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Worrying times for Northern Ireland unionists

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The British government is under pressure from the EU to implement a key component of the Northern Ireland Protocol in full by the start of July. For unionists in Northern Ireland, the coming weeks could see a return to violence in the Province or an Assembly election that could mark the beginning of the end of traditional regional politics as Ken Murray reports from Dublin.

It’s been a turbulent few months in Northern Ireland. The First Minister and leader of the Democratic Unionist Party Arlene Foster (pictured) was shafted last month in a humiliating coup by right-wing colleagues who felt she wasn’t tough enough with PM Boris Johnson whose administration agreed the Northern Ireland Protocol with the EU last December.

Foster was succeeded as Party Leader by the God-loving right winger Edwin Poots.

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A gracious but clearly hurt Arlene Foster entertained amused journalists at a meeting of the British-Irish Council in County Fermanagh last week when she summed up her bruising experience by breaking in to a Frank Sinatra song and singing “That’s life. That’s what all the people say. You’re riding high in April, shot down in May…”

The Protocol, which is part of the British Exit Withdrawal Agreement from the EU, has resulted in long port checks on goods and pets entering Northern Ireland from GB.

As pro-British unionists in Northern Ireland see it, the trading Protocol creates an imaginary border in the Irish Sea and psychologically moves the province a step closer towards an economic united Ireland and isolates it even further from Great Britain!

Angry British unionists from working class areas of Northern Ireland, commonly known as loyalists, have been out on the streets protesting every other night objecting to the Protocol as they feel London is selling them out for an eventual united Ireland, a prospect they totally object to.

With Arlene Foster formally stepping down this week, the regional Parliament at Stormont in Belfast, will seek to appoint a new First Minister.

The dominant DUP will nominate Paul Givan but under the rules in Northern Ireland, the pro-Irish Sinn Féin will have seven days to nominate a Deputy First Minister, who, in this case, will be the incumbent Michelle O’Neill.

Givan can’t have the job unless Michelle O’Neill gets the backing of her side. This is where things could get difficult for all sides.

In late 2006, the then DUP Leader the Reverend Ian Paisley agreed with Sinn Féin, amongst other things as part of the price for entering power in 2007, to introduce an Irish Language Act.

15 years on, the DUP has put every metaphorical road block in place to stop the Act from being introduced so as to ensure Northern Ireland isn’t overcome with gaelic words.

As the DUP see it, the introduction of such an Act would make Northern Ireland a little more Irish, a little less British and would be seen by unionists as yet another incremental step towards a united Ireland.

At issue this week will be Sinn Féin seeking a guaranteed time-line from the DUP for the introduction of the Act otherwise it is unlikely to endorse Paul Givan for the top job.

Unionists may insist on a Cultural Act which would give legal promotion to the obscure Ulster-Scots language which has no profile at all!

A DUP source told the Irish Sunday Times at the weekend that “Either Sinn Féin softens its position [on the Act], which I doubt will happen, or else there will be no nomination for First Minister.”

Should the DUP reject the call to introduce the Irish Language Act only, the Northern Ireland Parliament or Assembly will be suspended for the sixth time since 2000 with an election being the likely outcome.

If an election take place, it is highly likely that Sinn Féin will emerge with the highest number of seats for the first time since the British partitioned Ireland in 1921 but subsequent negotiations on forming a successive new parliament would likely be bogged down on resolving the very issue that forced it to collapse in the first place!

In 2017, the pro-British DUP won 28 seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly election while the pro-Irish Sinn Féin won 27.

A LucidTalk opinion Poll published in the The Belfast Telegraph last month revealed that Sinn Féin had 25% of the popular support while the DUP had slipped to 16%, a startling revelation that suggests the dominant days of unionism in Northern Ireland are all but over!

Elsewhere, next month will see Northern Ireland reach the peak of the 2021 Marching Season when Orange Order flute bands parade down the streets of the Province’s cities, towns and villages to celebrate the symbolic victory of the protestant King William over the Catholic King James at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.

If street marches in recent months are anything to go by, these Orange Order parades could be exploited to the point of violence in order to send a hostile message to London that loyalists and unionists will not accept the Northern Ireland Protocol which, they say, isolates them from GB and threatens their British identity.

In the meantime, the so-called ‘grace period’ on the importation of some chilled meats in to Northern Ireland from GB, comes to an end on June 30th, a development that could have serious implications for food supplies and business operations!

The ending of this grace period has seen the EU indicate it will not row back on the movement of chilled meats from GB to NI with the only possible compromise being one where the British Government agrees to climb down and re-align its food production standards to the same level as the European Union as was the case pre-Brexit.

