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Editor's Viewpoint

Parties must put all energies into getting us best trading deal

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'Our three MEPs no longer have a job in Europe but they, along with the Assembly and Executive, should have a role in determining how the best interests of Northern Ireland will be served in the important trade negotiations beginning in March and, possibly, ending on December 31 this year' (stock photo)

'Our three MEPs no longer have a job in Europe but they, along with the Assembly and Executive, should have a role in determining how the best interests of Northern Ireland will be served in the important trade negotiations beginning in March and, possibly, ending on December 31 this year' (stock photo)

PA Archive/PA Images

'Our three MEPs no longer have a job in Europe but they, along with the Assembly and Executive, should have a role in determining how the best interests of Northern Ireland will be served in the important trade negotiations beginning in March and, possibly, ending on December 31 this year' (stock photo)

Tonight we leave the European Union and our politicians will enter the world of realpolitik. What was really a sham fight over Brexit - English nationalism was always going to trump the national interests of the surrounding Celtic nations - is now hopefully behind us, along with the toxic debate it engendered.

Our three MEPs no longer have a job in Europe but they, along with the Assembly and Executive, should have a role in determining how the best interests of Northern Ireland will be served in the important trade negotiations beginning in March and, possibly, ending on December 31 this year.

It is imperative that the local politicians - whether they were in favour of leaving the EU or staying in - accept the reality of life now and attempt to recapture the spirit of co-operation which Arlene Foster and Martin McGuinness outlined in a letter to Theresa May in 2016.

They wrote "this is too big, too serious for us not to be joined up in how we take this process forward", and pledged "to protect the interests of the people we represent".

Of course, that spirit disappeared in spectacular fashion, bringing the devolved administration crashing down for three years, and it is only now resurrected.

In her platform piece in today's newspaper First Minister Mrs Foster has echoed some of the spirit of her 2016 letter and acknowledged that while constitutional aspirations remain mutually exclusive, there are real day-to-day issues to be sorted out for the good of everyone, irrespective of political allegiance, and that can best be achieved by all the parties working to a common agenda.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill of Sinn Fein has a different view of the new reality facing the parties. She sees Brexit as an opportunity to press for Irish unity.

While that is an entirely legitimate aspiration, to call for an early border poll will hardly convince unionists that Sinn Fein's commitment to power-sharing is anything but temporary.

She is right to argue that a no-deal exit come December would be disastrous for the province and local politicians must use their combined influences to attempt to prevent that happening.

A reality the politicians have to face is that their stock with the public has never been lower. People want to see them make a difference and that can only be achieved by the parties working in concert.

Of course, issues of identity and nationality will always be with us, but it would be foolish of either of the two big blocs, the DUP and Sinn Fein, to keep playing their Orange and Green cards when the economy, the health service, education and infrastructure are all in a parlous state.

They have neither the time nor the energy to spare on arguments over the Union or Irish unity if they are to make Northern Ireland a place fit for all its citizens to live in.

In any case, they may well find that erstwhile unionist friends at Westminster or nationalist friends in the Republic want nothing to do with our ancient squabbles, which will only divert their attention from the job of sorting out the Brexit divorce settlement.

And that is where our attention should also be, getting the best possible deal for Northern Ireland in any new trading arrangements between the UK and EU and maximising our existing unique advantages over access to the EU without tariffs on certain goods.

Anything which could bring new inward investment should be taken advantage of to bolster our ailing economy.

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