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The Irish Sea Border, Brought To You By The DUP

It’s somewhat ironic that one of the worst newspapers in the country, the editorially repugnant News Letter, is also home to one of the best journalists in the country, the indefatigable Sam McBride. The publication’s long-time political correspondent and author of the go-to account of the complex “cash-for-ash” scandal in the Six Counties has thankfully avoided the extremist mindset and rhetoric that has come to characterise the hardline unionist title he works for. Instead he continues to offer thoughtful and well-informed insight into the nitty-gritty of Stormont politics. Or what passes for politics in the institutionally dysfunctional cross-community assembly outside of Belfast.

With all the focus on the global pandemic and subsequent national and regional lockdowns, the minutiae of the ongoing Brexit – or more correctly Trexit (transition exit) – negotiations between the United Kingdom and the European Union are being lost. However as McBride notes, the overlooked effects of the UK leaving the EU are already being felt in the British outpost on this island.

…this week we saw some of the first direct impact of how the Irish Sea border on our lives – and what is now a trickle of cost and bureaucracy is likely to soon be a flood.

…the academic Vivian Gravey was among the Northern Irish customers of Welsh gardening company Real Seeds who received an email from the firm to say: “Sadly, due to the way that the new UK seed laws will come into play next year, we will not be able to ship seed to Northern Ireland, as it will not be possible for us (or any GB seed company) to issue a plant passport suitable for posting seed to NI”.

Another company, the Agroforestry Research Trust, issued a similar note saying that it would no longer sell plants to Northern Ireland.

Last week BBC Spotlight broadcast an insightful programme by John Campbell – a journalist who demonstrably understands Brexit better than the vast majority of our politicians – which set out the practical implications of the Irish Sea border.

He explained that when goods come to Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK, in legal terms it will be as though they are entering the EU from a foreign country…

[There is] … the possibility would be supermarkets such as Tesco continuing to trade in Northern Ireland, but stocking their shelves with products from Tesco Ireland rather than GB – because trading across the Irish border would be seamless, while trading with GB would be expensive and bureaucratic.

If Brexit means we all pay more, while struggling to see the benefits, and pushes us towards all-island harmonisation in myriad areas, what will that do for the DUP in the short term and for the Union in the longer term?

An excellent question. As many commentators have noted, and consistent polling has confirmed, most members of the Conservative Party and its voters have little to no attachment to “Northern Ireland” and would gladly wave goodbye to the troublesome final remnant of Greater England’s first and last colony. And some suspect that many in Downing Street, including premier Boris Johnson and his closest advisor Dominic Cummings, share that view.

While Brexit may represent a dramatic break with Britain’s recent relations with Europe in some ways it could partly be seen as a continuation of Britain’s slow retreat from the island of Ireland. A staggered withdrawal that began spectacularly in 1921, stalled for decades, and then was given renewed impetus from 1966 onwards, with accelerations in 1985 and 1998, and now most obviously in everything that as happened since 2016.

So, what indeed will the DUP or the more hardline elements of the unionist community in general do as events overtake them? Events they played a significant part in setting in motion in the first place.

17 comments on “The Irish Sea Border, Brought To You By The DUP

  1. Jams O'Donnell

    It just goes to show that everything – even the DUP – is good for something in the end. So that’s where imperialism, sectarianism, intransigence, violence and stubbornness get you to eventually – to exactly where you didn’t want and swore you never would go. And of course this is just the beginning – reunification is the inevitable finale.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jams O'Donnell

      I forgot to add ‘bigotry’ too.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Stubbornness is not an inherently bad trait at all. You could just as well say women’s suffragists, labor unionists, nuclear freezers, the climatologists who sought to make global warming and ozone depletion known, and all the political movement that ever sought independence from the UK for any country were awfully stubborn- You could really say of Ireland’s Independence movement that they were stubborn. Despite 800 years and the failed Easter Rising and they didn’t give up!!! You could call Gandhi’s nonviolent revolution a particularly stubborn.

