The Irish government, instead of working closely with the UK, contributed to the negotiation of the backstop which ultimately brought down the Withdrawal Agreement and left us facing the prospect of a departure from the EU in a matter of weeks, with no deal.
This pattern of ‘over reaching’ by Dublin is not a new phenomenon. Back in 1973, Dublin insisted on including the Council of Ireland in the Sunningdale Agreement.
The Council of Ireland was originally designed in the 1920s and was to be the embryonic all Ireland Parliament. When it was insisted upon by Dublin in 1973, it brought the power sharing government in Stormont down as it was a stretch too far for unionists.
Fast forward to 1985 and the Anglo-Irish Agreement. This was a deal done between London and Dublin, negotiated behind the backs of unionists, and caused years of disruption and did nothing to end the IRA campaign of violence and paralysed political progress for years.
In 1998, towards the end of the talks chaired by Senator George Mitchell, Dublin insisted upon giving full all island executive powers to the proposed North-South bodies.
This proposal was contained in the first draft report submitted by Senator Mitchell. It was wholly unacceptable to unionists and nearly destroyed the talks process.
It was only when Taoiseach Bertie Ahern returned early from his mother’s funeral, that the Belfast Agreement was saved as he faced down his own foreign affairs officials and accepted that these North-South bodies would be accountable to the Dail and Stormont.
Now in 2019, Dublin is making the same mistake again.
To ask any EU nation to place itself in a position whereby its future is determined by 27 other countries, goes against the whole spirit of European co-operation.
Ireland’s Foreign Minister, Simon Coveney, let the cat out of the bag on Tuesday when he admitted that Brussels would try to force Dublin to put in place a hard border, and he realised that the present Irish government didn’t want to be the one to put up a border!
We can all understand that. It’s been clear from the outset of this process that the so called ‘hard border’ is nonsense. Nobody wants it and nobody is prepared to enforce it.
Instead of persuading Brussels to put forward proposals that have now been resoundingly rejected, Dublin should be in tripartite talks with London and Brussels focusing specifically on mechanisms that can be delivered in these islands which are also acceptable to Brussels. Two years have been wasted in trying to ‘sock it to the Brits.’
We should be working together. The UK has no interest in undermining the EU single market and measures could be negotiated locally to ensure that this is given practical and legal effect.
A fresh start is needed. The backstop has been proved to be a disaster. The DUP should have stopped it a year ago instead of it becoming such an obstacle to progress. But we must move on now, and quickly.
Perhaps we need a new treaty with the Irish Republic, supported by the EU, which will address legitimate concerns that both Brussels and Dublin have. It’s in all our interests for immediate consultations to take place. Downing Street has been trying to go it alone in these talks and it hasn’t worked.
• Lord Empey is a former Ulster Unionist Party leader who is a member of the House of Lords