Unionists have failed to unite against meddling from Dublin

Morning View
Morning View

One of the most important and welcome political developments of the last year came on these pages in September.

The DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson indicated that if Dublin tried to propose measures for resolving the Stormont talks impasse, it would scupper talks. Mr Donaldson’s remarks were important because for much of the time in recent years unionists at Stormont have seemed too relaxed about the revolving visits of Irish government ministers, as if they had a joint say over Northern Ireland.

They don’t and it has become clearer by the month that this must be made explicit to them. But never does that happen.

One secretary of state after another falls silent when Dublin ministers make partisan, pro nationalist and deeply unhelpful comments. When Simon Coveney stood beside Karen Bradley last week at Stormont, he not only was presented as having equal billing to the UK cabinet minister, but he took the opportunity to refer to fulfilling outstanding agreements: code for republican demands for a bill of rights, a standalone Irish language act and a Pat Finucane inquiry. Unionists should have boycotted the talks there and then.

When James Brokenshire merely wrote an article about the legacy imbalance (which is not only real but a scandal) he was hounded to such an extent that he never fully recovered his authority. Yet Simon Coveney can say as he pleases.

This is as Jim Allister, a consistent critic of Dublin meddling says, a core point of constitutional principle for unionists. The Ulster Unionists have in recent months made noises about how Irish involvement should be non Strand One related, and this is true but there should be a united unionist red line about the limits of Ireland’s role. Yet there is no red line. Unionism is not marking the card of interfering Irish officials, but instead responding to Sinn Fein red lines.

Ireland is a co guarantor of the Belfast Agreement but London has sovereignty. If SF get reward for their political blackmail, even if in the form of greater Dublin say, then unionism and Northern Ireland are in deep trouble (as SF and Dublin well know).