Speaking to Sky News, PM Boris Johnson said: “If the protocol continues to be applied in this way, then we will obviously not hesitate to invoke article 16, as I have said before”, a move which could see the British Government unilaterally suspend its operation of the Northern Ireland Protocol and would likely be met by a reciprocal measure from Brussels!"

Such a move, would provoke outrage in Brussels, Dublin and Washington where latterly, Joe Biden’s support for Ireland is well documented.

With the DUP under pressure to introduce the Irish Language Act or face electoral consequences, loyalists threatening violence and Boris Johnson being told that certain chilled meats can not enter the EU from the UK on July 1st, all eyes will be on Belfast, Brussels and London in the coming weeks to see who concedes first.

European Commission

Commission lays out practical solutions for medicines supply in Northern Ireland in the framework of the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland, and for sanitary and phytosanitary measures

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On 26 July, the Commission published a series of ‘non-papers' in the fields of medicines and sanitary and phytosanitary measures, in the framework of the implementation of the Protocol on Ireland / Northern Ireland. A non-paper specifically on medicines lays out the Commission's proposed solution to ensure a continued, long-term supply of medicines in Northern Ireland, from or through Great Britain. This non-paper was shared with the UK prior to the package of measures announced by the Commission on 30 June 2021, to address some of the most pressing issues related to the implementation of the Protocol in the interest of all communities in Northern Ireland.

Vice President Maroš Šefčovič said: “These solutions have an unambiguous common denominator – they were brought about with the core purpose of benefitting the people in Northern Ireland. Ultimately, our work is about ensuring that the hard-earned gains of the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement – peace and stability in Northern Ireland – are protected, while avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland and maintaining the integrity of the EU Single Market.”

The solution on medicines involves the EU changing its own rules, within the framework of the Protocol, so that regulatory compliance functions for medicines supplied to the Northern Ireland market only, may be permanently located in Great Britain, subject to specific conditions ensuring that the medicines concerned are not further distributed in the EU Internal Market. The medicines concerned here are primarily generic and over-the-counter products. The solution demonstrates the Commission's commitment to the people in Northern Ireland and to the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement, with a legislative proposal expected in the early autumn in order to be able to finish the legislative process on time.

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The other non-papers published today relate to a solution identified by the Commission to ease the movement of assistance dogs accompanying persons travelling from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, and a proposal by the Commission to simplify the movements of livestock from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, and to clarify the rules on EU-origin animal products that are moved to Great Britain for storage before being shipped to Northern Ireland. All these papers, outlining the flexibilities offered by the Commission, have been shared with the UK and EU member states, and are available online.

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Ireland

Irish victims' groups to lobby US President

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The proposal by the British government to cease all investigations, inquests and legal actions against the murky conduct of its soldiers in Northern Ireland between 1969 and 1998, has caused fury. Families of those that died from the guns and bombs of British soldiers as well as Irish and British terrorists, are determined that Boris Johnson will not be allowed to get away with this development, which undermines all the principles of justice in a modern democratic society and stands to let his army veterans off the hook. As Ken Murray reports from Dublin, a number of victims’ groups look set to lobby US President Joe Biden (pictured) in the hope he will lean on the British PM to back down.

Some readers may find it extraordinary that 23 years after the British-Irish Peace Agreement was signed in 1998 and brought a formal end to ‘The Troubles’, families of those that died in the conflict are still wrapped up in costly, frustrating and lengthy legal actions against the UK government seeking compensation but, more importantly, elusive answers!

The British Army’s role in some of the most horrific killings during the conflict include the 1972 Bloody Sunday massacre in Derry City where 14 innocent victims were shot dead by soldiers from the Parachute Regiment.

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Not only did the British make a mess of its explanation for the killings but Lord Widgery in his subsequent Report lied to the World saying ‘the [British] soldiers had been fired on first’!

His poor attempt at a whitewash Report resulted in IRA numbers swelling beyond its wildest dreams which helped to pro-long a conflict which was still in its early days.

After persistent pressure on successive British Governments, a second Bloody Sunday Inquiry lasting 12 years running to 5,000 pages headed by Lord Saville and costing the British taxpayer just under £200 million, produced a different result saying the shooting of innocent victims was ‘unjustified’ resulting in Prime Minister David Cameron issuing a public apology in the House of Commons in June 2010.

In the meantime, the emergence that certain British soldiers and MI5 officers had been working in unison with terrorists in the Ulster Volunteer Force to murder targeted Irish republicans, has seen a growing number of catholic families seeking answers about the controversial killings of their loved ones.

Not surprisingly, the British have been playing hardball in all subsequent legal actions.

As Stephen Travers, a survivor of the 1975 Miami Showband massacre-as seen on Netflix- told Newstalk Radio in Dublin last week, “the British establishment is playing the long game by applying the three Ds, namely, deny, delay and die.”

