Blog about the Eastern Roman Empire or the Christian Byzantine Empire. Also about the archaeologist and historian Dr. Bernard Mulholland. Bernard is author of the novel Nazareth Quest, which is an intense thriller set in Israel. He has also published Ratio Analysis of Financial KPI in the Higher Education Sector, The Early Byzantine Christian Church, Early Byzantine Ireland, and Navan Fort Ireland. He is also author of The Man From MENSA, which is a history of this iconic high-IQ society.
The next twenty-five years are looking good for Northern Ireland (NI). The graphic above illustrates in simple terms how the post-Brexit NI Protocol and Windsor Agreement affect major trade flows to and from NI. NI businesses are now in the sweet spot where they have unfettered access for their goods into both the European Union (EU) Single Market, and also into Great Britain (England, Wales and Scotland) as well. Goods from the EU have unfettered access into NI, which means NI consumers still have access to the high quality EU produce they are accustomed to, but goods from GB are subject to EU restrictions that apply to third countries that want to supply goods into the EU Single Market.
It’s important to observe here that this is not the Agreement originally negotiated by the DUP, which, given that the Northern Ireland Assembly did not sit for three years while the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement was negotiated, was the only unionist political party from NI at Westminster, and had signed (Sir Jeffrey Donaldson and Gavin Williamson signed, observed by Dame Arlene Foster and Theresa May) a confidence and supply agreement with Theresa May’s government, and so was unionism’s sole voice throughout these Brexit negotiations. The original DUP negotiations had no unfettered trade at all from Northern Ireland into Great Britain, and NI was entirely within the EU Single Market for goods, which meant both GB-NI and NI-GB trade would be subject to import taxes.
During the early Brexit negotiations, I placed a letter in the Belfast Telegraph to explain that one of the concerns faced by NI businesses was that goods sent into the GB market, which is still very important, would be subject to import taxes and so become prohibitively expensive. I argued that it was within the power of prime minister Theresa May’s to allow unfettered access for NI-GB trade. However, I observed that unfettered GB-NI trade flow was not necessary as, given that Westminster would be negotiating trade agreements to allow cheap goods such as food to flow into GB, for NI to be inside the EU Single Market for goods would protect our farmers and agrifood sector from this competition. Theresa May’s government adopted this position, and if you compare the text of my letter with that which appears in the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement you will see that it’s almost as if it was copied and pasted across, complete with the use of ‘unfettered’ which is not commonly used in legal texts such as this.
And, to their credit, subsequent British prime ministers have honoured that position, and this has now placed NI in an enviable position wherein it has unfettered access to not only the EU Single Market for goods, but also to GB and via that access to any third countries that Westminster negotiates trade deals with.
In short, unless NI unionist parties unravel this sweetheart deal, the next twenty-five years look golden for NI businesses and its people.
To cite this paper: Bernard Mulholland, ‘The 1998 Good Friday or Belfast Agreement: the next 25 Years’, Polyphony, 366, pp. 28-34.
The 1998 Good Friday or Belfast Agreement: the next 25 Years
The Good Friday or Belfast Agreement 1998 (GFBA) receives little or no attention in Great Britain. It can easily be argued that few if any English have ever read the document or the British/European legislation and, much like their Irish counterparts, those that have read it probably don’t understand it.
A key reason for this state of affairs is, arguably, the document is presented arse-about-face, i.e. the wrong way round. It begins with the mundane, i.e. Northern Ireland, which is the most insignificant part of the Agreement, and ends with the British-Irish Council, which is by far the most important section detailing relationships between these two islands and the nations that inhabit them. And even this is not the pinnacle, for both the British and Irish were, at the time this Agreement was negotiated and agreed, full Member States of the European Union (EU) and so the Agreement itself sits within the body of law that underpins that supranational entity. Were that not sufficient to grab your attention, then the fact that the United States administration, primarily of the Democrats and Bill Clinton, but including Republican administrations bookending his, played a key role in driving forward this Agreement adds a further dimension to that raises it to another level altogether. And so what, on the surface at least, appears to be a simple document intended solely for consumption by a bunch of Irish culchies in Ulster is really an international treaty of some considerable importance.
