Unionist Threats to Workers, Ports and Good Friday Institutions
Customs Checks at Larne Port
This week there have been alleged threats from unknown unionist paramilitaries on workers conducting customs checks at ports in Belfast and Larne, and also threats from the DUP to disturb business in Stormont House and on North/South Bodies. This is a dangerous escalation as the operation of the North/South Ministerial Council and the Executive are both interlinked and interdependent.
The unionist paramilitary threats were reported by a DUP dominated local council with responsibility for Larne Port. The council quickly withdrew their workers from the port. This was followed by the DUP Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots instructing his department to also withdraw their workers. The EU was then forced to withdraw its staff, suspending brexit port checks until the situation could be better understood. The police, after investigating, stated they had found no evidence of credible threats from unionist paramilitaries.
So what does this mean?
It is important to understand there was never going to be a good Brexit for Ireland, North or South. That is why the majority of people in the North voted against it. The DUP were cheerleaders for Brexit at any cost, willing to sacrifice the Good Friday Agreement and impose a hard border across Ireland to get it. That was not a price that Ireland, the EU, or America was prepared to pay.
The solution was the Irish protocol, the North of Ireland would be treated the same as Dublin when it came to some exports, with regulatory checks at ports of entry. While products moving from the North would have full access to the British market, the Irish protocol prevented a hard physical border on the island of Ireland.
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Brexit represents the greatest change to trade between the island of Ireland and Britain in fifty years. Brexit has now been operational for one month, with businesses given one weeks notice over Christmas to prepare. So some side effects were expected. Businesses exporting goods from Britain to the North have been ill-prepared, with some halting trade altogether. It is also important to remember that the North is a small economic area, just a fraction of the UK economy and smaller than many British cities.
The DUP position on Brexit has been laid bare and the DUP has plummeted to their lowest levels in the polls in twenty years. Because of this they have reverted to their old tactics. They heighten tensions, claim the union is under threat and blame everyone else. They pretend Brexit is not the problem; but rather the protocol. The DUP are trying to turn this into a big partisan fight, unionist vs republican, protestant vs catholic, any old grudge will do to rally their electoral base and distract from the fact that they pushed Brexit on a population that didn't want it, and are now paying the political price.
The DUP has continued to dial up the rhetoric and are campaigning to have the protocol revoked by the British government - an unrealistic demand that would crash relations with the EU and create a hard border on Ireland.
This is a time for calm heads, for cooperation and dialogue but the DUP has sought to inflame the crisis for their own political ends. That is a very dangerous game to play.