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10 October 2016

Leave Gerry Adams to indulge in token protests, it is others who are grafting for best Brexit deal

Sinn Fein's writhing over EU exit is in stark contrast to the efforts of others to make it work

Arlene Foster met with Prime Minister Theresa May last week
Arlene Foster met with Prime Minister Theresa May last week

Sinn Fein seem to be having trouble getting their activists out on the streets these days. Despite Gerry Adams’s stirring YouTube call to protest last Saturday afternoon in any of six border locations - Fermanagh-Leitrim between Belcoo and Blacklion, Carrickcarnon on the Louth-Armagh border, Moybridge between Tyrone and Monaghan, Aghalane Bridge between Fermanagh and Cavan, Lifford Bridge between Tyrone and Donegal, and at Bridgend between Londonderry and Donegal - only a few hundred turned up.

There was a bit of street theatre, in the shape of a few mock customs checkpoints.

“We want to stop the re-imposition of those border posts,” said Border Communities Against Brexit spokesman Declan Fearon, leading a protest in Carrickcarnon.

I looked up Declan, who has form as the chairperson of the South Armagh Farmers and Residents Committee, which at the turn-of-the-century used to campaign for an end to “British militarisation”.

These days, he seems to be some kind of seanchai, one of those traditional Irish storytellers employed by tribal chieftains to tell tales of past suffering and glory.

“In many cases,” Fearon explained, such posts “divided people’s farms, they divided communities and parishes. Young people nowadays have never known of that.”

Young people nowadays — if they have enough interest to do a quick Google search — will swiftly learn that there was a hard border between the 1960s and late 1990s solely because the IRA were murdering people in Northern Ireland and skipping across the border.

So trying to stir up a panic about its re-imposition is a lot of republican guff and an excuse for outbursts of Anglophobia.

Anyway it’s good news that Sinn Fein followers seem to have found better ways to use their time than to stand in the rain as superannuated politicians instruct them about imaginary new grievances.

Many of them weren’t even prepared to turn out in June to vote Remain, perhaps because they were confused that for more than 40 years Sinn Fein had been anti-EU.

That reliable weathervane, MEP Martina Anderson, who had championed the Greek left-wing Syriza in its unsuccessful battle against EU bullies, had been denouncing “anti-democratic actions of the ECB, IMF, and the European Commission” until Sinn Fein’s U-turn, but is now in the forefront of those whipping up opposition to “the British government’s plans to drag us out of Europe against our democratically expressed position”.

Fortunately, in addition to angry speeches, expensive taxpayer-funded legal action, limp street protests, and such other pointless initiatives from bad referendum losers, there are plenty of sensible politicians and public servants in Dublin, Belfast and London working quietly on the best outcome for the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland.

Charlie Flanagan, the Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs, has been a tough enemy of paramilitaries throughout his career and has no time for republican posturing.

He has stamped on any possibility of a border poll and also refuses to contemplate having a Brexit Minister, for when it comes to an issue of such vital importance for the Republic, the whole government has to be involved.

He and Taoiseach Enda Kenny have been having meetings with British and EU counterparts and are convinced there is a common desire “to protect the invisible border” which we’ve had since the IRA caved in.

What’s more, dramatic advances in information technology are increasingly making physical borders an irrelevance.

For her part, First Minister Arlene Foster is being as level-headed as her Dublin and London counterparts.

She has to deal with the problem that her deputy has at present an unhappy dual role as Northern Ireland ship-steadier and anti-Brexit rabble-rouser, so as far as possible she’s leaving him to get on with it. She was right to refuse to get involved in the all-Ireland forum but, with Martin McGuinness, will, we hope, be using the North South Ministerial Council as the right vehicle to deal with the unprecedented problems posed by Brexit.

In Mrs Foster’s friendly chat with Prime Minister Theresa May at the Conservative Party conference, it will have been very clear that for a Tory government with a working majority of 16, support from the eight DUP MPs will be worth a lot more than populist posturing by yesterday’s men.

Ruth Dudley Edwards’ The Seven: The Lives And Legacies Of The Founding Fathers Of The Irish Republic, was published by Oneworld Publications on March 22.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards