Peter Robinson: Bertie Ahern should be assured that East Belfast has good grasp of the Northern Ireland protocol

There are simple people who live by absolutes.

Friday, 26th November 2021, 10:50 am
Updated Saturday, 27th November 2021, 8:16 am
Peter Robinson is a former DUP leader and first minister of Northern Ireland. He writes a column for the News Letter every other Friday

If it looks, swims and quacks like a duck, then it’s a duck.

If there’s smoke, then there’s a fire, life is black and white, no grey, no tone, no shade and certainly no complexity.

I have known many who reach conclusions based on this style of abductive reasoning.

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Bertie Ahern is not a unionist-hater nor is he someone who doesn’t try to understand other peoples’ views but his remarks were incendiary. Someone from Dublin Central should be slow to throw stones at living conditions in East Belfast

They come to conclusions constructed from their observations no matter how limited – sometimes they might get it right sometimes they do not.

Often they get it wrong when they mistake their own prejudice as being of greater value than their observations.

When I read the recent headlines about a southern politico referring to the ghetto-dwelling loyalists of East Belfast who he thought too stupid to understand the benefit and generosity of the EU’s protocol, a picture of Simon Coveney and Leo Varadkar flashed in my mind’s eye.

But no, the incendiary remarks came from someone I know, like and respect.

Bertie Ahern is not a unionist-hater nor is he someone who doesn’t try to understand other peoples’ views.

I have shared many platforms with him and attended many meetings mostly about peace, reconciliation, and conflict resolution. So, you can imagine my surprise at this unBertie-like outburst.

While I have read much in the media and heard even more from disgruntled unionists it appears their complaints fall into several strands.

How did Bertie manage to offend so many people all at the same time?

There are those who, unsurprisingly, took exception to being characterised as the inhabitants of a ghetto.

It would be an entirely unfair representation of East Belfast and someone from Dublin Central should be slow to throw stones at the housing, living conditions and facilities in East Belfast.

Bertie once described his own former constituency as having “the highest deprivation under every category that was listed” so I doubt if this was the thrust or purpose of his attack.

Other unionists were angry at what they saw as a strain of racism in his declaration, others defined them as sectarian.

Unionists and loyalist interpreted his comments as saying they were, as a race or people, stupid.

It was his assertion that people in the East Belfast ghettos “haven’t got a clue about the protocol, not a clue” he said, adding “even those you might consider to be a bit more intelligent and articulate”.

It is hard not to accept that these comments amount to an claim that those who oppose the protocol are less intelligent and less informed than those who support the protocol. Whether the attestation stretches to racism and/or sectarianism is less certain.

But here is the core of the issue. There is a dangerous belief that those who hold different views or reach different conclusions about the impact of a set of proposals are less intelligent or less capable of understanding the content of those proposals.

Does anyone really believe that those in East Belfast who oppose the protocol are less capable of assessing the protocol and less intelligent than Bertie’s friends in Dublin Central who support the protocol?

Those who oppose the protocol understand the High Court ruling that the protocol is incompatible with Article 6 of the Acts of Union.

Do the people of Dublin Central have a clue about that?

Those who oppose the protocol understand the statistics demonstrating that there has been a diversion of trade away from Great Britain as a result of the protocol – something the EU agreed should not occur.

Do the people of Dublin Central have a clue about that?

Those who oppose the protocol understand that they either cannot get many goods from Great Britain or that they cost more because of the protocol.

Do the people of Dublin Central have a clue about that?

Those who oppose the protocol understand that laws, rules, and regulation will be made by the EU with which we will be expected to comply, though we have no say in the formulation and making of those diktats.

Do the people of Dublin Central have a clue about that?

Those who oppose the protocol understand that from being an integral part of the United Kingdom, now, under the protocol, Great Britain is to be considered as a “third country”.

Do the people of Dublin Central have a clue about that?

Those who oppose the protocol understand that there is now a customs border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom, and we will be subjected to laws overseen by a foreign court.

Do the people of Dublin Central have a clue about that?

One might even add “or do they care?”

The truth is that those who will have studied the protocol most will be those who are impacted most by it.

I suspect the real problem is that the people of East Belfast have a greater understanding of the protocol than many in the EU would want them to have.

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