      As for sectarianism? I wish I could say it was the exception rather than the rule for a county to have some degree of that problem.


  2. As someone who lives in the North, I agree wholeheartedly with this piece. I would add that more than 50% of unionists voted Remain in the EU referendum, but the DUP ploughed on regardless, bolstered no doubt by the small fortune they received from a still-anonymous donor.
    The question is, with the modern insatiable 24-hour news cycle, proper journalism in the state it’s in, and people generally seeming to have the collective memory span of a goldfish, will they pay an electoral price? Some form of viable alternative would be necessary for this to happen, but it’s hard to identify one. The Ulster Unionists are a confused and confusing bunch, all over the place on issues, afraid to stray any distance from DUP positions. The Alliance are, well the Alliance Party – all things to all people, but never really anything you can put your finger on.


    • It’s difficult to see where mainstream political unionism in Ireland can go. You have Peter Robinson for the umpteenth time calling for a new unionist forum or united campaign to meet the challenge of a possible (or likely) border poll in the near future, and again advocating for unionist parties to reach out to non-aligned voters, but hardly anyone listens bar the usual pro-union lobbyists in SO’T and BelTel.
      Then you Poots doing his Fenian flu version of Trump’s Chinese flu.
      Plus you have the TUV apparently eating into the DUP vote while the Alliance plays the Orange card whenever it suits to absorb more pro-union votes.
      And Alex Kane sounding the death knell of the GFA and convinced we are on the precipice of some profound political change in the north. But one that will further disadvantage unionism even if it is not quite the 32 County Republic this time around.
      And I’d add Micheál Martin, apparently influenced by the politically odious Eoghan Harris if the speculation in media circles is true, a sort of wannabe Dominic Cummings, pushing hard against the inevitable.
      Which reminds one of former Fine Gael Taoiseach John Bruton during the early stages of the peace process earning his “Union Jack Bruton” nickname because of his opposition to the rolling political and constitutional tide bubbling up in the north. Who was also guided by Harris. To his political doom. In Ireland, anyway.
      All of which is to say, uncertain times lie just ahead in relation to partition. And reunification.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I’m not sure where you get your figures from, but over 50% of unionists did not vote to remain in the E.U. An analysis carried out by Queen’s University, Belfast came to the conclusion that 66% of unionists voted leave, as compared to 12% of nationalists, in other words two thirds of unionists voted leave. All the most unionist constituencies in N.I. voted leave, i.e. all three Antrim constituencies, east Belfast, Strangford and Upper Bann, the exception being North Down, where an essentially middle class vote allowed remain to win by just over 2,000 votes. The blame for putting a border down the Irish Sea rests firmly with Theresa May and Boris Johnson, though the D.U.P. were, of course, very foolish to put any trust in these people, particularly the latter. One of the fundamental, foundational pillars of the Good Friday Agreement has been demolished by agreeing to such a border, but who cares about that when its been demolished in your favour.


      • I’m well aware of the Queens University “analysis” you quote from. I’m also aware, though you may not be, that it was totally discredited almost upon publication (it actually was taken from a poll of just 4,000 people). I may be wrong here, but I think even the guy who put his name to it has since disowned it. The figures can’t be anywhere near reconciled with the turnout, constituency returns, and demographic breakdowns.

        My figures come from an actual in-depth analysis by Liverpool University, as opposed to a glorified opinion poll, and are readily borne out by even a cursory glance at the constituency votes.

        Here’s a small sample:
        East Belfast voted Leave, as you say, but by a mere 1,700 vote majority
        On the other hand, Belfast South, another unionist stronghold, voted Remain by a whopping 17,000 vote majority
        In South Antrim, it was Leave by a mere 560 votes
        Even East Londonderry, Gregory Campbell’s stronghold, voted Remain by a 1,700 majority

        Any unionist constituency that voted Leave did so by a tiny margin, except for North Antrim where the Leave majority was 12,000. But that was more than offset by the 17,000 Remain majority in Belfast South.

