Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Decisions made in the days ahead will shape all our futures

Editor's Viewpoint

It is said that a week is a long time in politics, but there is no doubt at the start of another week that the controversies over Brexit intensify, and Northern Ireland and the border lie at the heart of the storm.

The pressure on Prime Minister Theresa May has been increased by the Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson who is hinting that she will resign if the Brexit deal gives Northern Ireland special trading terms with the EU.

In a joint letter also signed by the Scottish Secretary David Mundell, they make it clear they could not support such an agreement, and they spell out the reasons why.

“Having fought just four years ago to keep our country together, the integrity of our United Kingdom remains the single most important issue for us in these negotiations.”

Across the Irish Sea, DUP leader Arlene Foster echoes the same sentiments when she urges Mrs May to stand firm on the border issue and not to accept a “dodgy deal foisted on her by others”.

She told Mrs May that she should not make the same mistake as Mrs Thatcher, who signed the Anglo-Irish Agreement above the heads of the unionists, and later admitted that she had regretted it.

Mrs Foster has also hinted that a “no-deal” with the EU would be better than a bad deal, and this stance undoubtedly adds to the tensions all round. UUP leader Robin Swann has spoken out forcefully too, warning that: “Brussels cannot simply dismiss the potential constitutional consequences of Brexit as something they don’t have to be concerned about as part of the negotiations.”

He also accused Brussels of “playing fast and loose” with the Belfast Agreement “and the principle of consent which underpinned it”. He urged Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney and his colleagues to be mindful of this.

Certainly the Irish government has been less than fulsome in its support of the unionists, and in its statements and interventions it is obvious that Dublin has its own agenda.

There has been much talk about the Belfast Agreement in the speculations and negotiations, and many believe  that Brexit has the potential to undermine it. The peace agreement here has been hard won, and there is still a significant threat from dissident republicans, as Ronnie Armour the head of the Northern Ireland Prison Service, acknowledges in our newspaper today.

Whatever the shape of Brexit, there are stiff challenges ahead. These are made all the more difficult for Northern Ireland where we have no unified voice due to the appalling inability of our politicians to keep Stormont running. Mrs May has repeatedly emphasized her support for the Union and her opposition to a break-up of the UK. Her pledge is being sorely tested in the most difficult of circumstances, and her reassurance about the Union may be less comforting to unionists than it once seemed.

Arlene Foster is right to stress that the coming weeks are crucial, and that the decisions made “will shape the type of Northern Ireland that our grandchildren will live in”.

Given such a background it is imperative that people on all sides should lower the temperature and soften the rhetoric. Any deal which sought to redefine the Union and the current position of Northern Ireland within the UK would be most unwise.

The Good Friday Agreement enshrines the position of Northern Ireland within the UK. Anything that seeks to shift that position will not work. The decisions taken now will, for better or worse, definitively affect the future for all of us. In Northern Ireland we have had enough of our dark days.

What we badly need is a real hope for a better future for everyone.

Belfast Telegraph

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