Peter Robinson: Any unionist praising the Good Friday Agreement is a heretic – and the EU only cares about the bits republicans like

I really did not want to return to the subject of the Protocol again so soon after my last column, but it is unavoidable.

Friday, 15th October 2021, 7:00 am
Updated Saturday, 16th October 2021, 11:12 am
Peter Robinson, the former DUP leader and first minister, who writes a column for the News Letter every other Friday

I had thought that the unionist revisionism at the Ulster Unionist conference would have been worth a line or two. Doug Beattie’s lauding of the Belfast Agreement, and referring to the St Andrews Agreement as having made Frankenstein changes to it, was so ludicrous that it cried out for comment, mockery, and a little whimsy.

It was clearly voiced in order to be swallowed by the open-mouthed admirers at the conference and any dotty amnesiacs outside, but surely he could not have thought that time had erased the unionist community’s recollection of the damaging deal his party had done in 1998.

It is heresy for any unionist, especially with the benefit of hindsight, to praise an agreement that threw the jail gates open for terrorists to flood out, destroyed the RUC, allowed Sinn Fein into government while republicans held on to their bombs and guns, continued murdering, relentlessly persisted with their criminality, while refusing to support the police or recognise the authority of the courts.

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Doug Beattie at the Ulster Unionist conference last weekend. His lauding of the Belfast Agreement, and referring to the St Andrews Agreement as having made Frankenstein changes to it, was ludicrous

Meanwhile the Ulster Unionist Party agreed that Sinn Fein ministers could be given unaccountable power in government departments – capable of taking decisions without the assembly or executive being able to stop them.

This is the deal the UUP want to return to.

As for the St Andrews Agreement, it required an end to all violence and decommissioning of illegal weapons, as well as support for the police and recognition of the courts as a prerequisite for entering the executive, and no decision could be taken by any minister without executive approval if it is controversial. Readers can choose which agreement was the “monster”.

However, events have overtaken the mighty Doug’s conference damp squib.

PACEMAKER, BELFAST, 10/2/2021: A sign on the main road on the approach to the port town of Larne port in Co. Antrim protesting against the Irish Sea border imposed by Brexit. PICTURE BY STEPHEN DAVISON

The EU has provided us with a protocol upgrade. Yes, it is better than their first offering, but that benchmark is not one that anybody would feel comfortable to use.

What gets me most is the irrational political prejudice and overbearing haughtiness of the EU who think that it is a greater priority to ensure there is no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland than between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom of which we are part.

When EU Commission Vice President Maroš Šefčovič says the EU’s top priority is to make sure the gains of the Good Friday Agreement are protected, he only means those parts of the agreement that republicans want to protect.

The EU completely ignores the constitutional, legal, and democratic implications of the protocol and seems to think it is only the trading element of the protocol that needs to be considered.

Even in that narrow perspective they fall short. If the problem was limited to the costly compliance requirements and time-consuming checking of goods within the United Kingdom the answer is the removal of those checks, not a reduction in their number.

One insightful aspect of the EU proposals is their insistence that in return for the scaled-back checking regime there should be safeguards implemented to provide assurance that products said to be destined for Northern Ireland do not end up crossing the border into the Republic.

Of course, we should do so. Why would we not? However, if we can, and do, provide those safeguards then there can be no legitimate reason why there should be checks on any goods which have an end destination within Northern Ireland.

The only requirement should be to regulate the through-traffic of goods from GB to RoI.

I am unimpressed by the grovelling endorsement of the EU proposals by the SDLP, Alliance and Sinn Fein.

These parties welcomed the protocol in its original form and there would have been no change if it had been left to them.

They are content to maintain the denial of democratic accountability for laws that will be made by the EU and imposed in Northern Ireland. They accept that the EU should be both advocate and judge in its own cause when there is a dispute about trading matters.

They endorse the constitutional sleight of hand that declares Great Britain to be a “third country” in relation to Northern Ireland trade and they applaud maintaining checks on goods entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain.

While these proposals fall short, we should acknowledge that the EU has moved away from its “not an inch” posture adopted after the protocol was announced.

There is much work to be done and much more movement will be required. The EU will need to go back to the drawing board if they want to produce arrangements that can gain unionist support.

I suspect that it still might need the triggering of Article 16 to concentrate minds sufficiently to achieve that goal.

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