Monday, 30 December 2019

Ulster at the Crossroads - yet again. Part Three

Ulster Crossroads

 Considering options at the Crossroads.

First and foremost the people of Northern Ireland who understand how bad this Withdrawal Agreement really is for our economy should find a way urgently to shout loudly in collective protest against this. The powers-that-be will resist such calls, but it's worth a try.

A Border Poll would be the same thing as a 2nd EU Referendum for the people of Northern Ireland: the notion of a Dublin-controlled united Ireland is currently not an option. Ireland is currently part and parcel of the EU Project and is essentially governed from Brussels.

A 2nd EU Referendum only makes sense once the whole of the UK has left the EU for a number of years. In the 2016 referendum the British people collectively instructed government and parliament to deliver an exit from the EU. If that result cannot be respected and implemented then democracy as we know it is dead.

So, Plan A would be to implement the above action of applying pressure at every level to urgently alter the NI Protocol. This could be followed up a few years later with a Border Poll/2nd EU Referendum should there was a popular demand for such. This would demonstrate proper democracy in action: once Brexit has been implemented for the whole of the UK, with adequate time allowed for testing the economic advantages or disadvantages.

In such circumstances where democracy has obviously failed the people of Northern Ireland it is hard to comprehend what will happen – extreme reactions to extreme actions of the ruling classes have been the norm throughout history. Notions of independence for Northern Ireland, or parts of Northern Ireland are already being discussed in certain circles but with no strong leadership to pull something like that off, such a doomsday scenario can be pretty much eliminated for now.

The possible restoration of the Stormont Assembly is hardly going to help in anyway. With its unique system of mandatory coalition it has been proven to be totally dysfunctional to date. Until the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement gets revisited and Stormont goes through root and branch reform it is difficult to imagine how it could ever agree on anything. The politicians and media in Northern Ireland may be enthusiastic to get Stormont up and running again but there is no such enthusiasm from anyone else.

Other more positive and innovative options need to be explored. Alternative roads: different roads, need to be created and developed at the crossroads.     

Free Ports, Free Zones and Enterprise Zones.

Northern Ireland could become a natural economic zone linking the UK with the EU and the rest of the world: a natural holding zone and processing zone for goods and components of products from the UK and across the world that may also be destined for EU, or vice versa.  Similar Free Ports and zones do exist across the world.
Boris Johnson has talked of such ideas for the UK as a whole, post-Brexit. There could be a strong argument to focus on Northern Ireland as the main UK Zone on the basis of its unique situation of sharing a land border with the EU.

Northern Ireland has already suitable infrastructure in the ports of Larne, Belfast and Londonderry that could be developed.

The main plus for the UK in this idea is that it could address the situation where Northern Ireland has become a bit of an economic burden for the UK tax payer: as a direct and indirect result of the 'Troubles'. Northern Ireland now desperately needs to stand on its own two feet again and this could best happen through economic transformation. Being designated a unique Free Port or zone could be the best route towards economic self-sufficiency. The opportunities for supply chains and other related ventures are not difficult to imagine.

The other plus to this notion could also be that there would be economic spin-off for the rest of the UK and indeed for the Republic of Ireland. It could provide justification for Boris Johnston's notion of a bridge linking Northern Ireland with Great Britain. It could offer realistic hope that Northern Ireland could once again become a self-reliant economic region that was no longer reliant on support from English taxpayers.

Different road leading to exciting opportunities?
Down the different road a positive Brexit outcome for the whole of the UK, including Northern Ireland, could be very positive for British/Irish relations. The different road just might lead to a new exciting opportunities.

Some readers will write this off as all pie in the sky: wishful dreaming from a mere musician and creative writer who has no experience and no credibility in the world of politics and economics. I have enough experience however to confidently predict if the NI Protocol and Withdrawal Agreement are signed off as is, there are dire times ahead - not just for Northern Ireland but for all those who are unfortunate enough to be close neighbours.

I can understand the current excitement among pro-Brexit voters in Great Britain in anticipation that the result of the 2016 referendum will finally be respected and implemented. Those of us in Northern Ireland who voted Leave however are not sharing the jubilation as we can see the uncertainty that lies ahead with the ECJ still having a say in the internal affairs of the UK. 

If nothing else The Common Travel Area and its reference in the the NI Protocol should be examined before the national celebrations are organised.

See Part One and Part Two

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