History shows you have to stand up to Unionism.

Posted By: April 12, 2023

Irish Congressional Briefing

Distributed to Congress by Irish National Caucus

“ Brian Feeney continues to speak truth to power, and no one does it better than he does. Members of Congress will find this article helpful.”—Fr. Sean Mc Manus.

History shows you have to stand up to Unionism

Has the penny dropped with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar that stability in the north depends on the Irish and British governments working “in lockstep”

Brian Feeney. Irish News. Belfast. Wednesday, April 12, 2023.


On Sunday Leo Varadkar told RTÉ that he plans to “intensify” his engagement with Rishi Sunak about operating the Windsor Framework, signed between the UK and EU, and about restoring power-sharing here.


Varadkar went on: “I’ll be intensifying my contacts with Prime Minister Sunak and the British government in particular because what we know from history is that Northern Ireland only works when the two governments work hand in hand.” He added that stability in the north depends on the Irish and British governments working “in lockstep.” Maybe the penny has finally dropped because the self-evident truth of that statement certainly didn’t seem obvious to Enda Kenny’s government from 2011 to 2017.


As they mark the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement and the simultaneous British-Irish Agreement, it may seem otiose but nonetheless necessary to point out that the GFA was fundamentally a peace agreement between Dublin and London that defined the constitutional position of the north and amended Bunreacht na hÉireann. Ditto the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement. Like it or not, the two governments are jointly responsible for peacekeeping here. They may have thought they had washed their hands of the place in 1921 but when one of them turns their back this place bites their rear.


Shamefully, the Irish government turned its back from 2010 and allowed David Cameron to renege on Britain’s role as “an honest broker,” treating both communities here with “rigorous impartiality,” as the GFA requires. Cameron made an election alliance with the UUP in 2010 – much good it did either him or the UUP, and Theresa May disgracefully did a dirty deal with the DUP in 2017 to hang onto power – much good it did either her or the DUP. Few people remember that John Major said May’s pact violated the Good Friday Agreement, but Varadkar said nothing.


However, the biggest damage done to the GFA was Brexit, again a solo run by the British government driven by nativist, Little Englander, empire loyalists in the Conservative party. Given their outlook no wonder the DUP slavered delightedly at the raw meat they dangled: a chance to roll back the Good Friday Agreement’s concepts which the DUP has never accepted; a chance to rebuild the border. As Professor Jon Tonge put it then, as a result of Brexit the GFA “is in trouble.” He pointed out that Strand Two is “predicated upon both Northern Ireland and the Republic being in the EU. Strand Two is the all-Ireland dimension.” Which is exactly why the DUP supported Brexit.


The British government, prisoners of its Brextremists, pressed on with the most extreme form of Brexit they could. They ignored its consequences for the island of Ireland, rebuffing all attempts by the Irish government and EU to warn that their version of Brexit required a customs border and, given the all-island economy, it could only be in the Irish Sea. Finally, in October 2019 Boris Johnston accepted that reality and told Varadkar that the all-island economy would not just “keep functioning” but would also “deepen”. Johnson also confirmed to Varadkar he could state that publicly.


Now here’s why it’s essential that relations between the two governments must ‘intensify’. Sunak talks about enhancing prosperity in the north. Fair enough, but he needs to accept that can only happen by deepening north-south trade and services (not included in the Windsor Framework). All-island trade has grown with the protocol and is now running at around €10 billion. The British economy is in decline with a GDP 4-5 percent below where it would have been without the disastrous Brexit. Economic growth in the north depends on developing links to the modern dynamic growing economy in the south with its corporation tax half that of the UK.


The DUP will resist any and all efforts to profit from these facts, but the two governments must face them down. History shows you have to stand up to unionism.