Belfast Telegraph

View from Dublin: We’re so amazed that Northern Ireland's progress is now at risk

By Brendan Keenan

The thought occurs: would there have been a different reaction to that recent report on the implications of Brexit for Ireland, had it come from a UK Senate rather than the House of Lords?

One letter writer asked if this was the same House of Lords which blocked Irish home rule in 1914? Well, one knows the average age is a bit high, but hardly. Mostly, they are not even 'real' lords any more; but another letter took issue with the idea of life peers, calling them 'political hacks'.

Another view is that life membership is the strangely-named body's best attribute, giving it some independence from government. Ireland may yet be glad of that independence when the final decisions on Brexit are being made.

Even now, the recommendations from the Lords' European Union Committee on business, farming, free movement and the peace process will be music to the ears of Irish Government. Still, one can see the tensions which may surface when a group who can, if they wish, call themselves lordships, do an analysis on Ireland.

Which is quite a pity, since it is a nifty piece of work. If you have other things to be doing in life than reading up on Brexit, it would be hard to find more information on the Irish dimension crammed into such a relatively short space.

Economic threats are the substance of the report but it also makes a good fist of the political difficulties which Brexit is bound to create between nationalists and unionists in Northern Ireland, and the distance which it may create between Dublin and London.

The real crux is the feedback from the effects that the politics will have on the economics and the economics on the politics. That is the reason for musing on reactions to the phrase, 'House of Lords'.

Constitutional questions will turn up in almost every aspect of proposals and negotiations on the island's position post-Brexit.

As long as Northern Ireland is part of the UK, commissioner Phil Hogan's idea of turning away from Britain and cleaving to the Continent is fantasy; which is why the north's position is the ultimate sleeping constitutional dragon in all of this - one we must all hope does not reawaken.

The report itself cites a salient example, where it points out that there is an open border between Norway and Sweden, but customs officers from each can carry out checks on the other side if required.

All the Irish respondents told the committee that, for historical reasons, this would be impossible here.

There was no mention of the fact that Norway had been part of the Swedish Empire - and a pretty disgruntled part too. Even now, there are minority language issues, but they get on with it. It is far from clear that we will be able to do so.

Musing has now turned into headlines, with the resignation of Martin McGuinness and the prospect of the power sharing executive falling over the "cash for ash" debacle.

There may be more to the scandal than I know about - although, even then, it is hard to see the critical significance of Ms Foster stepping down while it is investigated.

The fear in Dublin is that elections would scupper any chance of a cohesive approach from Stormont; coupled with amazement that they could put so much at risk for so little.

There is a widespread view that a hard Brexit could be more damaging to the Republic than to the UK - and a general view that Northern Ireland would fare worse than the Republic.

Former Taoiseach John Bruton is not alone in thinking that Northern Ireland could be the filling in the sandwich as Brussels and Westminster make a meal of things.

There was a glimpse of how that might be avoided in the pre-crisis letter to Prime Minister Theresa May from the First and Deputy First Minister.

Thanks to a dreadful history, a strong, united stance by the Executive, as portrayed in the letter, would carry weight in both Brussels and London, and is Northern Ireland's best - probably only - chance of not being chewed up and spat out.

Belfast Telegraph