Dominic Raab's ignorant indifference to the Good Friday Agreement is an insult to Northern Irish people like me

 It is the fundamental starting point for any understanding of the cessation of The Troubles, the delicate nature of power-sharing and the rules for changing the constitutional status of the contested region

Ben Kelly
Friday 01 February 2019 13:59 GMT
Dominic Raab admits he hasn't read the Good Friday agreement

As the tragedy of Brexit reaches its season finale, most people across the UK are slowly starting to hear what we Irish have been screaming at them for over two years: that the success of this great act of national sabotage is inextricably bound up in the complications of Northern Ireland.

It’s therefore worrying that the people running the show clearly haven’t done their homework.

Dominic Raab has become the latest politician to admit an embarrassing lack of knowledge when it comes to the six counties across the Irish Sea.

Appearing before the Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee, Raab was asked by the unionist MP Lady Sylvia Hermon, “Have you read the Good Friday Agreement?” He replied: “Well, I haven’t sat down, and started from the beginning and gone through it.”

So, that’s a no then.

The PDF of the Good Friday Agreement, which is available on the UK government’s official website, runs to just 35 pages. It’s hardly War and Peace. In fact, you could get through a fairly succinct summary in about 3 minutes.

Painstakingly negotiated by all parties in Northern Ireland, and the British and Irish governments, it is the fundamental starting point for any understanding of the cessation of The Troubles, the delicate nature of power-sharing and the rules for changing the constitutional status of the contested region.

It is also the gateway to understanding how joint membership of the EU aides the absence of a border on the island, creating a harmonisation which is now being placed under threat.

That Raab would even admit to not having read the agreement is a damning indictment of him as a minister, and yet more evidence of British indifference to Ireland – an indifference which can only be seen as downright foolish when one considers how crucial the neighbouring country is to the success, or failure, of Brexit.

But when it comes to Northern Ireland and British MPs (in particular, those of the Conservative persuasion), Raab joins a well populated field of those who simply haven’t a clue.

In October, Andrew Bridgen assumed that he could get an Irish passport simply by virtue of being English, while last month, Daniel Kawcynski thought the reunification of Ireland could come about without the consent of the people in the north.

And it’s contagious. Too much time spent collecting Tory cheques has even led DUP leader Arlene Foster to proclaim that there was never a hard border in Ireland – a remarkable statement from someone who grew up right next to it.

But of course the star prize goes to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Karen Bradley, who freely admitted she didn’t know unionists and nationalists don’t vote for one another in the region’s elections.

Her education in this area will be slow to advance, as she visits Northern Ireland about as often as tropical heatwaves. That she hasn’t yet managed to renegotiate a power-sharing agreement there is a mystery to all involved.

These failings may provoke the frustrations and fears of those of us from Derry and Belfast, but I would also advise that those in the rest of Britain pay heed to the bumblings of our glorious leaders. If they haven’t bothered to read the Good Friday Agreement, what else don’t they understand?

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If they don’t appreciate the significance of a border they designed, how can they be trusted to deal with it delicately as we leave the EU?

If they ignore popular opinion in Northern Ireland, how will they cope when demand for a border poll which would break up the UK picks up speed? Do they even know what a border poll is?

We’re facing the biggest political crisis this country has seen perhaps since the Second World War, a time when the prime minister had time to scribble off Nobel Prize-winning literature in his spare time. We are now led by men and women who can hardly be bothered to read a pamphlet on the most pressing issue of the day.

God help us all.

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