Disadvantaged people — our people, whether they are unionists or nationalists — must not be further disadvantaged, writes Victoria White
IT’S clear Boris Johnson doesn’t give a stuff about Northern Ireland. This makes him wholly unexceptional in the context of British PMs.
Britain has wrecked Northern Ireland and the counties it borders since Partition. Let’s recall for a moment that in 1922 Belfast accounted for nearly 80% of the industrial output of the whole island. Today the Republic’s industrial output is 10 times that of the North.
We export 17 times what the North does. Our economy is four times the size of the North’s, while our workforce is two and a half times bigger. Our average incomes are about €16,000 greater than theirs. British rule of the partitioned state has been catastrophic in economic terms.
It gets worse, though.
It’s clear from the economic figures that the border itself has caused economic hardship and decline.
I learned from an article by Peter Donaghy last year on the Slugger O’Toole website that the best indicator of poverty in a region of Ireland is not whether it is in the North or the South but whether or not it is close to the border.
Outer Belfast falls just behind the city regions of Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Waterford in average disposable income. To this day the poorest parts of the island of Ireland lie either side of the border: Donegal, Monaghan, Derry, Fermanagh and Tyrone.
This data alone should be enough to maintain Dublin’s resolve to insist on the unfortunately named “backstop”, not because we need a win, but because disadvantaged people — our people, whether they are unionists or nationalists — must not be further disadvantaged.
I saw the border curse working out in my own family.
My mother’s people, Protestant unionists from border Donegal, found themselves severed from their beloved Derry City and backing onto a dead train yard on a line which was no longer in service.
The family scattered both sides of the border to places where something was happening.
John Moran, now chairman of the Land Development Agency, is right, on the evidence of Donaghy’s figures, to focus on the power of our major cities to keep the economic lights on their respective regions.
Our cities include Derry, which should be the proud, walled citadel of a humming Derry/Donegal region.
That is far from the case.
Inside the walls nowadays there are just Catholics, the Protestants having decamped to a far bank of the Foyle.
This, in a beautiful city in one of the richest countries in Europe.
British rule has allowed this to happen. Britain, one of the most resourceful and effective nations the world has ever seen, stood over a sectarian, gerry-mandered statelet from the time of Partition until the human rights movement of the 1960s.
It is a desperately sad fact that the same amount of political change to address its sectarian inequality might not have been made had it not been for the IRA’s campaign of violence.
That’s not to excuse the violence. It’s to condemn the complete lack of care with which the British government has treated the people of Northern Ireland since the foundation of that State.
I am minded of journalist Nell McCafferty’s shock, recorded in her autobiography, when she discovered that as a Catholic she would not be getting a teaching job in her native Derry; also of her horror when British troops, brought in to defend her community, fired on that community.
It is only this week the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill promised same-sex marriage and liberalised abortion to the people of the North if there is no new Northern Ireland Executive by October .
For 51 years Britain has presided over a regime in which abortion is provided more liberally than anywhere else in Europe for all UK citizens except those in the North, who currently live under laws in which having an abortion is a criminal offence, except in very limited circumstances.
A trial date in November had been listed for the mother of a 15-year-old who procured abortion pills for her daughter who became pregnant in an abusive relationship, though anywhere else in the UK she could have got the pills from the NHS.
Same-sex marriage is a far less contentious issue but it is still depressing that gay people have been getting married for the last five years everywhere in the UK except Northern Ireland.
No matter what you think about these provisions, surely it flies in the face of everyone’s concept of justice that the UK should claim jurisdiction over part of a country but not extend to its inhabitants civil rights it makes available to the rest of its citizens?
Surely that equality principle has been fully attested since the days of the American independence movement which claimed there should be “No taxation without representation”?
Except of course that Britain subsidises the North to the tune of more than €10bn every year, more than it has been paying annually to the EU (about €9bn). Is that fact behind the utter scorn with which the Tory grandees have treated the six counties?
They put the EU membership question to the British people with absolute disregard for the painstakingly negotiated Good Friday Agreement which had put an end to 30 years of violence which had claimed 3,600 lives, including those of 763 British military personnel.
Having set their own red lines for withdrawal, the UK parliament failed three times to vote through the withdrawal agreement they negotiated.
WE LEARNED from the secret recording of a Conservative meeting last year that the UK’s new prime minister views concern about the Border as “allowing the tail to wag the dog” in the context of Brexit: “It’s so small and there are so few firms that actually use that border regularly.” The Republic accounts for 30% of the North’s exports; 80% of small businesses and 70% of slightly bigger businesses in the North export solely to the South.
The so-called backstop is merely a negotiated insurance policy against a hard border which would work its worst devastation on the fortunes of the people of Northern Ireland and the Southern counties it borders.
From his BBC interview with Andrew Marr this week, it was clear that this is what is driving Tánaiste Simon Coveney to hold the line.
He is doing no more, he said, than defending “Irish interests on the island of Ireland”.
Andrew Marr asked if he could not provide the British with an “escape hatch” from the backstop deal. This would be an “escape hatch” from defending the interests of their own citizens.
The only “escape hatch” they need is the unilateral power to end the backstop the day British rule ends on this island.
They don’t care about “Irish interests on the island of Ireland” and are not fit to govern Northern Ireland.