        The turnout across the constituencies averaged about 65%. Except, notably, in West Belfast, a nationalist stronghold (and then some) which recorded only a 49% turnout.

        On the constituency figures alone, it would have been mathematically impossible for 66% of unionists to have voted Leave. Moreover, it would have been mathematically impossible (on that turnout) for Remain to win by 56% to 44% if 66% of unionists voted Leave .

        Liverpool University’s in-depth analysis found that at least 53% of unionists who came out to vote, voted Remain.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I see where you’re coming from in all of that. But I’ll throw in a few random thoughts that might be of interest.
    We do well in life generally, never mind in our own particular situation, to resist the very human temptation/tendency to see large groups of people as homogenous blocks. (I fight against this tendency often, and often fail.) For instance, I know republicans who are as deeply sectarian as their opposite numbers on the unionist side, but do they in any way represent a critical mass within republicanism? In my experience they do not. By the same token I know many unionists who despise sectarianism. Now, here’s the first point I was getting to: Do not take as read that those unionists who shout the loudest and threaten, and consequently get the most airtime and newspaper space, are necessarily representative of all of those they claim to speak on behalf of. Since Brexit, in particular, and the election of this Johnston administration in general, many “small u” unionists friends of mine, without any encouragement or questioning from me, have expressed to me a deep and growing frustration with the UK, and a warming to the notion of a unitary Irish state. People who would never before in their lives have thought this way, never mind talked about it. How representative are these people? I don’t know, but I sense there may be more of them than we think.
    Related to that, Martin may well be under the influence of Harris – after all, that’s exactly how Harris works. But then again, he may not be. He may have decided that, rather than scare off the type of unionists I have described by acting and making the sorts of noises unionism would expect from a FF leader, and thereby play into the hands of unionist hardliners, it’s better (ie smarter and potentially far more productive) to court rather than to bluster/threaten etc. If/when a unitary state is achieved, that’s when the real work will start, as Martin well knows.
    generally speaking, tipping points are often reached without much if any prior warning – the causes and movements recognised only with the luxury of hindsight. I for one think if the Johnston administration continues to perform as badly as to date and, irrespective of that, if Brexit is even half as damaging as predicted, we may well be headed towards a tipping point in the North.

    On Harris exerting influence, it was not for nothing that I said in a recent thread that a line in a article – something about Ireland’s “own bad boys and bad girls” – looked to me as though it had been written by someone other than the article’s supposed author.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I meant to add, just as there were many, many nationalists in name only in the North pre-Brexit (and not all of them young people) so too were there many, many unionists in name only. Taken together, these were people who were content with the status quo, whether the executive was sitting or not, being as Irish/British/European as they pleased, whenever it suited their particular purposes.
      Brexit brought an end to all of that. It was seismic shock to the system, made all the harder to take because it came against the democratically expressed wishes of a majority of the people here who voted.
      Consequently, people have been forced to make a choice. Either choose to sail along with Johnston’s and Cummings’ Little Englander project, despite the cost (about which the only thing that can be reasonably predicted at this point is that it will be extremely high), or start looking for something more appealing. Something akin to what was snatched away from them against their will. As I say, I think there are indications which direction things will ultimately go.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Yeah that rings very true Tamam about NINOs and UINOs. It’s not that they’re not nationalists or unionists in a broad adherence to those positions but that functionally on a day to day basis that was exactly relevant, or perhaps a better way of putting it is actionable. But Brexit did make it relevant – as you say it was the seismic shock to the system.


