On Sunday afternoon, I reported a Tory Councillor to the Police Service of Northern Ireland for anti-Irish pro-Brexit hate speech. Ironically, his words came after the Irish Republic gave no points to the UK in Saturday night’s Eurovision contest.
It’s been quite a week for Ireland. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde: to have one VIP visit in a week may be regarded as a misfortune; to have three looks like a stampede.
You’re spoiling us, Mr Ambassador…
And to hear the reaction from Irish politicians to Michel Barnier’s speech to the Irish Parliament last week, you’d be nearly tempted to believe it.
One government senator told the Financial Times that delivering his speech to both houses of the Oireachtas (Irish Parliament) have put Barnier ‘on the same pedestal as John F Kennedy, Nelson Mandela and Francois Mitterand’.
The truth was that his speech had all the charisma of a drowned cat, but TDs (Members of the Irish Parliament) still gave his words a rapturous reception.
They had no choice.
Northern Ireland is the only region of the UK that shares a land border with an EU state: the Republic of Ireland. From 1966 – 1996 over 3,000 British, Irish and European citizens died in the war of attrition known as the Troubles. Many of them died along the border.
Since the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, citizens of Northern Ireland have the right to claim either British or Irish citizenship, or both, as I do. The GFA is an internationally binding agreement, guaranteed by both the Irish and British governments. Published on 10 April 1998, the agreement was approved by voters across the island of Ireland in two referendums held on 22 May 1998.
But now last year’s European Referendum where a slim majority of 52% to 48% voted to leave the EU could threaten the peace and progress which has, by and large, prevailed since then.
Back in the troubles, there was the hardest of hard borders.
Helicopters were downed, soldiers and police officers blown up, border towns in the Irish Republic randomly bombed and there were sectarian killings on either side of the border carried out by both loyalist and republican paramilitaries.
Now, no-one is saying – yet – that Brexit makes it inevitable that the Troubles will be rekindled.
But a dark undercurrent of the meandering Irish border through the troubles was the money to be made by paramilitaries, mainly the Provisional IRA, under the stewardship of Thomas ‘Slab’ Murphy, a pig farmer and millionaire whose family farm at Ballybinaby in the Irish Republic straddles the border.
Murphy had an elaborate catacomb of tunnels under his land which he used to move pigs from one side of the Irish border to the other so he could to take advantage of different rates of CAP in Ireland and the UK. He also stored illegal red diesel there for his fuel laundering ‘business’.
He was notorious. Last month he was released from jail in the Irish Republic.
There is a lot of money to be made from a hard border. But that isn’t the most worrying aspect of it.
The peace process is not yet complete in Ireland. All the bodies of the Disappeared have not yet been recovered, for example, though it was encouraging to see one former paramilitary coming forward with information to the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims Remains (ICLVR) that ended in the recovery of the remains of Seamus Ruddy last week in a forest near Rouen.
On the final engagement of their Irish visit last week, Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall were greeted by Sinn Fein President and former ‘undistinguished gunman’ Gerry Adams and other Irish political leaders.
Mr Adams said the Prince’s visit was, like his visit to Mullaghmore two years ago where the IRA blew up his uncle, Lord Mountbatten, “about reconciliation” but that there also needed to be reconciliation in the streets, along country lanes and at a community level. Mountbatten’s murder was sanctioned by the IRA Army Council in 1978/9 – specifically by the troika of Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness and Slab Murphy, who planned it.
“This sets a good example for everyone,” he said of this latest royal visit.
There have been over 3,000 victims of the troubles in their current phase. Tensions are buried just below the uneasy peace. I hope to still be alive in another thirty years. I hope that neither I, my children, nor any of our children see another 3,000 victims of racism, sectarianism, bigotry and hatred.
Come into my parlour, said the spider to the fly
Theresa May was the last politician to visit us in the North last week. Ironically, she went to visit the Balmoral Country Show in Belfast, where NI’s farmers showcase their produce. The farmers are among those who will be most affected by the hard border. Among those she met were the vehemently pro-Brexit First Minister of NI, the Democratic Unionist Party’s Arlene Foster. They mingled with members of NI’s Women’s Institute who dressed as nursery rhyme characters. The people of the North of Ireland do not want to be caught in another web of brutal pointless hatred.
And that is why the vile words of Theresa May’s Warwick Conservative Party colleague, Nick Harrington, are so dangerous.
Racist, sectarian, homophobic hate crimes have all spiraled here since the EU Referendum. It only takes one spark to light the bonfire.