As any academic will explain, context is everything, and, without understanding the context for this GFBA, both academics and political commentators are flying blind. Moreover, understanding the context for the GFBA is also arguably key to planning for the next twenty-five years, which underlies the theme of the planned conference to be held next Spring to mark the 25th anniversary of the GFBA. Furthermore, there is a tendency for drift in these matters, primarily due to these events being curated by those who have little or no knowledge of the context because they were not involved, but also because the agenda – political, military, diplomatic, and otherwise – change with time. The GFBA is not merely a historic event trapped in 1998 but is instead an active ingredient in current political, military, diplomatic and other active areas of interest. The clearest hint of this is inherent in the term ‘the Northern Ireland Peace Process’, i.e. it is an ever evolving entity shaped by players and onlookers, both past and present.
As a humble historian, Byzantinist, Patristics scholar, and an archaeologist who scrabbles around among the dirt, this text can only reflect my own unimportant observations on the GFBA and its context.
The 1998 Act of Union: the Good Friday or Belfast Agreement 1998.
It almost goes without saying that almost no-one appears to have actually read the 1998 Belfast Agreement, which is commonly referred to as the ‘Good Friday Agreement’. In this article it will be referred to simply as the GFBA 1998. Of those that have read it, it seems few ever get past the opening paragraphs that specifically refer to Northern Ireland (NI), and especially to where it establishes the relationship between Great Britain and Ireland within the EU.
How many understand that the GFBA 1998 is arguably the penultimate legislation in a series of Acts of Union affecting these islands of Great Britain and Ireland stretching from the Union with England Act 1707 (Crown, 2022a), the Union with Ireland Act 1800 (Crown, 2022b), and the Government of Ireland Act 1920 (Crown, 2022c)? The first (1707) married Scotland to England and Wales, and the second added Ireland to the mix. The third in the sequence (1920) envisaged a complex divorce from Ireland (UK Parliament, 2020) in which two devolved legislatures, the ‘Parliament of Northern Ireland’ and the ‘Parliament of Southern Ireland’, were to be established together with a Council of Ireland. Of these only the Northern Ireland Parliament was to see light of day at that time, with the Parliament of Southern Ireland manifesting itself instead as the ‘Irish Free State’ which later morphed into the Republic of Ireland in 1949 after the Republic of Ireland Act 1948 (Houses of the Oireachtas, 2022).
The GFBA 1998 was largely negotiated between the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) and the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), which were the two largest NI political parties at that time, albeit with input from the British and Irish governments, and also the U.S. administration and European Union. It had three strands that were designed to accommodate three tiers of relationships.
In simple terms:
(i) Strand one: the lowest tier dealt with relationships between three recognised designations known as ‘unionists’, ‘nationalists’ (also included republicans) and non-aligned ‘others’ in the Northern Ireland Assembly. Unionists prioritise the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Nationalists, including republicans, prioritise a united Ireland. Others are from neither of the other two designations. Ministers are selected using the d’Hondt system, and the First and Deputy First Ministers were originally selected from the largest and second largest designation respectively. But the NI Assembly soon became bogged down with internecine infighting both between designated unionists and nationalists, and also within both of these designations, i.e. unionist on unionist, and nationalist on republican infighting. However, both the UUP and SDLP were soon eclipsed at the polls by the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Sinn Féin who then proceeded to remove the log jam in fresh negotiations that led to the Northern Ireland (St Andrews Agreement) Act 2006, which, among other things, decreed that the First Minister be selected by the largest political party, and the Deputy First Minister by the second largest party. However, where the largest political party did not also come from the largest designation, the Deputy First Minister would be selected by the largest party in the largest designation.