        • Yes, WorldbyStorm, there’s a general impression that people in the North spend most of their waking hours ruminating on constitutional politics. They simply don’t. If things are trucking along nicely, without much drama, they spend very little time thinking about politics of any kind. Welfare of family and friends, employment, paying bills, health, following a favourite sport or team, planning holidays, and an awful lot more, all take priority. Pre-Brexit, I would bet most people in the North spent more time each day thinking about what to make/have for tea than they did about politics. It doesn’t mean they didn’t care, it just means they had an awful lot of other things they cared about more. As I say, that was in a settled situation of the kind we had.
          The DUP were monumentally stupid to sail along with the hard-right Tories in support of Brexit, regardless of their own “anti-foreigner” instincts (which, when you think about it, are deeply ironic). Brexit forced people of all persuasions in the North to think about politics again, and forced them to think about what the future might hold outside Europe. The DUP had some vague notion that ditching EU membership might kill-off the border-poll provision in the GFA, or even the GFA in its entirety. The fools, they couldn’t have made a border-poll more likely if they’d tried. And, as Brexit continues to bite ever deeper, the prospects will become ever greater of such poll going in the opposite direction to what the DUP would like. In their crass stupidity, they took a settled community and disrupted it entirely.


  4. It’s my sense that a faction like “moderate Unionism” can always morph itself into a new political home. As long as the people behind it don’t want to rejoin some other political faction such as more “extreme Unionism” and “Republicanism” than can always pick new causes for themselves and new issues to keep their faction together.

    That said there is one thing that strikes me as very strange about this lot is their priorities. A lot of focus on prosaic things like grocery stores. Not a whole lot about the idea of moving to a different political system (Republic vs Constitutional Monarchy), healthcare system, and school system. In the former case, even if you had no ideological preference or even preferred a Republic, wouldn’t people be inclined to worry about being “behind the eight ball” and disadvantaged compared to denizens of the ROI when it comes to understanding the finer points of the political system and Constitution?

    Then you have the transfer form the NHS to the HSE. Now if many Ulster Unionist love the NHS 25% as most of the people in England do, of even if they are simply accustomed to it, my guess that ending up with the Irish Health System could be straight up traumatic for some people. This isn’t necessarily suggest that the NHS is ultimately a better system-in fact Irish patients have better outcomes with some illnesses like cancer. Going by conversations with my Liverpudlian penpal about healthcare politics it looks like a lot of people would have extreme difficulty learning to cope with Irish private health insurance and the system of Medical Cards. Again this is NOT to suggest the HSE is a bad system at all. In fact, I see the comparison between the two as a complicated issue.

    Then there’s the schools. I’d think parents would worry more than their kid well into schoolyears might be required to start studying Irish when their age-mates from the current Republic would have some years of it under their belts. Unless the student just has a natural gift for foreign language or really fabulous teachers, a mature student or a parent wouldn’t have to be paranoid, close-minded, a bigot, or hostile to the Irish language to be a bit worried that having to start a language that late could result in some serious disadvantage.

    Don’t me to throw stuff out randomly. It just seems to me that Unionists even the moderate ones seem to have a strange set of priorities. It a lot of ways their grievances look more like “revenge grievances” than real concerns, when it fact it looks to me like they should have plenty of real concerns.


  5. People have been speculating about the British ruling class pulling out or dumping their Six-County statelet for decades. If people choose not to think about why they did not do so in 1921 and why they they invested so much politically and militarily in it since 1969, I can only speculate that it must be wishful thinking. Many people WANT the British to leave — naturally — and so they look for signs that they are doing so, or getting to the point where they will do so. But always ignoring the basic questions.

    Sad behaviour from presumably otherwise intelligent people.

    On the earlier post, the 6 Counties may not be able to receive seeds or plants (or planters?) from Britain any more but unfortunately will continue to be open to British troops, colonial rule and fascist-Loyalists visits from the likes of Jim Dowson, supporter of a number of fascist organisations in Ireland.


    • Trying as best I can, to put myself in an English person’s shoes (I am NOT good at it!!!), it seems hard to avoid the angle of “Ireland is a 800 year old quagmire”. As for how they can? They may view Ireland as part of their country the UK whatever stereotypes and prejudices-Indeed most countries have their regionalisms, stereotypes and rivalries. Yet most folks will choose patriotism over the idea of “Let’em leave”.


