the Stormont Government, or on the Unionist community. It declared war on the Government of the state which set up the Northern Ireland system and which was maintaining it.
The Government of the state tried, in 1974-5, to devolve the War, and change it into a local civil war. It tried to "Ulsterise" the War—to make it a war of Catholics versus Protestants—by circulating the rumour that Britain was preparing to withdraw from the Six Counties.
The Provisionals refused to play this game. They continued the War against the State, until the State undertook to restructure its Six County region.
The nature of the reconstruction was made crystal clear by the terms of the 1998 Agreement, but de Rossa, living out the Official fantasy of the 1970s, manages to misunderstand it:
"Surely community reconciliation in Northern Ireland is the urgent task we should be engaging with as a 'noble aspiration'. We need to reformulate our rhetoric, both nationalist and unionist, to reflect what we agreed to in the Belfast Agreement."
What was agreed in the Agreement was separation, not reconciliation. That is why it works.
Every attempt at a settlement based on the principle of reconciliation acted as a form of aggravation. Garret FitzGerald did it repeatedly, always with the same result.
The Agreement assumes the existence of two irreconcilable national bodies. The structure it set up enables them to take up Departments in the devolved regime administration independently of each other and without forming a collective Cabinet.
De Rossa says that the task of political leadership in Belfast, London and Dublin is "to harness it [the Agreement] to the task of reconciliation rather than trying to outflank each other".
But "trying to outflank each other" is what political parties do. Enabling them to go about it by political manoeuvre was the condition on which peace was made. That was our analysis of the Agreement in 1998, and that is how it has worked out.
It is not clear how they might go about "reconciling" instead of trying to outflank each other as parties do in democracies. Northern Ireland is not, of course, a democracy. But, because of the separating and conflictual structure of the Agreement, it now bears more resemblance to democracy than it ever did in the past.
* * *
The Democratic Unionist Party leader, Arlene Foster, has been given notice to quit by elected members of the Party. One reason for the discontent seems to be that she shows a slight inclination towards reconciling. She is not sufficiently enthusiastic about fighting her corner. She came to the DUP from the middle class Ulster Unionist Party, after Lord Trimble had set it on a course of decline, and she does not have the Paisleyite stuff in her.
The Ulster Protestant community has been the most constant social body in Ireland during the past half century. In fact it is pretty well what it was on its first appearance in political affairs in 1649, when it condemned Cromwell for executing the King and was denounced by his Secretary of State, John Milton.
Northern Ireland has been in flux for two generations. It no longer stands by the values it held in 1970, but Unionist Ulster does. The idea of homosexual marriage, which seemed a mere absurdity to people in general fifty years ago, is now understood to be a universal human right in nationalist Ireland. Protestant Ulster continues to regard it as not merely absurd but as blasphemous.. Under the terms of the Agreement it is entitled to prevent it from being introduced in Northern Ireland. Nationalist Ireland, with Sinn Fein at its head, regards this as an appalling infringement of human rights, not to be tolerated in a civilised country, and it appealed to Westminster to overrule the Agreement by an assertion of state rights and impose it on the Unionists. And likewise with the freer abortion introduced in the South. And Arlene Foster seems inclined to be reconciled on these matters.
Ms Foster has also come under pressure for tolerating the State Funeral given to Bobby Storey. She certainly objected strenuously, but the Executive continued to function.
Perhaps the most important factor in the DUP determination to elect a new leader is the opportunity this provides to extract some change in the way Brexit is operated. In particular, the determination is not to be divided from the UK market. It should be remembered that the Protocol was urged on the Ulster Unionists with the argument that it would place them in the unique position of having the best of both worlds. This was a position accepted and argued by Arlene Foster in the first instance. But, in the event, the EU has chosen to implement it so as to raise the greatest possible obstacles between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. The question now is whether the Protocol can survive the change of leadership.