An all-island response is essential - Coping with Brexit

THERE has not been a single moment since May 1921 — when this island was partitioned — in which the interests of everyone living in Ireland, north or south, were more closely aligned than now. 

The implications of the Brexit vote are so profound for everyone living on both sides of the border that the Stormont and Leinster House administrations must work together to achieve the best possible outcome for the whole island. This objective is made an imperative by the fact that Northern Ireland voted to remain in the European Union despite the Leave campaign led by First Minister Arlene Foster’s Democratic Unionist Party.

That awkwardness, however, is dwarfed by the barely concealed contempt for even the idea of Northern Ireland and the complexities that flow from its history by two of the candidates hoping to become Tory leader. Had the confront-and-crush policies advocated by Michael Gove been implemented, it is doubtful the peace that has prevailed on this island since the 1998 Belfast Agreement would have been achieved. Gove is at least consistent in his contempt for the lessons of history — he also ignores the reality that the EU has presided over what is, by European standards at least, a prolonged peace.

His colleague, and favourite to be the next head-of-house in Number 10, Theresa May, is less publically confrontational though her successful campaign to end the authority of the European Court of Human Rights in Britain cannot be comforting for anyone who remembers the sectarian abuses that sparked decades of terror and murder.

In the grand scheme of things these are side issues, but the cold shoulder offered by Ms Foster to suggestions by Taoiseach Enda Kenny that an all-island forum be established to consider how Brexit be managed is not. How else could Ms Foster respond to an idea floated publicly but without prior consultation? This misstep is precisely the kind of error of judgement that so energises Mr Kenny’s critics. He will have to, in time, find a way of achieving that aim under one heading or another, one that does not offend unionist sensibilities or challenge their idea of independence underpinned by their place in the United Kingdom. This will require a delicacy of touch and a decisiveness and a steely determination not always apparent in Mr Kenny’s modus operandi.

As if the political, social, and economic issues in play were not pressing enough then yesterday’s shooting in Dublin, where links to terrorists were suggested, points to the dark forces waiting in the shadows for any opportunity this tectonic shift might bring.

But it is not all darkness. The intervention from Wolfgang Schäuble, the venerable of German and European politician, admitted that the vote had shaken him and that he believed “people could be won back to the idea of Europe if leaders showed they could solve quickly the pressing problems of the day: Youth unemployment, the migration crisis, and cross-border security”. Such a change — if delivered — should strengthen the idea of a second vote but until, or if, that is settled, then everyone on this island should find the trust to work together more closely than ever before.

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