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Protocol move is a shock, not surprise

June 21st, 2022 11:40 AM

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IT was shocking but not surprising this week when the British government opted to publish legislation that will ultimately allow it to tear up parts of the controversial Northern Ireland protocol.

The publication, although just the first move in a lengthy process of going down the road of rewriting the deal, ruffled quite a few feathers on this side of the Irish sea – and there was definitely no surprise there.

But what did surprise some was the strength of the response. The Irish government have been nothing if not patient and measured in their reactions up to now, after years of threats from the UK that this move was in the offing.

However, this week’s responses from both the Taoiseach and Foreign Affairs Minister included an element of not holding back any longer. Micheál Martin said the decision to publish the legislation was a ‘fundamental breach of trust’ between both governments, adding that it wasn’t a ‘well thought-out’ move.

And another Corkman – Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney – was equally direct in his response. Minister Coveney said Ireland would not be ‘collateral damage’ for the ‘irresponsible action’ taken by the UK government.

He told RTÉ that the European Union is ‘going to be forced into responding in a way that it does not want to have to do’ – a statement that seemed to carry with it an unexpected level of menace.

There is certainly an element of exasperation to the Irish government’s response, as if they have finally thrown in the towel of composure and started to say what they were really thinking all along.

All the talk this week has been of economics and the business reaction to the move. The Chambers Ireland chief executive, Ian Talbot’s response was widely reported. The move by the British government was ‘irresponsible and reckless’ he said.

But he also made a good point when he added: ‘Ordinary people across the island simply want to be able to move on with their lives without politicians playing to the party-political gallery.’

He added that the British government ‘may write platitudes about the ‘rules-based international order’ in The New York Times, but actions like this week’s ‘demonstrate how unreliable an actor they can be’.

And Ian also added a note of warning, which sent shockwaves through anyone doing business in the UK: ‘Yet again businesses must begin planning for a no-deal Brexit,’ he said.

‘How can any State expect a genuine relationship with Britain when this is how they act?’ he wondered.

But what has been missing from a lot of the dialogue on the protocol in recent weeks is the very real fear that any change in the status quo today could result in a major threat to the Peace Process in the future.

The Process, which for so many years was pored over and finely-tuned and, miraculously it seems, actually bore fruit, is once more in the firing range of politicians who are either too young or too naïve to realise the danger they walking us all towards.

It seems short-sighted in the extreme not to realise the human life repercussions of such a move. All the focus, for now, appears to be on the economic consequences of ripping up the protocol. Let us hope, on this occasion at least, that money talks.

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