In other words, if the UK Government can drag out the growing number of legal actions they are facing from victims’ families, the likelihood is that those either taking the litigation or the British soldiers who are defending themselves, will be dead by the time they get in to court thus cancelling the justification for such a case therefore letting the British off the hook for their alleged murders!

In recent months, the pressure has been mounting on the British to come clean on its illegal activities after a Coroner ruled last May that ten catholics shot dead by Her Majesty’s Army in Ballymurphy Belfast in 1971 were entirely innocent.

The Ballymurphy finding has set a precedence that up until last week, was shaping up to be an embarrassment and financially costly one for the London Government, one that has the potential to reveal that certain elements in the British Army deliberately murdered innocent Irish catholics without a valid reason!

To add to the frustration being experienced by families who lost loved ones in the conflict, earlier this month, the Northern Ireland Public Prosecution Service announced its intention to withdraw proceedings against two former British soldiers – Soldier F for the murder of two men during Bloody Sunday in 1972 and Soldier B for the murder of 15-year-old Daniel Hegarty six months later, a signal perhaps that the UK Government is prepared to go to any length to protect its own.

When Northern Ireland Secretary of State Brandon Lewis announced last week that a statute of limitations is being proposed to close down all investigations, legal actions and procedures to deal with actions against British security services as well as catholic and protestant terrorist groups, his remarks provoked outrage across the island of Ireland.

For the first time in a long time, British unionists and Irish nationalists in Northern Ireland were, surprisingly, united for once over the same issue!

Irish Taoiseach Micheál Martin said “the announcement was unacceptable and amounted to a betrayal.”

The Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney was somewhat more diplomatic saying, “the Irish government has a very different view… as do NI political parties & victims groups.

 “This is not a fait accompli,” he added on Twitter. 

To complicate matters, the British actually agreed with the Irish Government at the 2014 Stormont House talks to deal with legacy issues assuring suffering families that their respective issues would be dealt with satisfactorily.

However, last week’s surprise announcement by Brandon Lewis even caused anger on the opposition benches in Westminster.

The Shadow secretary of state for Northern Ireland, Labour MP, Louise Haigh said UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson needed to properly explain the move.

“This Government gave victims their word [that] they would deliver the proper investigations denied to victims and their families for so long.

“To tear up that pledge would be insulting and to do so without the faintest hint of consultation with those who lost loved ones would be staggeringly insensitive.”

Meanwhile Victims’ group are looking across the Atlantic Ocean for political pressure to be applied on the British.

Dublin-based Margaret Urwin, who represents ‘Justice for the Forgotten’, said “I’m calling on the Irish Government to lobby US President Joe Biden.

“They have nothing to lose,” she said.

Eugene Reavey’s three innocent brothers were shot dead by the UVF with the support of rogue British Army personnel at their home in south Armagh in January 1976.

He jointly heads up TARP-the Truth and Reconciliation Platform-and has vowed that until the day he dies, he will follow the London Government to the ends of the earth to get justice for his brothers and those murdered by the British Army.

Talking to eureporter.co this week, he said, “I am writing to Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House of Representatives and pleading with her to lobby President Biden to lean on the British to ensure this statute of limitations is not implemented.

“Nancy Pelosi’s son in-law is Irish and Joe Biden’s ancestors were Irish. We have influential support in Washington and we aim to ensure to use it to the max to ensure the British don’t get away with this one.

“They’ve been at it for centuries and it’s time their lies and evil deeds were finally exposed to the wider world.”

Margaret Urwin and Eugene Reavey’s calls are unlikely to fall on deaf ears.

Last year as the EU/UK Brexit withdrawal deal was reaching a conclusion, President Biden said he would not support a US trade deal with London if actions by the British undermined the 1998 [Good Friday] Peace Agreement.

It looks like it could be an uncomfortable few months ahead for the stiff upper lips in the British establishment.

ENDS:

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Ireland

NextGenerationEU: European Commission endorses Ireland's recovery and resilience plan

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The European Commission has adopted a positive assessment of Ireland's recovery and resilience plan. This is an important step towards the EU disbursing €989 million in grants under the Recovery and Resilience Facility. This financing will support the implementation of the crucial investment and reform measures outlined in Ireland's recovery and resilience plan. It will enable Ireland to emerge stronger from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Commission assessed Ireland's plan based on the criteria set out in the RRF Regulation. The Council will now have, as a rule, four weeks to adopt the Commission's proposals. The RRF is at the heart of NextGenerationEU which will provide €800 billion (in current prices) to support investments and reforms across the EU. A press release, Q&A and factsheet are available online.

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