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8 May 2017

Ignore Sinn Fein's mischief making about a border poll that hardly anyone wants

Gerry Adams talks a lot about Brexit for party advantage, but no one sensible listens, writes Ruth Dudley Edwards

Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams
Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams

The phrase ‘Skibbereen Eagle’ was shorthand in my family for any pronouncement by a self-important person on matters way beyond their grasp.

The reference was to a newspaper produced in west Cork that took itself very seriously. 

In 1898 it famously promised to “keep its eye on the Emperor of Russia”.

In 1914 it went further: “We give this solemn warning to Kaiser Wilhelm: The Skibbereen Eagle has its eye on you.”  

Often when I read or listen to Gerry Adams commenting portentously on matters beyond his understanding, like international affairs or the economy, I think of the Eagle.  

He’s now got the bit between his teeth over Brexit, denouncing every major non-Sinn Fein politician in these islands as heartless, stupid or weak, but it’s all whistling in the wind.

Had the Executive been back in business, its views on Brexit negotiations could have carried weight in Dublin, London and Brussels, but for his own reasons, Adams decided to wreck the talks.

He’s been talking up the significance of the EU statement on Irish unity.

His purpose — as if you didn’t know — is to alarm unionists and fire up nationalists.  

Mr Adams is a wrecker. It’s what he does.  

Here’s what the European Council said on April 29: “The European Council acknowledges that the Good Friday Agreement expressly provides for an agreed mechanism whereby a united Ireland may be brought about through peaceful and democratic means; and, in this regard, the European Council acknowledges that, in accordance with international law, the entire territory of such a united Ireland would thus be part of the European Union”. 

That — being a statement of the bleeding obvious — is of no importance whatsoever.

What mattered was the relevant paragraph in the EU guidelines for Brexit negotiations issued the same day.

“The Union has consistently supported the goal of peace and reconciliation enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement in all its parts”, it began, “and continuing to support and protect the achievements, benefits and commitments of the Peace Process will remain of paramount importance.”

It continued encouragingly: “In view of the unique circumstances on the island of Ireland, flexible and imaginative solutions will be required, including with the aim of avoiding a hard border, while respecting the integrity of the Union legal order.”

Further, it ended: “In this context, the Union should also recognise existing bilateral agreements and arrangements between the United Kingdom and Ireland which are compatible with EU law.”

So like the British government, the Irish government and almost everyone on the island of Ireland, the EU wants to maintain as much of the status quo as possible (no visible ‘hard border’, Common Travel Area and so on).

No party of any significance other than Sinn Fein wants a border poll in the foreseeable future.

Consider what Bertie Ahern said a week ago.

Mr Ahern has been out of politics since financial scandal forced his resignation from Fianna Fail in 2012, but he’s a politician in every atom of his being, and has unrivalled experience in the corridors of power in Brussels as well as in negotiations over Northern Ireland.

 “No, it’s not [a big deal]. It’s a fact of life,” he said on radio of the EU statement about the Good Friday Agreement being an international agreement.

More significantly, he said: “The idea of a border poll... was put there when I was conceding articles two and three of the constitution and we were giving up the territorial right of the north and I wanted to copper-fasten in that if the day came where on the principle of consent people in the north — of all traditions — voted for a united Ireland then we would have an agreement on that.” However: “It was not for some kind of a sectarian vote or a day that the nationalists and republicans could outvote the unionists and loyalists... if you want trouble again in the north play that game. It’s a dangerous game.” 

All decent southern Irish politicians will agree with Mr Ahern.

What’s more, there’s no appetite for a united Ireland among the people of the Republic.

They’ve quite enough to worry about with Brexit.

Ignore the mischief making Sinn Fein Skibbereen Eagle. 

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.

The paperback of Ruth Dudley Edwards’ The Seven: The Lives And Legacies Of The Founding Fathers Of The Irish Republic will be published on April 23.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards