Foster resorting to megaphone trolling

Posted By: November 22, 2017

John Manley, Irish News. Belfast. Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Speak privately to senior DUP members and they’ll tell you that in common with everybody else, they never expected the Leave campaign to be successful. Therefore they never had a plan for Brexit. That’s forgivable to a degree, but 18 months after the EU referendum you might expect that they and their allies in Downing Street would have a better idea of how this situation is going to pan out.

Publicly, the party echoes the calls of the agrifood sector and the wider industry, insisting they don’t want a hard border. But they also insist there can be no frontier in the Irish Sea with checks on goods traveling between Northern Ireland and Britain.

As time goes by,  suspicions grow that they would be happy with a scorched earth policy that sees an insular Northern Ireland reminiscent of the pre-Troubles era, largely reliant on British goodwill.

While they are entitled to be Eurosceptic and be suspicious of Dublin, the Brexiteers in The North and in Britain should be supporting their rhetoric with solutions, proposals on how this potentially vicious circle can be squared.

Not everything they table will be palatable to the EU27, but the nature of negotiations means they begin with a premise from either side rather than a shrug.

So into this mire steps Arlene Foster, the leader who is increasingly outflanked by her Westminster MPs, but who is keen to make an impression ahead of this weekend’s DUP conference.

Typically, on her exit from Downing Street, Mrs. Foster attacked Sinn Féin for being… well, Sinn Féin, by highlighting how Martin McGuinness had an IRA past at its weekend ard fheis. Let’s not forget this was the same man with whom she published a joint platform a year ago when the two were in power together.

Perhaps less typical was the criticism of Leo Varadkar, with whom the DUP has enjoyed a reasonably good relationship to date. The Taoiseach was accused of being “reckless” and warned not to “play around” with Northern Ireland over Brexit.

The Fine Gael leader had merely stressed the need to get a hard border “off the table” before moving to the next phase of negotiations. This is a sentiment shared by most across the island but the DUP leader appears too quick to fall in behind those who would be content to drive off a cliff.

For many, Mr. Varadkar is the foremost voice in airing the concerns of Irish people about potentially seismic consequences of Brexit. If Mrs. Foster genuinely desires a soft border she would be better advocating positive proposals rather than resorting to megaphone trolling.