John Coulter is a journalist for the Daily Star
Unionism looks set to tumble into the same quagmire over Brexit as it did three decades ago during protests against the then Anglo-Irish Agreement.
The two main Unionist parties have so far snubbed the Brexit Forum set up by Taoiseach Enda Kenny to prepare the island for when the UK pulls out of the EU. This will undoubtedly leave the Republic geographically and economically isolated within the EU, and ‘Irexit’ is the only way forward financially if it is not to once again witness the collapse of its so-called Celtic Tiger economy.
For 800 years, the native Irish have literally fought against English rule in Ireland. But Irish nationalism must now face a very bitter pill. Does it put ‘principle first’ first and watch the 26 counties of the Republic become nothing more than a third-rate banana state more akin to a struggling African nation by doggedly trying to retain its political independence from the UK post-Brexit? Or, does it show maturity and put ‘people first’ by guaranteeing a good standard of living for all Irish citizens by following the UK out of the EU?
And speaking of political maturity, this is where Unionism has to ‘wise up’. It made serious tactical errors in 1985 after the then Prime Minister Maggie Thatcher signed the Anglo-Irish Agreement with Dublin. That agreement gave the Republic its first major say in the running of Northern affairs since partition in the 1920s. Dublin set up the Maryfield Secretariat, near Belfast, and staffed it with civil servants. And how did Unionists respond? The sensible thing would have been to return the serve politically and establish a Unionist Embassy in the Dublin parliament, Leinster House, with the long-term aim of bringing the Republic back into the British Commonwealth. But no, Unionism chose to tramp the streets and roads of Northern Ireland on an ill-fated crusade known as the Ulster Says No campaign; a highlight being Ian Paisley senior’s notorious ‘Never, never, never’ speech at a mammoth rally at Belfast City Hall.
The Ulster Says No campaign rumbled on to the Ulster Still Says No façade before finally descending into the usual Unionist luxury of internecine squabbling and street rioting. Now Unionism appears to be tumbling headlong into the same pit. Unionist politicians and parties should be tripping over each other to get into Kenny’s Brexit Forum and persuade Dublin of the merits of the maxim – Brexit Means Irexit!
A joint Brexit/Irexit solution is also the only way to survive a looming Trump Presidency, especially if The Donald sticks to his economic guns and urges American companies to relocate their jobs on home turf.
In this respect, socialist unity will take on another dimension – the unity of the British Isles as an economic success story. Trump claims he will make America great again – but at what cost to the US’s traditional allies?
At the very least, the British Isles will have to compete with four years of the ‘Trump Triumph’ and New American Capitalism, which will make the US Tea Party look like a rural Biblical Ulster Sunday School picnic.
Taoiseach Kenny must expand his Brexit Forum into a British Isles Forum, where all the parliaments on these islands can work together to establish a socialist agenda which can cope with Trump’s ‘America First’ mentality. We already have the British Irish Council which represents eight parliaments across the British Isles; surely that would be sufficient a forum to prepare Ireland for Brexit? The Unionists attend that Council, so why bother with Kenny’s project? Simple, in the BIC, Ireland (north and south) is a very junior partner. In Kenny’s forum, Ireland will be the leading player.
If the Brexit/Irexit joint strategy is to become a viable reality, it will require massive cross-border co-operation. And it has already been noted by Ireland’s various politicians how British Prime Minister Theresa May chose not to attend the recent BIC meeting in Wales to discuss Brexit.
The post conference press conference appeared dominated by the close political body language between Sinn Fein’s Stormont deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and Scotland’s nationalist First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. There can be no doubting that Sinn Fein and the Scottish National Party are singing from the same hymn sheet over Brexit, especially if the Scots get a second independence referendum and vote to leave the UK.
Attending the Kenny forum becomes more vital for Unionism if an independent Scotland and an Irish Republic form a Celtic Alliance of nations to remain in the EU. And it must not be forgotten that Unionism is itself divided over Brexit – the DUP recommended ‘leave’ with the rival UUP recommending ‘remain.’
British Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn can deflect attention away from his party woes by embarking on a crusade to get Unionists involved in the Kenny project.