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Co-operation is preferable to confrontation - a lesson that Leo and Simon would do well to learn

Hoping Project Fear II will bounce DUP into accepting special status can only backfire


Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (left) with the newly appointed Tanaiste Simon Coveney

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (left) with the newly appointed Tanaiste Simon Coveney


Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (left) with the newly appointed Tanaiste Simon Coveney

This has certainly been a remarkable week in politics here in Ulster, across the United Kingdom and, indeed, beyond that. The major story for many of us has been the ongoing Brexit negotiations.

The story has involved London, Dublin and Brussels, but right at the centre of it all is Northern Ireland, with a particular focus on the border with the Irish Republic and the role of the 10 DUP MPs.

Over the past few months, the leader and deputy leader of the DUP have been consistent in saying that, in implementing Brexit, the “economic and constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom” should not be compromised in any way.

The same message has also been restated by other prominent members of the party. No one can have been in any doubt about that.

Moreover, that is the view of the overwhelming majority of unionists in Northern Ireland. It is not only the view of what is sometimes described as political unionism, it is the view of the broad unionist community.

Why, then, did the UK Government negotiators and the European Union think that they could proceed down a path that would breach that economic and constitutional integrity and create a new sea border between Northern Ireland and Great Britain?

Did they imagine that they could orchestrate a situation where they would be able to bounce the DUP into accepting this?

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Did they believe that, under the spotlight of international media attention, and with a panoply of senior European politicians, the DUP would crumble? How wrong they were.

The DUP response was calm, measured and resolute. Arlene Foster left the political elites in London, Dublin and Brussels in no doubt when she said: “We will not accept any form of regulatory divergence which separates Northern Ireland economically, or politically, from the rest of the United Kingdom.”

Theresa May will now have some hard thinking to do, as indeed will the Eurocrats in Brussels and the Fine Gael government in Dublin.

Everyone says that they want a good outcome from the negotiations, so let’s get it right this time. Here is some advice.

Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney should learn the meaning of respect. We hear a lot about respect these days, but sadly it is something that is missing from the current Fine Gael approach.

A series of statements and interventions by Varadkar and Coveney have displayed what unionists rightly regard as an arrogant and bullying approach.

The Dublin approach has been one of confrontation rather than co-operation. That may play out well for Fine Gael politically in the short term, but it is not good for Northern Ireland, or the Irish Republic. If Theresa May has a lot of thinking to do, so too does Leo Varadkar.

Irish nationalists and republicans, along with the Remoaners, the metropolitan elite and assorted European politicians and bureaucrats, seem intent on running a second Project Fear — one that is designed to create a border fever.

I listened the other day to a resident of Donegal who was almost distraught that her journey to work in Londonderry might take a few minutes longer unless everything at the border remains exactly as it is.

A few minutes longer travelling to work in Londonderry probably didn’t really strike a chord with those who have to sit in traffic jams in London, Manchester, New York, Dublin, or Belfast.

So, instead of devoting their energies to Project Fear, why not put the same amount of energy and effort into developing practical solutions for movement across the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic?

Of course, Sinn Fein love this Project Fear.

It was part of the Sinn Fein strategy for the March Assembly election, and they relaunched it again last night with an old-fashioned white-line protest at the former Andersonstown barracks site, a poster about “No border in Ireland” and a video clip starring John Finucane.

It’s not much, but I suppose that, since Sinn Fein collapsed the Northern Ireland Assembly and since they refuse to take their seats at Westminster, standing in the middle of the road in the dark is all they can do.

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