It was under the helm of a Labour prime minister, Tony Blair, that Northern Ireland’s position in the UK was finally accepted by almost everyone in Britain and Ireland.
The 1998 Belfast Agreement enshrined the principle of consent – that the constitutional status of the Province would not change without the support of the majority of its population.
And yet the Labour Party is itself failing to recognise a logical outworking of Northern Ireland’s place as a constituent part of the UK – that people here should be able to join British political parties and contest elections under their banners.
Labour does not permit its members to run candidates in Northern Ireland. Instead, it expects its supporters here to back the SDLP, a party that is not only tribal but that has as its goal the unification of Ireland and thus the end of NI as an entity and the removal of the region from the UK.
The pro SDLP advice is met with contempt by Labour members across Northern Ireland.
It is admirable that a core of them stick with the party and keep alive what ought to be an obvious notion but is in fact an endangered one – that people in the Province can be both British and left-wing.
There are people in the Labour Party high command who see the absurdity of the refusal to allow candidates in Northern Ireland. One of them, the popular former cabinet minister Alan Johnson, will be in the Province this week. Another, Andy Burnham, mysteriously got cold feet on the idea of Labour candidates late in his failed bid for the leadership.
Now that leadership is in the hands of a man who is the epitome of naivete when it comes to Irish nationalism and republicanism. Jeremy Corbyn actually seems to believe those conservative, and at times reactionary, Irish ‘isms’ are in fact progressive.
It is to be hoped that a more enlightened Labour approach to its NI membership will one day prevail.