Last Friday, a letter was sent to an Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, by over 1,000 people from right across nationalist civic society. Individuals with political affiliations and none, from the worlds of academia, health, the legal profession, business, the community and voluntary sector, sport and the arts made a direct public appeal to the Taoiseach to stand by his government’s stated commitment that no Irish citizen living in the north would ever be left behind by an Irish Government.
The letter is signed by 323 business people, the employers of tens of thousands of people, 115 senior educationalists including over 30 school principals along with prominent figures from third-level institutions and teachers from all parts of the north, 82 lawyers, 75 healthcare professionals, including over 20 Doctors and Consultants, dozens of international caps, 30 senior All Ireland medals, doyens of our arts sector and the leaders of our communities. Dozens of senior journalists and trade unionists, 7 University Professors, 3 Olympic medals, 3 Oscar winners, 2 men who lifted Sam Maguire, and one man who climbed Everest are all signatories.
In total, the letter is signed by over a thousand leaders from the nationalist community. This bears testament to an evolving earthquake in terms of an awakening of nationalist confidence. The 1012 names are symbolic – the letter is not a petition, but a representative sample of the views of hundreds of thousands of people across the north and indeed across the entire island.
Why write to the Taoiseach? There is an onus on the Taoiseach to hold the British government to account for the denial of rights and secure the implementation of the agreements. The Irish government are co-guarantors of internationally-binding agreements and we expect them to stand up for those agreements, for equality and respect for our Irish identity. We need the Taoiseach to stand up in the national interest of all the people of this island on Brexit.
This initiative seeks to give expression to a sense of civic frustration as to the reasons why we don’t have a functioning executive. The denial of rights, enjoyed in every other jurisdiction in these islands, is a barrier to political progress. The letter is Independent of the political process and demonstrates that there is a groundswell of concern.
Citizenship rights, human rights, and the rights contained in the Good Friday Agreement need to be protected from the DUP/Tory Brexit agenda which is scrapping the European Charter of Fundamental Rights and WE NEED the Irish government to hold firmly and ensure there is no regression on rights. Rights are for all in society. Everyone benefits when rights are protected and all traditions and communities are respected and valued.
The denial of rights and respect and recognition of an Irish identity in the north, the lack of reciprocation for reconciliatory gestures by political leaders and the blocking of the political institutions as a result of all this create the context of a perfect storm in to which Brexit has been plummeted as a hurricane.
We did not vote for Brexit. Brexit is being forced on us against our will. Brexit is a threat to our economy, could further erode rights and there is a real danger that partition could be reinforced, further dividing our country and our people, hence our appeal to the Taoiseach and the Irish government to redouble its efforts to ensure our rights are protected and that we will never be left behind again.
In July of this year I outlined in a previous article (http://eamonnmallie.com/2018/07/nationalism-must-be-alert-not-to-end-up-in-a-constitutional-crisis-due-to-brexit-by-niall-murphy/) the concerns that civic nationalism reposed in respect of the rights crisis posed by Brexit. The specificity of the threat posed by Brexit to all citizens has sharpened in recent months.
THREAT TO HEALTH
- Over the last ten years many health services have been delivered on an all-Ireland basis.
- The development of acute services networks across the island of Ireland is now at risk because we are being forced out of the EU, despite voting to remain.
- The North, with a population of just over 1.8million (2011 census), has insufficient demand to make it economically viable to provide some specialised medical services alone. However, cross border cooperation on health services with the South (which has a population of approx. 4.8m people) allows for quality specialised medical services to be delivered on an all-island basis, with patients in the North of Ireland no longer having to travel to England to receive their care.
- €53million of specialist services are on hold pending Brexit negotiations. These include all island acute hospital services, prevention and detection services and services to tackle health inequalities, particularly along border areas.
- By April 2018, 87% of EU nurses have left the NHS since the Brexit referendum citing the reason for leaving being they felt very unwelcome and concerned for future work. This is catastrophic for health and social care services.
