Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar says his government won’t help Britain design a post-Brexit border for its Brexiteers. And why should it? Ahead of his first visit to Northern Ireland as Irish PM this weekend he confirmed he’ll attend a gay Pride event in Belfast. And why shouldn’t he?
Eight months since Stormont ministers relinquished their duty to govern, we still have nothing which resembles a plan for Brexit. A majority of MLAs support the legalisation of same-sex marriage, yet we remain the only part of the UK and Ireland where it’s refused.
Denied a voice in Brexit negotiations by our own politicians, and rights for all citizens by our own Prime Minister’s refusal to intervene in the equality debate, we should welcome the Irish Republic’s activism with open arms.
Just as the DUP’s recent deal with Theresa May’s Conservative Party exposed their old-school outlook to the outside world, Mr Varadkar’s publicly-aired hope Britain will change its mind over Brexit highlights how destructive Dublin envisages it will be for the whole island of Ireland.
After the Irish government poo-pooed DUP proposals to use technology to maintain an invisible border between the UK and Ireland after Brexit, Nigel Dodds MP accused Mr Varadkar of “pure politicking.” That’s funny; having depicted the European Union, homosexuals, even the Pope as bogey men down the years the DUP could almost award diplomas in the discipline. Self-awareness has never been the party’s strong point.
No act of republican violence, constitutional nationalism, nor compromise agreed by its unionist rivals ever posed anywhere near as much of a threat to Northern Ireland’s constitutional position than the DUP’s blind support for Brexit.
In a modernising Northern Ireland, through repeated attempts at stemming social change, no organisation can claim more credit for shrinking the long-term political prowess of unionism, a community which has become increasingly diverse.
This week Nigel Dodds asked “What’s going on in Dublin?,” bemoaning the Irish government’s “mixed messages” over Brexit. Today, former DUP MLA Nelson McCausland criticised the Taoiseach’s decision to attend this weekend’s Pride event: “His responsibilities are south of the border,” he says. Not anymore, Nelson.
Brexit has preceded a fundamental change in the role of the Irish Republic in Northern affairs. Leo Varadkar has made clear his rejection of a border poll; political consensus in the South has it that unity can only ever be achieved through “respect and consent.”
What does unionism have to fear? As opposed to being menacing, the Republic is picking up our broken political pieces and riding the tide of social change.
Whereas previous Irish administrations have sought to avoid controversy up North in fear of breaching the peace, the adult lives of Leo Varadkar and Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney haven’t been all-consumed by what’s happening up here. But Brexit changes everything.
Ultra-unionism might never understand that it’s been its own misjudgement, intransigence, unwillingness to get with the times that helped create the inevitable political vacuum we find ourselves in. Isolating Northern Ireland from GB, the continent and modernity, they essentially invited our neighbours to step in.
Also published on Medium.