Is Unionism of Sound Mind? – by Michael Lagan

Is it just me, or is there a certain air of desperation building within Loyalism and Unionism around the NI Protocol? First, we have Sir Jeff telling the Irish Government to stop supporting and “cheerleading” the NI Protocol, which sounds simply pathetic to me, and then we have Jamie ‘Bin Lid’ Bryson warning – yes folks “warning” that protestors against the NI Protocol may take their protests to the streets of Dublin to make the Irish Government feel “uncomfortable” with their stance on the NI Protocol. The important part of what he said was this –  “there would be no intention to work with the Southern authorities in organising such an event.” 

Let me clarify here, Loyalists see Ireland South as a completely different jurisdiction to their ‘Northern Ireland’, another country if you will, yet they see it within their rights to stage an illegal protest through Dublin without notifying or engaging with any of the statutory bodies. That’s akin to, by their logic, going to France and without telling anyone in that country, gathering hundreds of protestors together, no doubt carrying Union and Ulster flags and accompanied by numerous Loyalist bands and without notifying the Police nationale, march through Paris causing disruption along the way. He’s essentially saying he doesn’t recognise the sovereignty of Ireland. Bryson then went on to say there were no plans to carry this out, but I put it to you that Bryson is a member of the LCC and wouldn’t say this without having prior knowledge of this having been proposed or discussed, after all they’ve done it before.

The last time they protested in Dublin on the 25th February 2006, it led to riots on the streets and running battles between An Garda Síochána and the protestors and those who were unhappy with Loyalists, Union flags and Loyalist bands attempting to march through the centre of Dublin. The protest attempted to march down O’Connell Street, which as we all know is home to the GPO where the 1916 Proclamation was read aloud by Pádraig Pearse. It’s almost a sacred place in Ireland, to Nationalists, Republicans and anyone who believes in Ireland having the right to self-determination. When the Gardaí attempted to disperse a counter protest blocking O’Connell Street, local people joined the counter protest and pushed back against the Gardaí. You see, there are those in the South who rightfully acknowledge the Unionist right to protest but they will not allow them to try and assert some kind of supremacy over a free Ireland – that will never happen again and when the Loyalist protest attempted to march past the GPO, that’s when they made the mistake. Will Bryson attempt to make that mistake again?

So why should the Irish Government stop “cheerleading” the NI Protocol? Surely there must be some reason for Jeffrey Donaldson saying this? The NI protocol must be so bad, so disastrous that it is damaging everyday lives and decimating the very fabric of society, tearing lives apart with people starving to death on the streets. Yet the statistics dictate and the reality is, that since the inception of the NI Protocol, trade between the North and South of Ireland has skyrocketed by a massive 61%. That’s something any entrepreneur or business owner would celebrate, because business and trade like that creates jobs, expands companies creating even more jobs and puts money in employee’s pockets – and that can never be a bad thing.

However, for Unionists, because that denotes the fact that the NI Protocol is actually working for both the North and South of Ireland it is a very bad sign for the future. You see, what Unionism wants is for those big growth figures to be associated with trade with “our biggest market”, that being England, Scotland and Wales, or “GB” as they call it. To see such substantial growth in trade in Ireland internally signals the fact that there are bigger and more prosperous markets out there to be tapped into. There are big companies out there on record which, had it not been for the NI Protocol would not have been able to finalise lucrative deals and acquire new trade partners. 

In fact a recent survey by ‘Manufacturing NI’ claimed 1 in 4 businesses were struggling with the NI Protocol mostly due to paperwork, but that only 19% of those businesses surveyed wanted it replaced. Most of the 355 businesses surveyed in the North said they saw potential in the NI Protocol with the majority predicting growth in their businesses over the next 5 years. Over half of those surveyed said they felt no impact on their business from the Protocol. From where I’m standing, that sounds to me as if the DUP want “GB” to have a monopoly on Northern Irish trade. From the figures being released, it actually seems that looking to GB as our biggest market has been stifling trade which could have been directed at bigger, more productive, lucrative and vibrant markets in the EU and beyond…even as close to home as the South of Ireland.

Unionism is scared. The NI Protocol is an economic united Ireland. It opens up the North of Ireland to being a potential economic and manufacturing powerhouse with open access to both the GB and EU markets, and most businesses are on record as saying it’s about time our Executive started “banging the drum” for Northern Irish business in the EU. Most businesses want to work with the NI Protocol because it makes business sense. One of the excuses used by Sammy Wilson against the NI Protocol was that we “wouldn’t get our Amazon parcels on time.” Well, guess what Sammy, Amazon, the biggest company in the world is building a huge warehouse in both the North and South of Ireland creating thousands of jobs along the way.

The picture accompanying this piece is a picture I took on my way to work a few days ago. After looking at it, I realised it is Northern Irish Unionism in one photo. Holding on for dear-life while the winds of change take them, whether they want to go or not. That’s what needs to happen. We need to stop waiting for Unionism to commit to peace and to ‘allow’ us to move forward. We’re in an exciting time for Ireland and we cannot allow a minority to take that away from us. We’ve spent too long waiting for both Unionism and Loyalism to do what’s right for all of us – so we have a responsibility to do that for them. A 1690, or 1921 mindset is not fit for purpose in 2021 because both those mindsets hold us back and we must start making the decision to move forward into a new Ireland…with or without them. It’s the right thing to do. Set a date!

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