An Irish Government report designed to shape the country’s approach to Brexit, largely centred around a belief that momentum is building towards a united Ireland, has been dismissed as a “pipe dream” by Sir Jeffrey Donaldson.
The Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement received a number of submissions including one from the Pat Finucane Centre (PFC) – which outlines the level of force acceptable to crush a violent loyalist backlash – but did not invite unionists in Northern Ireland to contribute.
Yet again, a committee has wasted another valuable opportunity – and fallen back on the old pipe dream of a united Ireland
The DUP MP described the 452-page report as “deeply flawed and totally unrealistic.”
The document makes 17 recommendations including: “The establishment of a New Ireland Forum 2 is recommended to set a pathway to achieve the peaceful reunification of Ireland.”
Senator Mark Daly is the report’s rapporteur. He said unionists were not directly involve but said they might be asked to contribute in future consultations.
“They weren’t written to, to ask to make submissions, and maybe the next time when we are updating the report that we will do that. Nothing is stopping the report being updated if they want to send in a submission, and they want to put in the entire opposite point of view,” Mr Daly said.
The PFC submission, in the name of Anne Cadwallader, states: “The potential remains, unless tackled, for major loss of life should loyalists be ‘spooked’ without prior long-term political and security preparations.
“The PFC is firmly of the view, however, that whatever steps may be considered to counter the potential capacity for future loyalist violence, they must fall within international human rights laws and principles.
“This would rule out ‘shoot to kill,’ the illegal use of lethal force such as plastic bullets, torture, internment without trial, impunity for informers and agents, collusion and other failed British undercover counter-insurgency tactics that proved so counter-productive in the war against republican violence from 1969 to 1996.”
A submission from conflict resolution specialist Dr James Wilson states there is evidence that former members of the security forces fear “retribution” in a united Ireland, and that some Protestants have concerns about “land ownership”.
Mr Donaldson said: “The more I read of this report produced by the Irish Parliament the more bizarre it becomes. Some of the evidence presented to the committee, particularly by the Pat Finucane Centre gives rise to deep concern about the attitudes of some in the nationalist/republican community about how a united Ireland can be achieved, and the use of force behind it.
“Talk of land grabs and so on really makes for pretty grim reading, but the greatest fallacy of all in this report is the notion that somehow it is just a matter of nationalists persuading unionists that a united Ireland is in their best interest.”
The report also recommends that an international task force “with experts in security so that plans to meet any risks may be devised and implemented,” is established, with another recommendation stating: “Fears and concerns of the unionist community need to be examined, understood and addressed comprehensively by all stakeholders in advance of any referendum.”
In her foreword to the report the committee’s chair, Kathleen Funchion of Sinn Fein, said: “The report would also examine what would need to be done to ensure a positive outcome should reunification be agreed under Annex (2) of the Good Friday Agreement.”
Mr Donaldson said: “Yet again, a committee of the Irish Parliament has wasted another valuable opportunity to explore other options for the future – and has fallen back on the old pipe dream of a united Ireland as being the only option and outcome on the table.
“We are never going to build reconciliation on the basis that one side tries to coerce the other side into accepting an outcome that is not in their best interests. It is time for southern Irish politicians to wise up and recognise that the first thing they should do is engage with unionists and gain a better understanding of where we are coming from.”
Mr Donaldson added: “There is no evidence of that is this report and the committee has done little to reach out to unionists and to engage with us in a meaningful way. You cannot build reconciliation on the basis that you build a bridge from one side only, and as such this report is deeply flawed and totally unrealistic.”
Senator Daly said unionists needed to ask themselves where they saw themselves in 20 years.
“We are 100 years on from partition and the UN has ranked the Republic 8th in the world in health, education and income, and it ranks Northern Ireland 44th. The challenge for members of the community who would like to retain the status quo is ‘why is Northern Ireland 44th, and how is it going to end up being 7th or 1st?’
“One of the submissions was the concerns of former members of the security forces about retribution, and that needs to be clarified, and that’s why a New Ireland Forum 2 needs to be established to say ‘look, this will be what will happen – assurances have to be given.”
Mr Daly said he has met with people from the unionist community and former loyalist paramilitary in Northern Ireland.
“We have to set out what the future would look like in a united Ireland. Those who wish to remain in the UK, their challenge is to say ‘where will Northern Ireland be in 20 years time, and how will it better under the status quo?’“
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