Sinn Féin on rocky EU-Gibraltar ground

Posted By: April 08, 2017

Sinn Féin on rocky EU-Gibraltar ground
Patrick Murphy. Irish News. Belfast. Saturday, April 8, 2017
The European Union is showing an interesting difference in post-Brexit policy between its attitude to Spain in relation to Gibraltar and its attitude to Ireland in relation to the north.

Gibraltar, it says, cannot be included in a trade deal between London and Brussels without Spain’s agreement. But the EU has not said that Britain will require Dublin’s consent to include the north in any deal it might make with Brussels

One reason for the EU’s attitude may be that whereas The North is part of the UK, Gibraltar is a colony. However, a more significant reason might be that Spain still claims ownership of Gibraltar, but Dublin abandoned its territorial claim over The North at the time of the Good Friday Agreement (GFA).

(Tacit EU support for Spain’s territorial claim over Gibraltar has led the Daily Mail to call for a British armada to defend the crown colony. That may prove difficult, because for at least one week earlier this year; the British were unable to put a single attack submarine to sea.)

So the EU supports Spain, as one of its members, in making life difficult for Britain. Ireland, however, has been pledged nothing more than a soft Border (which is still a border) because Irish nationalists accepted the political legitimacy of partition in 1998.

That leaves the EU with a weakened political case for opposing Britain’s Brexit policy on The North.

So,  is there a case for arguing that at least some elements of the Good Friday Agreement are adding to our forthcoming, post-Brexit problems? Such an argument would be remarkably unpopular among Irish nationalists.

Traditionally Nationalism was based on a combination of God and Ireland. While God is hanging on in this country, the concept of the Irish nation has gone. Nationalism’s two new pillars are the Good Friday Agreement and the European Union. Like God and Ireland in a previous generation, criticism of either is seen as a sin.

The concept of the Irish nation was traded off in the GFA in return for Nationalists achieving power-sharing in Stormont. However, gaining limited power in the Executive turned out to be the equivalent of selling off the family cow in return for five magic beans. As Sinn Féin recently discovered, the beans did not work.

Almost 4,000 people died here in an effort to remove the Border. Now Nationalists merely argue over what sort of border we should have. Sinn Féin MEP, Martina Anderson, recently suggested that Theresa May might like to place the Border in an odd anatomical location.

Had Mrs. May been minded to move the debate from physiology to politics, she might have politely pointed out that the Border is no longer Britain’s, it is now in the proud possession of the Irish.

(Ms. Anderson’s remarks were an interesting sound-bite. That’s the point about the Irish: for 800 years they have won the war of words, but the British won all the wars. They won every peace deal too.)

If nationalist criticism of the GFA is a sin, the adverse comment about the EU is heresy. While there is a strong argument for remaining within the common customs area, it is difficult to understand the Nationalist case for Ireland becoming absorbed into a single European state.

Apart from closing off the aspiration of Irish independence, it ties Ireland to a foreign policy which threatens its neutrality and to economic policies, some of which recently decimated the Irish economy

Despite that, Sinn Féin MEP, Matt Carthy, wrote this week of “horrified” northern citizens being “dragged out” of the EU, even though it is in economic decline, with increasing unemployment and three of its member states face economic collapse.

Nationalism now finds that the twin pillars of EU membership and the Good Friday Agreement do not sit easily together. With Brexit looming, the second is impacting on the first. Up to now, nationalists have not queried the apparent infallibility of either.

Instead, they have argued for the difficult option of accommodating both, by securing special economic (but not political) status for The North.

Will that continue? Or is there a chance that in the current Stormont negotiations, SF might argue for some aspects of the GFA to be re-visited? We will have to wait and see, but there appear to be more items on the table this time than in previous talks.

Such a move might prompt the EU to look on The North in the same light as Gibraltar, giving Ireland more negotiating clout on The North. The downside, of course, is that we would risk being invaded by the Daily Mail.