THREAT TO EDUCATION
Erasmus+ is an EU programme enabling young people to study, gain work experience or volunteer abroad. It is also designed to modernize education, training, youth work & sport through strategic partnerships and opportunities for staff and professional to train or exchange experience. The current programme runs from 2014-2020 with a budget of almost €15 billion across Europe.
£28m awarded to 215 educational projects, training and youth work organisations here since 2014 broken down as follows:
- €9.2m to universities
- €9.6m to organisations working in vocational education/ training
- €3.8m to schools
- €3.2m to youth work organisations
- €1.8m to organisations working in adult education
More than 7,800 people here are estimated to have taken part from here between 2014-2016, most being students and young people. School staff approved to teach, train or job shadow more than doubled from 22 to 49 in that period, and from 2018 more schools can benefit from an increase in funding to support school exchanges of pupils and staff.
915 vocational education and training staff and students successfully applied to train in Europe through Erasmus+ in 2016, with Southern Regional College and Northern Regional College benefiting from funding.
Hundreds of students from our universities are involved in Erasmus+ projects annually. The University of Ulster’s primary research budget is dependent upon Erasmus+ funding.
THREAT TO THE GOOD FRIDAY AGREEEMENT
Brexit is a constitutional crisis that no Irish person sought to provoke. It is the product of a deep dispute in the Conservative party and threatens the express democratic wishes of the vast majority of people on our island who voted overwhelmingly for the Good Friday Agreement. However for the Tory right, as recently highlighted by Craig Murray, the destruction of the Anglo Irish Agreement and the GFA is a major goal to be achieved through Brexit.
Consider the 58 page paper by Michael Gove, entitled The Price of Peace, published in 2000 by the Tories’ leading “think tank” the Centre for Policy Studies. Michael Gove of course is a key figure in a current leading “think tank” the European Research Group which is attempting to hold Theresa May to ransom in the current negotiations.
Gove argues the provisions of the Good Friday Agreement and the Anglo Irish Agreement should be annulled. He argues that the rights of the “majority community” to rule must not be limited or mitigated and objects to every measure of the Good Friday Agreement, including promotion of Catholic recruitment into the RUC, support for the Irish language, state support for businesses, prisoner releases and changes to the oath of allegiance to the United Kingdom.
It [The Good Friday Agreement] enshrines a vision of human rights which privileges contending minorities at the expense of the democratic majority. It supplants the notion of independent citizens with one of competing client groups. It offers social and economic rights: “positive rights” which legitimise a growing role for bureaucratic agencies in the re-distribution of resources, the running of companies, the regulation of civic life and the exercise of personal choice. It turns the police force into a political plaything whose legitimacy depends on familiarity with fashionable social theories and precise ethnic composition and not effectiveness in maintaining order. It uproots justice from its traditions and makes it politically contentious. It demeans traditional expressions of British national identity. And it privileges those who wish to refashion or deconstruct that identity.
In this regard, the Tories share more than a recent alignment of interests with the DUP, who also oppose the Good Friday Agreement.
The roadmap for the journey from Brexit Britain to Little England is being led by the blind, the ignorant and the reckless. Mark Twain once said that you should never argue with stupid people, as they would drag you down to their level and beat you with their experience. Michael Gove, and his ERG colleagues, are indeed experienced and have been public in their views of peace in Ireland. We cannot however stand idly by. Brexit is one part of a sustained attack on the concept and the practice of human rights, and is an erosion of the core constitutional values of our peace/political process. The attitude to this must be one of legal, policy and political challenge and community led constitutional confrontation. Our letter this week was an example of that spirit and was a demonstration of a new resolve and confidence in nationalist thinking.
On a recent visit to Ireland the EU president Donald Tusk ruled out a hard border, saying: “Ní neart go cur le chéile.” There is no strength without unity. Our letter has demonstrated a unity of confidence and purpose and may become a catalyst for a unity not envisaged by the proponents and architects of Brexit…