Have you heard the one about the Englishman and the Irishman?

Two articles in two different newspapers snagged my bleary-eyed attention this morning. The first was in The Guardian by Simon Jenkins who is English, the other in The Irish Times by Eamon Phoenix who is, as you almost certainly know, Irish.

If you listen to Boris Johnston, you’ll have heard the word “undemocratic” used with regard to the backstop. As he sees it, this small neighbouring island is making it very hard for the UK to get a deal with Europe. The Irish tail is wagging the British dog. For Boris, size matters.

Simon Jenkins’s article offers good advice on this:call the DUP bluff and stop kicking the can.

“The prime minister could defy the DUP and agree to a separate, soft-Brexit status for Northern Ireland in relation to the south. This would accept some border arrangement down the Irish Sea, with a de facto border at sea ports. It would eliminate any need for the backstop.

Brexit could proceed as Johnson promised on 31 October.”

He ends with insightful and sensible words:

“Northern Ireland must  one day free itself from the shackles of he its, shackles that still drearily hang around its political neck. It cannot be too  much to imagine a beneficial legacy of Brexit being the liberation of the province from this anachronistic incubus, a legacy that steers all of Ireland on a path, however slowly, towards a stable and contented union”.

How odd that it take an Englishman to say what so many Irish political parties shy away from.

The second article is by Eamon Phoenix, a man who deserves the admiration he receives for his presentation of our tangled history.  He’s looking at the minutes of a meeting between the British government and Sinn Féin in 1994, which have just been released.A four-strong SF team, led by Martin McGuinness, meet with an NIO  one led by Quentin Thomas.  Eamon focuses on a jocular question by McGuinness: “How’s Fred?”  This is a reference to a key intermediary working in back-channels between the IRA and the British and Irish governments.  Eamon concludes: “After reading a long position statement into the record, McGuinness joked that ‘it was time to liberate the oppressed and the oppressor.’ ”

I don’t know if these minutes include stage directions such as ‘(Laughter)’;  I doubt it. Which would mean that Eamon has interpreted this remark by McGuinness as a joke.  Personally, I doubt that. McGuinness was a highly intelligent man, with a rare insight into the workings of human nature.  The fact that two parties suffer in oppression is a paradox but an understandable one. Power corrupts, and power exercised to oppress others corrupts absolutely.  By making the remark, McGuinness is in fact going to the heart of the matter: as long as she claims jurisdiction over this part of Ireland, Britain will never be free.

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