John­son’s visit to Belfast did lit­tle to re­as­sure any­one that he has a plan

Wicklow People (West Edition) - - OPINION -

AF­TER years of po­lit­i­cal im­passe and amid the chaos of Brexit, Boris John­son’s visit to North­ern Ire­land last week will have done lit­tle to re­as­sure any­one who fears for the sur­vival of the peace process. In the past John­son has shown a stag­ger­ing lack of un­der­stand­ing about the com­plex­i­ties of North­ern Ir­ish pol­i­tics and last week’s brief trip to Belfast of­fered up more of the same.

John­son has once again dis­played a seem­ingly wil­ful ig­no­rance about Brexit’s po­ten­tial to shat­ter the peace process and dev­as­tate the econ­omy of the six coun­ties.

For Mr John­son – like his arch Brex­i­teer cab­i­net col­leagues – leav­ing the EU is all that matters and hang the con­se­quences. If quit­ting the EU means a po­ten­tial re­turn to vi­o­lence in Ire­land so be it.

Their at­ti­tude is a fright­en­ing echo of the 1971 Home Sec­re­tary Regi­nald Maudling’s de­scrip­tion of the sit­u­a­tion in North­ern Ire­land at the time as be­ing at “an ac­cept­able level of vi­o­lence”.

As they try to get Brexit over the line – deal or no deal – Ire­land has be­come noth­ing more than a thorn in the side of the Brex­i­teers and were they not so re­liant on the DUP it’s easy to imag­ine they would be happy to ig­nore it al­to­gether.

John­son – like his great hero Win­ston Churchill – has fre­quently dis­played com­plete dis­dain for Ire­land and the Ir­ish and his visit to Belfast last week was clearly more about shoring up his mi­nus­cule com­mons’ ma­jor­ity than restor­ing de­volved Gov­ern­ment.

For proof of that you need look no fur­ther than the at­ten­tion he lav­ished on Ar­lene Fos­ter and the DUP.

While other party lead­ers were af­forded of­fi­cial meet­ings with the Prime Min­is­ter, Mr John­son at­tended a pri­vate din­ner in the five-star Cul­lo­den Ho­tel with Ms Fos­ter and her DUP col­leagues on whose sup­port the fu­ture of his Gov­ern­ment de­pends.

Mr John­son had ear­lier claimed he was de­ter­mined to re­in­state Stor­mont and pledged to act in a non-par­ti­san man­ner to do so.

By the time he’d fin­ished his starter with Ms Fos­ter that pledge – like so many of John­son’s pre­vi­ous prom­ises – was in tat­ters.

And were the other North­ern Ir­ish lead­ers who met the new Prime Min­is­ter im­pressed by Boris?

Af­ter what was de­scribed as a “blunt” meet­ing with Mr John­son, SDLP deputy leader Ni­chola Mal­lon sounded less than im­pressed with Boris’ grasp of North­ern Ir­ish af­fairs.

“We went into this meet­ing con­cerned that he would have a lim­ited un­der­stand­ing of the com­plex­i­ties and fragility of this place and those con­cerns have been con­firmed,” she said.

“It is very clear that he views and un­der­stands the sit­u­a­tion through the eyes of the DUP,” she added.

Al­liance Leader Naomi Long sounded even less con­fi­dent af­ter her “frank and can­did meet­ing” with John­son.

“I don’t know if the prime min­is­ter has a plan; if he does he cer­tainly dis­guises it well, but I hope that if he does not have a plan to­day that he goes home tonight fully aware of the need to get one, and get one fast,” was Ms Long’s take.

Given the Brex­i­teers’ scorn for Ire­land, it will be a one of the great his­tor­i­cal ironies if the renewed “Ir­ish Ques­tion” proves to be the rock their self de­struc­tive am­bi­tion per­ishes on.

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