      • I do not think any patriotic feeling in any sense that I can understand “patriotism” would have the people of Britain impede the Independence of Ireland.

        There is another kind of feeling which sometimes masquerades as patriotism, one of possession, whether those possessed wish it so or not.

        Those who have a logical attachment to that feeling are of course those who benefit from it, largely the ruling class and the closer servants and allies. Even putting all those together, it nevertheless consists of a tiny minority of the people of Britain.

        Of course this tiny minority does not stand alone, it has battallons of others upon which to call — soldiers, police, journalists …. and yet, even when they are added, the whole is still a tiny proportion of the people of Britain. Furthermore, put under sufficient pressure, the unity, discipline and obedience of those battalions, as history has shown, cracks: desertion, mutiny and apathy follow.

        I think it was Marx who urged the workers of Britain to support the Irish struggle, not out of altruism but out of self-interest, on the path to overthrowing their own rulers (“A nation that oppresses another cannot itself be free”).

        Your feeling, Grace, that there is a strong underlying imperative denying the wish for Irish freedom is, i think correct — but that feeling is not embedded in the vast majority of the British people — only in their rulers.

        Whatever the nature or basis of that feeling, we cannot deny its existence, since it has called for murder and torture, genocide and massacres, frequent changes of laws and erosion of their own public freedoms, along with their exposure before the world, to maintain that domination and after centuries of that they still refuse to let us go.

        But will it or no, it will happen one day and that may well be the day their rule over anything ends.


        • Well, Rebelbreeze Marx said a lot of contradictory things and made a lot of predictions that didn’t come to pass. Marx had a lot of opinions over his lifetime and he changed many of them-very like Freud. As for where I stand on the whole “Capitalism vs Socialism”? I’m a confirmed (and mostly lifelong) believer in a mixed-economy. No society ever has come that close to “pure” capitalism or socialism and don’t consider the prospect all that desirabe: Even attempting to force a living society in that direction is a predictable road to authoritarianism and famine.

          Having done my share of activism, I’m skeptical of encouraging people to do it out of self-interest, even if the case is there. For example, I dislike anti-war slogans that frame opposition in terms of bombs versus schools or hospitals. It really makes the movement look more venal than it is, and assumes they people you are trying to convince were more venal that the convinceable ones likely were.

          That said as for why some of the British want to control Ireland-especially for those who are not bigots or hard nosed imperialists. While the mentality of those who want Ireland controlled by England is a bit puzzling (most seem not to care that much) I’ve seen you attribute various social and historical phenomena to “manipulation by the elite classes” when my experience suggest that these things can run much deeper and usually the psychology is more complex than just “being manipulated”. It doesn’t necessarily mean some big Freudian thing that goes back to early childhood, but people “have their reasons” however misguided and often those get passed down in families even is school, peers, and media discourage that.

          I’m not sure of exactly ,how many English people are gung ho about controlling Ireland, nor how much that varies but social class. However, if it is disproportionately the “public school crowd” (so bizarre they call it that!!!!), that doesn’t by itself prove that those working class people who “buy it” are “just being manipulated”.

          I’m wondering if Norman Rule over England and then The French Revolution/Reign of Terror might not have a thing or to do with it. For a long time Ireland was seen as first a likely ally of those in England, Wales, and Scotland who didn’t want to be ruled by Norman Kings. Then the French Revolution was said to make the British Monarch particularly paranoid-and it was violent. It could be that one factor was that older fears evolved into fear of having a Republic both to the West in Ireland and to the East in France. There are a lot of ways those things could play in with factors such as British children being socialized to admire the Royal Family or the rates of abuse that supposedly it occur in both the posh “public” boarding school and in the care homes and borstels for poor/working class kids.


  6. A head and sub-head from today’s Guardian:

    “Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe to stand trial on fresh charges in Iran next week
    British-Iranian dual national told she will be returned to prison after Monday’s hearing”

    That despicable excuse for a human being, Boris Johnson, is directly responsible for this young woman’s plight.


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