Belfast Telegraph

Donaldson right, Republic in the Commonwealth would be good, but not for the reason he gives

Such a generous move would ease unionist fears in event of a united Ireland, says Alban Maginness

Jeffrey Donaldson (centre) alongside Simon Coveney (right) at the FG conference last we
Jeffrey Donaldson (centre) alongside Simon Coveney (right) at the FG conference last we

For the past two years politics here has collapsed, becoming like a forlorn museum exhibit, but now even politics in Britain is in serious meltdown. The authority of the prime minister has disappeared. Parliament is currently incapable of making any coherent decisions on Brexit, or suggesting any reasonable alternative to it. Party discipline no longer exists in either major party. Politics is in chaos, verging on the mother of all constitutional crises.

Crashing out of the EU without a deal - irrational though that may be to all, save a few insane Brexiteers - looks likely to happen by running out of time. This imminent danger will only be avoided if Theresa May miraculously gets her deal through Parliament, or the government gets a much longer extension to Article 50.

But any extension beyond May 24 will mean, under European law, the holding of European Parliamentary elections, which will create further political problems for both a divided Conservative and Labour party. It will also become an unofficial rerun of the referendum on Europe and create even more bitter division.

In Northern Ireland, a European election will probably be another sectarian dogfight between the DUP and Sinn Fein, unless a pro-Remain coalition is formed and strongly backed by the business community. In those circumstances, two pro-Remain candidates could be returned from Northern Ireland. That result would be truly reflective of the pro-Remain referendum result here in June 2016.

However, given May's loss of political authority within the Conservative party at Westminster, it has become increasingly possible that she will be deposed as PM by her own party. But the ditching of Theresa May as Prime Minister will solve nothing, because Theresa May is not the problem. The central problem is the failure within the two major parties, Conservative and Labour, to agree a consensus on the European Union, either within their respective parties, or outside their parties in Parliament itself.

And this crisis in no small way has been exacerbated by the DUP's pivotal role in supporting the hard-line Brexiteers on the Tory back benches. The European Research Group led by Jacob Rees-Mogg has been in an enthusiastic alliance with the DUP holding the government to ransom. Instead of using their crucial power constructively, the DUP have together with ERG, brought the UK to the cliff edge.

Therefore, there is a delicious irony in Sir Jeffrey Donaldson advocating that the Republic join the Commonwealth in the interests of peace and reconciliation, while he and his party at Westminster are leading the Brexiteer charge for Northern Ireland and Britain to get out of the greatest single process for peace and reconciliation, the European Union. If joining the Commonwealth has merit for the Republic, then logically there is similar merit for Britain and NI remaining within Europe, and thereby making this region all the better, both politically and economically.

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In fairness, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson is about the only senior member of the DUP who tries to create some imaginative political space and develop better political relations both within Northern Ireland and outside, especially with the Republic. His recent reported tribute to John Hume, at a private film show, which highlighted Hume's attempts at building peace, was generous and heartfelt. The very fact that he accepted an invitation to speak at the Fine Gael conference in Wexford was heartening and reflective of his continuing confidence as a unionist to talk to southern politicians rather than ignore them.

The idea of joining the Commonwealth should be seriously considered by nationalist politicians across the whole of Ireland.

At the end of the day, it could be a confidence-building step for unionists, as a symbolic recognition of their Britishness.

The Republic joining the Commonwealth undoubtedly has merits, particularly to ameliorate unionist fears, if a united Ireland were to become a reality.

The Commonwealth itself has transformed over the past few decades and shed itself of the relics of British imperialism and it is a truly multinational organisation, albeit with the Queen at its head. It has even admitted Mozambique, a former Portuguese colony as a member.

We are now on the cliff edge and looking at a dangerous freefall for both Britain and Ireland. In those circumstances all parties and politicians must shed their selfish political interests and work for the common good. It is never too late to take a different course of action.

However, sometimes there comes a point in politics in which strong differences cannot be reconciled and an intense deadlock ensues. But the best way of ending this deadlock is to have a People's Vote with all the options on the ballot paper. One million people spontaneously demonstrating in the streets of London at the weekend got it right.

Politicians must take note.

Belfast Telegraph


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