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Ian Paisley: Ireland's in denial and should follow the UK's example


Ian Paisley

Ian Paisley

Ian Paisley

Brexit and the Irish question have together brought about some unexpected anomalies. On the one hand, Sinn Fein, the once anti-European party, is now made up of arch-Europhiles.

Its members made a gamble that the UK would vote to remain and that they would be on the right side of the argument post-June 2016. That backfired when the UK voted to leave.

On the other hand, unionist farmers across Northern Ireland, who according to some benefited most from the European subsidy package, strongly voted in favour of Brexit.

Unionists in general, whose very state is defined by partition, have been adamant that Brexit will protect the soft border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

Meanwhile, nationalist parties North and South have been vocally complaining about a hard border that has not arrived and is unlikely to appear unless the Republic of Ireland really wants it.

The fact is that there is a border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. Smuggling along this border has been occurring ever since price and product differentials made it worthwhile.

The entire might of the Army, police and customs officers, both during and after the Troubles, has been unequal to the task of stopping the smugglers' activities, and frankly I don't see that changing fast.

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On the practical point of border policing and customs arrangements, is the Republic seriously telling us that, at the bidding of the EU post-Brexit, it will erect a physical border with customs posts, security posts and all the other apparatus?

The UK has no interest in building such a division, either along the border or at certain key roads. The opportunity to craft the reality of Brexit into a business advantage appears to be lost on the politicians of the Republic of Ireland. Shouting about how bad Brexit is for the border is not a coherent policy of dealing with what is occurring.

The Republic of Ireland is in total denial about Brexit. It is happening - and fast - and the Republic needs to adopt a much more realistic position.

Demanding that the UK cede territorial and constitutional ground by excluding a piece of its territory, namely Northern Ireland, from Brexit in a so-called special status deal is not the answer. Rather, the Republic should be seeking from the EU26 a special status for itself.

Given that over 60% of the Republic's goods and services are traded with the UK and that a significant proportion of the remainder is traded with the US, it is the Republic that requires a special status within the EU.

In fact, the Republic could play things to its advantage by arguing that, in the post-Brexit EU, it should be the lynchpin in the relationship between the EU26 and the UK.

But it has so far failed even to recognise that it needs to change tactics, let alone adopt a strategy to milk Brexit for all it is worth.

Although the Republic won what it thought was an early success in having the border centre stage of the negotiations, the issue is now an albatross around the neck, choking progressive political conversation about the nature of the new relationship.

In-depth conversations and negotiations about the trading relationship, which is the most important platform to the Republic of Ireland, are thus being avoided.

It is about time that the Irish allowed a new national conversation to begin and that they at least considered what it would be like to exit the EU along with the UK.

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