Simon Coveney’s nonsensical remarks show lack of understanding of the north

Posted By: July 24, 2019

On Monday the tánaiste, Simon Coveney, said: “We are all working together to ensure we get the devolved institutions up and running again and I think a new British prime minister will be committed to that too.’’

To quote the new British prime minister in a reference to one of his marital indiscretions, that is “an inverted pyramid of piffle”. Complete poppycock. It is as far from political or absolute reality as the statements the new British prime minister makes about a Brexit deal before Halloween.

If Coveney has nothing better to say then he should say nothing instead of clinging to the wreckage the British government has wreaked of the three sets of relations which form the basis of the Good Friday Agreement: between the two communities here, between north and south, and between Britain and the Republic.

Coveney compounded his nonsensical remarks by adding that if the new British prime minister negotiates an update of the confidence and supply deal with the DUP, ‘that is a matter for the two parties, it is not a matter for us’. That is more codswallop, besides being a contradiction of his previous balderdash. Of course, it’s a matter for the Irish government. Everything that affects the north is, and has been, by the terms of the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement superseded by the 1998 British-Irish Agreement.

One of the fundamental reasons there won’t be a return to a devolved administration here is that Confidence and Supply deal with the Conservative party which gives one party in the Assembly a special position over all the others. Incidentally, Jeffrey Donaldson on the BBC Today program on Monday erroneously claimed the deal as being with ‘the British government’. It’s not; as described in the Cabinet Office Policy Paper updated March 22, it’s with the Conservative party to keep it in office for the duration of this parliament. Indeed it’s a moot point if the Conservative party could commit the government to spend any money on such a deal.

Anyway, back to Coveney’s nonsense. Not only does the dirty deal give the DUP a special position in the Assembly, it gives that party an advantage in negotiations, especially negotiations chaired by a necessarily partisan British proconsul, not just the present woefully inadequate incumbent.

Let’s spell it out in very simple words for Coveney. The DUP doesn’t have to agree to anything because they can always say: “If you insist on having this in new executive rules, then we won’t support you in the House of Commons.” Geddit? That’s without even mentioning the unresolved matters of RHI, Nama, etc, etc. Or the fact that the DUP doesn’t want an Assembly election because they will lose out to Alliance due to Brexit. Or, why should the DUP MPs give up their temporary ascendancy in Westminster?

Furthermore, Coveney’s harping on about a devolved administration buys into the naive belief that restoring an executive will solve The North’s financial problems. It won’t. The British block grant has been inexorably run down since 2011. Any minister coming in would have hundreds of millions of pounds less to spend on education or health than were available in 2017.

Now you can understand, given the time that’s in it, why Coveney doesn’t want to offend the British government by saying the stasis here is their fault and theirs alone, but why does he think he should persistently take the same line as the British and blame the natives?

Finally, and above all, there’s Brexit. Why the tánaiste thinks Sinn Féin would be daft enough to seal a deal before the dust has settled after Brexit is a mystery only exceeded by Micheál Martin’s exceptionally stupid suggestion at the McGill summer school that if Sinn Féin went into a new executive they could influence the British government’s handling of Brexit.

Like the Scottish government did maybe? Makes you wonder if Irish politicians know anything about The North.