It may take decades to rebuild bridges

Anglo-Irish relationships, or at least the relationship between this Republic and the most enthusiastic Brexiteers, were always going to be strained by negotiations around the terms of Britain’s withdrawal from the EU, especially on the Border issue. That expectation, tragically, may have been a gross underestimation.

Sammy Wilson, the DUP’s Brexit spokesman, yesterday described Taoiseach Leo Varadkar as “despicable, low and rotten”, accusing him of using victims of paramilitary violence and the possibility or renewed terrorism to scaremonger over Brexit. Using language like that suggests the breakdown in relationships has reached Cresta Run velocity, Mr Wilson charged that the Taoiseach was scraping the bottom of a “very deep barrel of threats, deception, and rhetoric”.

It must always be hoped that senior politicians inform themselves on issues before they make high-octane accusations but, unfortunately, this is not the first hair-trigger moment in Mr Wilson’s career. He is no stranger to Lambeg Drum subtlety. Societies that elect extremists of any hue can, occasionally, expect outbursts like this but in this instance, the farce and tragedy could have been avoided if only Mr Wilson had done a modicum of homework.

An opportunity to do just that presented itself when, as recently as last June, PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton spoke to the House of Commons Northern Ireland committee, of which three of Mr Wislon’s DUP colleagues are members. Maybe they did not share the meeting’s proceedings with Mr Wilson? Maybe that’s why his outburst yesterday was so intemperate, uninformed and troubling?

At that meeting, Mr Hamilton repeated his assessment that any kind of border checkpoint would quickly become an “obvious and static” target. He also offered a professional assessment that dissidents would attempt to exploit intensified security activity along the Border to win support, recruit, and attack police officers. It must be assumed that any such attacks would not be confined to PSNI members. Mr Hamilton told MPs that the PSNI wanted to recruit 400 officers for post-Brexit border security and that the PSNI has stopped the sale of border police stations in Co Tyrone and Co Down as a “precautionary step” over Brexit.

Mr Wison, thankfully, did not describe Mr Hamilton as “despicable, low and rotten” because he offered that sobering, testimony echoed by Mr Varadkar at this week’s EU summit. In a saner world, it might be possible to turn a deaf ear to Mr Wilson but his excess is matched by the spectacular indifference shown by others who should know better. Ex-NI secretaries Owen Patterson and Theresa Villiers fall into this category, as does the incumbent Karen Bradley.

It seems Brexit, whatever transpires, will not only have an economic impact but will strain relationships decades in the making. How sad it would be if the decade of centenaries had to be followed by decades of rebuilding bridges that have done so much to bring the people of these islands together?

Moderation was never more essential or more absent.

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