Fionnbharr Rodgers, Contributor.
There is a certain element of the British political class which wishes to see their isle break away from the continent of Europe with such an intense zeal that a gigantic crowbar to wrench in from its continental shelf would not be beyond the scope of their desperation, even if it means Cornwall is shattered in the process and Plymouth sinks into the ocean and is eaten by a large seal. Time and again whatever stands in the way of this ambition is seen as distraction from the will of the British people, or 52% of them at least, including the Good Friday Agreement: this seems largely to be the product of a lack of understanding chemically fused with a lack of interest.
One of the frontmen of this latest revolution Daniel Hannan MEP, in an article for the Daily Telegraph, described the “original deal” of the Good Friday Agreement as having “represented a bribe to two sets of hardliners who, having opposed power-sharing, came to support it when they realised that they would be the direct beneficiaries. For 20 years, Sinn Féin and the DUP have propped each other up like two exhausted boxers in a clinch.”
It seems that Hannan is either confused or, as Fintan O’Toole suggested, “breathtakingly ignorant,” as he seems to have confused the Good Friday Agreement with the St. Andrews Agreement which came eight years later. As it stands, the “boxers” of Sinn Féin and the DUP have only been locked in this “clinch” for ten years since 2007, and even then they have stopped for a water break. The 1998 Agreement certainly has problems, and parts of it have not stood the test of the twenty years since it was signed. However, it would be rash to the point of stupidity to throw the baby out with the inter-governmental accord.
Furthermore, Hannan and the rest of the Conservative Party should tread lightly on these grounds as the only ‘hardliner’ party that opposed power-sharing in 1998 is the same one upon whose support their parliamentary majority rests, and if the subject of conversation is to be political bribery then one wonders how Hannan would describe a billion pounds to upgrade Cullybackey’s broadband package. Unlike the pact just alluded to, the Good Friday Agreement was not an indulgence in pork-barrel politics between parties looking for power, but an international peace treaty which is not only a part of the constitution of the United Kingdom but also a landmark and watershed in the fields of conflict and international human rights law.
In a recent book, also a film, by Maurice Fitzpatrick, entitled John Hume in America, which looks at the former SDLP Leader’s presence on the world stage in both the United States and Europe, Bill Clinton is quoted as saying that he always viewed the Troubles in the wider continental context.
”Keep in mind that when I started working on this, the conflict in Northern Ireland and the conflict in the Balkans, then confined to Bosnia, later getting to Kosovo, were the two things that were preventing Europe from becoming united, free and at peace for the first time since nation states arose on the continent. So I thought that it was a big deal for the emerging European Union idea and for the necessity to fight for democratic model in the aftermath of the Cold War. So I thought the ramifications of success or failure would go far beyond the borders of Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.”
The geopolitical context to the Northern Irish context is important to note, if only for the reason suggested by O’Toole in The Irish Times, that the wistful belief of Brexiteers in the fairy tale where Britain escapes the clutches of the evil empire and goes to sign wondrous trade deals with other free and democratic states, as a country that “casually tears up the most important international treaty it has signed since 1972,” not to mention one which was decades in the making, will not seem to be an ideal trading partner to any country of the world not governed by varying shades of delusion. This leads to the obvious question of what exactly the likes of Hannan, Michael Gove, and also Kate Hoey are hoping to accomplish from the ‘liberation’ of the UK from its colonial masters.
In his book Fatal Path, the late Professor of Modern History at UCD Ronan Fanning wrote that the First World War had enabled Herbert Asquith to do “what he had always wanted to do about Ireland: nothing.” It seems that this line could easily be reworked with the sentiment intact as Britain once again finds strife in Europe and will march ahead leaving Ireland, partitioned or not, in the dust.
Finally, as Leo Varadkar has pointed out, the democratic mandate for the UK withdrawal from the EU is always the foremost defence from its most stalwart supporters, yet the Good Friday Agreement was also subject to referendum, and in two jurisdictions no less, and it achieved a far larger mandate from a people with a much clearer notion of what they wanted the future to bring.