Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore may have thought he was helping to plot a course away from the impasse over the failure of the Haass talks when he said that the British and Irish governments may now get involved. However, if that was the thinking behind his comments yesterday, it shows that the Dublin administration is hopelessly out of touch with opinions in Northern Ireland.
Of all those involved in the already fragile post-Haass process, made more so by Martin McGuinness’s inflammatory remarks last week, it is unionists who are most sceptical, fearing that attempts may be made to force them into an inadequate agreement.
In such a scenario, it seems extraordinary that Dublin’s minister with responsibility for speaking on Northern Ireland should suggest that his government would be jointly overseeing the post-Haass talks, given that two of the three issues under discussion – parades and flags – solely relate to the internal affairs of Northern Ireland.
Under Strand One of the Belfast Agreement, Dublin has no role in dealing with such issues. While anti-Agreement unionists will always be sceptical, even pro-Agreement unionists will be frustrated, to put it mildly, by Mr Gilmore’s attempts to expand the remit of his government across the border.
It is welcome therefore that our own government has responded promptly to Mr Gilmore’s comments, making clear that there will be no deal imposed upon the local parties without their consent. If that promise is not adhered to and talks involving Dublin are convened about Strand One issues, unionists should uphold the terms of the 1998 Agreement by refusing to attend.
Pragmatic cooperation between both parts of this island is in everyone’s interests. But for such cooperation to work, respect must be shown for the constitutional settlement endorsed on both sides of the border in 1998.