|Wee Ulstermen meet the Brits.|
It’s fascinating, and rather pathetic, to hear the Deputy First Minister attempt to explain away Northern Ireland’s UK status. McGuinness’s current beef is that the Conservatives are not to be deflected from direct involvement in Northern Ireland politics.
With characteristic disregard for democracy and the principle of consent, he regards that as unwarranted ’party political interference’. It’s absolutely vital for Sinn Féin to present the various Agreements and the whole ‘peace process’ as something other than it is.
McGuinness can tell as many lies as he likes about the government’s ’obligations’. It doesn’t make a tap of difference. Northern Ireland remains solidly within the UK, and the government at Westminster is sovereign.
You would expect to hear a republican leader claim that the government’s power to set policy in Northern Ireland is circumscribed by all sorts of imaginary international commitments. It’s more extraordinary that Peter Robinson argues in precisely the same terms, when it comes to backroom deals on capital spending, rather than an Irish Language Act or a Bill of Rights.
Here are the relevant sections of McGuinness’s posturing address, which doesn't appear to be online:
Last week Owen Patterson, the current British Secretary of State, gave the inaugural Leonard Steinberg lecture in London. It is clear the he was speaking to a select audience of Tories and Unionists as he led out his fundamental Unionist beliefs and stated that 'Northern Ireland is not a hybrid state'. The speech only fell short of stating the failed position of Margaret Thatcher when she said that the North was as, 'British as Finchley.'
While the Tory party has been out of power since 1997 it appears more and more that that they are increasingly out of touch with political developments and the changes since Patrick Mayhew was in Hillsborough.
In the lead up to the Westminster election the Tories facilitated secret talks between the unionist parties. In the elections they shared a joint platform with the Ulster Unionist party and were roundly rejected, failing to win a single seat. The worst performance by the UUP ever.
The Tories are again playing party politics with our peace process. They are no longer a side show. They now are the main party in the British Government. As such they inherited the role of joint guardians of the agreements reached throughout the peace process. These agreements must come before party political considerations and ideological positions.
The British Government are the partners in these agreements with the Irish Government. They are not in the remit of the Owen Patterson are any other sole political leader to re-interpret, miss represent or renegotiate.
The agreements gave a substantial role for the Irish Government, they established all Ireland bodies and areas of co-operation, developed the rules for governing the operation of institutions, increased the powers which are in local hands, set out a financial settlement and left the constitutional position of the north in the hands of the people.
While Owen Patterson is right to say that the North is not a state. It is not. However it is a hybrid reflecting the relationships between Ireland north and south and the aspirations of the people here. A position affirmed by the people north and south. The North of Ireland is not, never was and never will be as British as Finchley.
The recent record of the Tories in setting aside these agreements or becoming involved in matters which rest with the Executive is a matter of concern.
While Labour commissioned the Saville report is was published under the Tories. David Camerons fulsome apology fully reflected the finding of the report. I welcomed his comments on the day.
However since then we have had a financial settlement that fails to meet the commitments made by Gordon Brown. Commitments that he recently told me would have honoured regardless of the economic circumstances. The need to consolidate the peace process was greater than the marginal economic saving to be achieved in the North
Given the refusal of Unionists to bring forward an Irish Language Act there is a requirement on the British Government to bring forward an Act as agreed in St Andrews. There is also the commitment to develop a Bill of Rights for the North. These direct governmental commitments cannot be subject to a Unionist veto.
It is time for Tories to set aside their unionist politics and recognise the aspirations of the nationalists and republicans that live in the North of Ireland and to begin to act as joint guarantors of international agreements.