As I write this column the rumors are rife that the European Commission and the British government are close to an agreement – maybe – on the Protocol.
It could be this week. It could be next week. It could be tomorrow. It may be done by the time you get to read this. The British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak added to the speculation by jetting into the North last Friday to brief the parties.
Watching the spin and maneuvering my instincts and experience suggest that it is likely the deal is already done. The work now is probably down to crossing the T’s and dotting the I’s and getting the PR strategy right. Which means it could still unravel. The big question is whether it will be enough for Jeffrey and the DUP. Will the Conservative right wing European Research Group (ERG) buy into it?
Boris Johnson, who made the deal on the Protocol, and then tried to renegotiate it, is now threatening Sunak from the political margins if he makes a new deal with the EU. You couldn’t make it up.
The confusion and stresses within unionism have also come starkly into focus again. And no crisis can pass without threats of violence from loyalism. It’s the default position when unionism feels threatened.
Arlene Foster added to all this last week when she acknowledged that “time after time” promises made by British Prime Ministers, including Mr. Sunak, about the North’s place in the UK have only seen “loyal British citizens” let down. Reg Empey has declared “ … Unionist objectors to the Protocol …. are once again being used in a power struggle over which they have no control. It is outrageous.”
Republicans have been telling unionists this for decades. The Tory party infighting is not about them fighting for the North, or for the unionists. They don’t really care about that. It’s all about their own selfish interests.
If the DUP go for a deal I could write the responses of the TUV and others. Unionism deserves better. Soon it will be make your mind up time for Jeffrey. I wish him well.
When clarity emerges as to the EU/British government negotiations I will return to the issue of the Protocol.
UNITY THE FUTURE
As unionist political leaders worry that they are about to be sold down the river – again – the alternative to the Union with Britain was up for discussion last week in Donegal.
People packed into the Balor Theatre in Ballybofey to take part in the Donegal People’s Assembly organized by Sinn Féin’s Commission on the Future of Ireland. The event was opened by Pearse Doherty TD.
The Ballybofey meeting was the third such public meeting held by the Commission. The first took place in Belfast last October and the second was in Derry just before Christmas. The next will take place in the Carrickdale Hotel at the end of March.
The Donegal event allowed people in the North West to have their say on Irish Unity and on the future of Ireland. It was chaired by the former head of Údaras na Gaeltachta, Micheál Ó hÉanaigh, and the expert panel consisted of Professor Terri Scott, Noelle Duddy, Paul Hannigan, Toni Forrester and Seamus Neely.
The Balor Theatre witnessed a lively and informative discussion on the failures of partition and its adverse impact on Donegal and the North West; the advantages of greater all-Ireland co-operation and the positive potential for jobs, health provision, the environment and the economy that will result from the creation of a new Ireland.
There was also widespread support for the establishment by the Irish government of a Citizens’ Assembly to discuss unity and to plan for the future.
The Ballybofey discussion bodes well for the growing debate that is taking place around a united Ireland.
The work of the Commission will continue for another year. It still wants to hear from you on the kind of Ireland you want to live in. So why not make your contribution. Go to www.sinnfein.ie/futureofireland
STANDING AND MARCHING
Well done to the tens of thousands who took part in Saturday’s "Ireland for All" solidarity march and rally in Dublin. It was an impressive and timely rebuttal to the small number of fascists who encourage hate crime through the targeting of emigrants and asylum seekers.
Racism, intolerance of, and discrimination against citizens takes many forms. All of us have a responsibility to make a stand against such injustice and intolerance whatever form it takes. Fair play to all of those who took part on Saturday and thanks to our friend Christy Moore who sang a beautiful rendition of "Viva La Quinta Brigada," a song in tribute to Irish soldiers who fought against fascism in the Spanish civil war.
Regular readers of this column will know I am a dog lover. Dogs have been part of my life since I was an infant. Our oldest lad has had the same experience. If I gave him nothing else I gave him a love of dogs. Like me he has had a madra all his life and I’m glad to say the little people in our lives are doggie people also. We have two dogs. Fionn and Fiadh. Fiadh is a she dog. Fionn is a he dog. Fiadh is smaller, smarter and more biddable than Fionn. As I write these lines they are stretched out across the room from me. Usually they don’t get in the house.
Big dogs aren’t really house dogs. In my book anyway. Fionn and Fiadh are Labradors and big dogs by anyone’s standards. We used to have a wee house dog. Snowie. He was no trouble until he bit the youngest girl which was entirely the youngest girl's fault but you can’t have a dog nipping a child so Snowie was banished and became a life renewal dog for two old friends.
I have half a notion to get another wee house dog some time but Fionn and Fiadh are more than enough for now. But they are too big to be house dogs. That’s what I told the little people in my life. A dog needs to know its place. I can’t stand big dogs up on the sofa, hairs everywhere. As bad as cats.
The little people in my life kept nagging at me to let the dogs in. Eventually I did. I relented and agreed to let them into the house for a wee while every so often. Fionn is officially the oldest lad’s dog and Fiadh is the youngest girl’s pet but I get to share them. Which is great. But it means that the little people in my life know how to get around me.
So I gave in against my better judgment. Then I decided to get the mutts a wee bed. I got the bed from one of those German stores. Fionn and Fiadh were delighted to get into the house. The only thing is the bed was too small for the two of them. Now don’t get me wrong. It is a good sized bed as befits one of those German store products. In Dublin, the landlords would probably rent it out to a small family.
Fionn and Fiadh cuddled up nice and cosy together. But every minute or so one or the other of them would nudge the other off the bed. It became a big distraction for me. I blamed myself. I should have got two beds. One for each of them. So first chance I got I went back to the German store. But they didn’t have the same sized bed. So I got a smaller one. Not to worry, I thought. Fionn can take the bigger bed. Fiadh could take the smaller one. Perfecto.
Except Fionn is contrary. Cranky. Getting awkward as he gets older. A bit like myself. He insists on lying in the smaller bed. That annoys me. I insist on him letting Fiadh sleep there. I order him on to the larger bed. He obliges. Reluctantly. Then he sneaks back to the wee one. Fiadh stretches out luxuriantly on the big bed. I order them back to their appropriate leabas. Fionn sulks. It goes on all night. As I pen these words he is lying on the floor. Fiadh is on her bed. Fionn’s bed - the big one - is empty. He lies sprawled out beside it. Very annoying. Little wonder I don’t like big dogs in the house. Bloody nuisances.