The confluence of Brexit with politics in the north has been a process of clarifying reality.
Specifically, those who were oblivious to the Good Friday Agreement, and those who tried to carry on in denial of it, are in a process of encountering it.
Elements of the British establishment are finding that the GFA is a key constitutional text which is shaping Brexit. Fantasies arising from the imperial past are encountering responsibilities arising from it.
Historical exceptionalism and domination have similarly determined how Unionist parties are reacting to change. They responded to the recent open letter from Irish citizens in the north to the Taoiseach by retreading an old approach.
Engagement with the content of the letter was typically eschewed by those who sought to contain and delegitimise the signatories on the basis of their being, in some way, beyond the Pale.
That containment exercise is defeated by its own logic. Characterising the range of signatories as some derivative of woodkerne – “Sinn Féin supporters” – merely aligns the letter with, perhaps, the largest party in Ireland.
Even in the northern state (which was designed specifically to prevent anything like this ever happening), that party’s vote is almost at parity with that of the leading Unionist party.
Dismissing the letter on this basis thus dismisses reality.
That may explain the felt need of some to escape from the present into near-feudal boasts about being “strong” and having “done over” old enemies.
At this stage, that is perhaps closer to pathology than politics.
The intervention of Trevor Ringland, a frequently cited exemplar of “moderate unionism”, may fuel discussion of the meaning of that term.
It has been said that Unionist politics has long exhibited a sense of entitlement to police the Other. Arguably, this strays into McCarthyism with Ringland’s call for each signatory of the letter to publicly repudiate historical non-state violence.
He describes the content of the letter as “narrow” and “exclusive” but, tellingly, cites no examples.
The content of the letter is both progressive and wholly mainstream. It does not evoke any standards or rights which are not well established in the rest of Ireland and in Britain.
As with civil rights in the 1960s, the north of Ireland is in a bizarre scenario whereby non-unionists are advocating for people governed from Britain to have rights which are taken for granted in Britain.
That points to the question of whether Unionism is about union with Britain or about domination.
This is traceable to Orange Order opposition to the Act of Union to oppose a form of regulatory alignment – Catholic Emancipation.
In colonial Ireland, rights were subsumed by the currents of domination and subordination, rendering them as sectional interests.
That political culture has not gone away. In the last twenty years it was expressed when the loss of “our police” was cited as a concession which Unionists made for peace.
Rights and the implementation of agreements continue to be reduced to the status of sectional demands, not least in the framing of media coverage and “middle-ground” politics.
Is it accurate to say that a party has outmanoeuvred another on GFA delivery? The GFA is essentially the constitution of the place. Is it not more accurate to characterise its delivery as a matter for society?
Those who engaged in fake power-sharing did so at the expense of society, not that of their opponents. They “ran rings around” society. When they held their noses to partake of institutions, they disdained the owners of agreements and resultant institutions – the people.
That means all the people, not the untenable, sectional, view expressed in the old boast “We Are The People” which still echoes in imperious Brexiteering claims to speak for a society which voted to remain in the EU.
2017 closes with the unavoidable reality that a Brexit deal is only possible with commitments on the border in Ireland.
Perhaps 2018 will see acceptance of the unavoidable reality that sustainable GFA institutions are only possible with demonstrable commitments to GFA principles.