​“Ireland’s difficulty is England’s opportunity,” said Arlene Foster with a grin as she introduced me on GB News on Sunday morning.

Published: 6 May 2024

Arlene was jokingly inverting the old rallying cry of Irish nationalists that ‘England’s difficulty is Ireland’s opportunity’.She had invited me to discuss the latest Anglo-Irish row — the one about substantial numbers of immigrants coming freely from Northern Ireland into the Republic— which is embarrassing the Irish establishment mightily and has their English equivalents trying not to laugh out loud.

That might seem unfriendly, but after all the insults and ridicule that came eastwards after Brexit, it was not an unreasonable response.

What’s happening now is a farce. As the commentator Gail Walker put it neatly the other day, what has now ensued on this front is that “years of diplomatic slanging and wrangling and frankly dangerous talk, has ended up with the Irish policing a border they insisted shouldn’t exist”.

I wrote here a couple of weeks ago that giving access to a flood of asylum seekers was an example of the traditional lack of interest shown by the Irish in the law of unintended consequences, which this time were “potentially catastrophic”.

Well, folks. We’re close to that. The Irish government is panicking. And for good reason.

In short, because it appears that some of these immigrants are coming south because the poor devils fear being deported by the UK to Rwanda, Brit-blaming is rampant and the cabinet has rapidly changed its mind about two hitherto sacrosanct pillars of its Brexit negotiating strategy.

Out goes the insistence on an open border that created so much bad feeling with unionists and landed Northern Ireland with the profoundly destabilising invisible one in the Irish Sea. Thanks, Leo Varadkar! Out too goes the insistence that there can be no bilateral talks: all must be conducted with the EU bloc.

Irish negotiators, famous for their charm, ruthlessness and brilliant playing of the victim card, secured the upholding of both these principles in Brussels and Washington as vital for peace in Ireland: UK negotiators were bullied or hoodwinked into accepting them.

There was much smirking about this victory in Irish and Irish-American corridors of power. However, now the Irish government seems keen to do a complete volte face, check immigrants at what used to be the border and sort out a deal with the British government without interference from the EU. The UK, however, say a key player has to be the French.

I’d love to know what they’re saying about this in Washington. President Joe Biden, who is temperamentally a ‘let-‘em-all-in’ kind of a guy, is likely to be taken aback when the State Department tells him about the anti-immigrant anger, arson and violence going on in his beloved ‘Ireland of the Welcomes’.

Of all the reams of news and commentary I’ve read on in the past week or so, the most memorable was by John McGuirk, the editor of the on-line Gript Media, which I’ve recommended here before. It was set up as “a platform for views which challenge establishment thinking”.

I came into journalism because the mainstream media were largely marching in lockstep over uncritical backing for the peace process: few stood up to terrorism. And Mr McGuirk is right in his claim that the Irish media in its present incarnation is no more inclined to facilitate debate.

I read Gript for information I don’t get elsewhere, on, for instance, the opinions of rural Paddy and Patricia rather than Dublin 4 liberals. Hence Gript readers were not thunderstruck when two progressive referendum proposals were thrown out by an electorate that did not like their undermining of the family.

Mr McGuirk’s article was headlined ‘Why voters shouldn’t fall for the latest ‘Blame the Britis’ bullshit’. While the Rwanda deal had been denounced as evil, stupid and anyway prohibited in the EU, Gript reveals that although Denmark is happily in the EU, it has already done a similar deal: unlike Ireland, it retains the right “to say ‘no’ to the worst excesses of EU policy”.

Here’s another Gript revelation: “People are not coming to Ireland on foot of UK immigration policy. They are coming to Ireland on foot of Irish immigration policy.” It’s become a softer touch even than the UK.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

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