Brexit proves we can turn anything into a sectarian issue here

Posted By: December 16, 2017

Patrick Murphy. Irish News. Belfast. Saturday, December 16, 2017 

Whatever the EU-UK Brexit agreement ultimately delivers in terms of trade, its political impact in Ireland is already clear.

It has resulted in an even greater widening of the north’s sectarian division, allowed Fine Gael to steal Sinn Féin’s political clothes and propelled Irish nationalism back to a sort of 19th-century Catholic Hibernianism (without the Church, of course).

Welcome to the unintended consequences of Brexit, when the ghost of Daniel O’Connell once again walks the land, as the Irish campaign against Britain, this time for the commercial, rather than Catholic, emancipation. Isn’t it great to be alive in such stirring times?

Like academic selection, Brexit sadly proved that we could transform anything into a sectarian issue here. Where else could international trading arrangements degenerate into such a vitriolic exchange of insults?

Only a year ago, some of today’s most anti-DUP voices were telling us how well Stormont was working, while this column was arguing that its institutionalized sectarianism meant it could never work.

Nationalism appears annoyed at the DUP’s refusal to endorse the initial Dublin-London-EU agreement. But the DUP was merely seeking electoral advantage over Jim Allister and the UUP.

The ethos of the Good Friday Agreement encourages political parties to become the sectarian cream on their side of the great divide. Despite that, some in the DUP went over the top with their sectarian abuse.

This new outbreak of naked sectarianism has reached international levels. Dublin commentators who welcomed the queen a few years ago are now barely a column away from “Brits (and the DUP) Out.” Sectarianism in Ireland is not restricted to The North.

Having recently attacked the EU for its treatment of Ireland, they depict EU leaders as “friends of Ireland,” even though none of these leaders were elected to, or even interviewed for, their posts. (It’s democracy, but not as we know it.)

A more surprising consequence of the Brexit deal was Fine Gael’s emergence as the boys of the new brigade. The party which executed 77 republican prisoners during the Civil War (53 more than the British executed in the War of Independence) has traditionally been anti-republican.

But Leo Varadkar abandoned his party’s anti-republican rhetoric and, with Simon (“a united Ireland in my lifetime”) Coveney, he embellished his case for an economically united Ireland with some traditional anti-British sentiment.

Varadkar argued for a deal on the border before EU-UK trade talks began, a smart move which worked well, leaving his all-Ireland political perspective more business-oriented than the traditional romantic Irish nationalism.

In doing so, he did to SF what it had done to the SDLP. He stole their clothes, leaving Sinn Féin sidelined during one of the most important weeks in modern Irish history.

Like Daniel O’Connell in the 19th century, Leo is now effectively the uncrowned king of Ireland. His new nationalism sees Ireland within a single European state, a form of patriotism bolstered by the fact that Britain, the auld enemy, is leaving the EU.

On his death O’Connell wanted his heart to go to Rome, his body to Ireland and his soul to heaven. Caustic observers might suggest that FG could want its heart buried in Berlin and its body on the newly discovered Border. Its last seven budgets might suggest that it does not possess a soul, in an increasingly unequal Ireland.

Despite this, some northern Nationalists have asked it to pursue equality on their behalf, just as Jack Lynch was asked to bring troops to the north in 1969. After 30 years of violence and 20 years of Stormont, we are back where we started, almost 50 wasted years ago.

The only difference is that politics here is more sectarian now than then. Northern nationalists argue that the Good Friday Agreement is not being implemented. Others might claim that it is because the GFA is being implemented that we are in this sectarian quagmire of Britain’s making.

Some say this is a nationalist uprising, but since no nationalist uprising, political or military, has succeeded in 800 years, it might have been an idea to try something different – like an Irish uprising of Catholics and Protestants (without their sectarian leaders).

Ah but, you say, Dublin’s stance on Brexit will work, because the British are stupid. Of course, they are. In fact, they are so stupid they have won every war and every peace settlement in Irish history.

And do you know how they did it? By dividing the Irish, first on a clan basis and later by religion. They are still doing it and the Irish, as always, are buying into their plan.

In this country, Brexit means the same old story.