(ii) Strand two: the intermediate tier dealt with relations on the island of Ireland of Ireland. It achieved this through establishment of the North-South Ministerial Council, which is effectively an embryonic Council of Ireland envisaged in the 1920 Government of Ireland Act. It provides for ministers from the NI Executive and Dáil Éireann to agree policies that can be implemented across both jurisdictions.
(iii) Strand three: the GFBA 1998 legislates for a British-Irish Council comprised of representatives of ‘the British and Irish Governments, devolved institutions in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales […] together with representatives of the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands’. This was supplemented by a British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference to meet at Summit level, i.e. between British prime minister and taoiseach, to deal with the totality of relationships.
The significance of the GFBA 1998 is that it is an agreement between two Member States of the European Union and, after implementation of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement 2020, is now an agreement between the Member States of the European Union (EU) and a third party, i.e. the United Kingdom. However, this is an oversimplification as in the Brexit referendum Northern Ireland (Figure 1), after its electorate voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU, is at the time of writing technically also a Member State of the EU (European Commission, 2022). Of some significance and relevance is that whereas the Brexit referendum took place under the auspices of Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU), which is arguably ill-defined, the GFBA is well-defined EU legislation.
Some political commentators argue that the GFBA 1998 is prescriptive in providing solely for a referendum on a ‘united Ireland’. However, close reading of the GFBA 1998 (Crown, 2022d) demonstrates that this is not necessarily the case:
Status of Northern Ireland.
(1) It is hereby declared that Northern Ireland in its entirety remains part of the United Kingdom and shall not cease to be so without the consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland voting in a poll held for the purposes of this section in accordance with Schedule 1.
(2) But if the wish expressed by a majority in such a poll is that Northern Ireland should cease to be part of the United Kingdom and form part of a united Ireland, the Secretary of State shall lay before Parliament such proposals to give effect to that wish as may be agreed between Her Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom and the Government of Ireland.
The first paragraph takes precedence, and it merely provides that Northern Ireland shall not cease to be part of the United Kingdom unless a majority of its electorate/people vote to do so in a poll held for that purpose, i.e. the poll is for NI to leave the UK. It is only in the second paragraph that the option of the Northern Ireland electorate specifically voting to leave the UK to form part of a united Ireland is mentioned. And the first paragraph of Schedule 1 simply refers back to section 1 in a circular argument.
Schedule 1. Polls for the purposes of section 1 observes that:
1 The Secretary of State may by order direct the holding of a poll for the purposes of section 1 on a date specified in the order.
2 Subject to paragraph 3, the Secretary of State shall exercise the power under paragraph 1 if at any time it appears likely to him that a majority of those voting would express a wish that Northern Ireland should cease to be part of the United Kingdom and form part of a united Ireland.
Whilst the second paragraph is specific to a ‘united Ireland’, the first paragraph simply refers back to section 1, which observes that NI shall not cease to be in the UK without the consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland voting in a poll held for the purposes. But why split hairs here and for what purpose?
Brexit and the Withdrawal Agreement
Well, arguably under the auspices of the GFBA 1998, during 2016 the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, acting in concert with their Cabinet colleagues, called a referendum in Northern Ireland on membership of the European Union, and in this referendum the Northern Ireland electorate, who at this time were citizens of the European Union taking part in a referendum held inside the EU, voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU. But, crucially, they did not vote to form part of a united Ireland, and so NI was instead accorded de facto status as a Member State of the EU (Figure 1) in its own right, which arguably affords NI the status of a sovereign nation in the EU, i.e. equal to France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and all the other Member States.
And so, after the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement was signed, the outworking of the NI Protocol, which was negotiated by the British government and the DUP, means that Northern Ireland is now also a Member State of the EU in its own right as outlined above. Confirmation of this observation can be found on the TUV (Traditional Unionist Voice) website where its leader, Jim Allister (2022), argues:
The Protocol has left this part of the United Kingdom as effectively an EU colony, subject to laws we do not make and cannot change all overseen by a foreign court.
“Under the Protocol, Great Britain is regarded as a foreign country when it comes to Northern Ireland. The constitutional vandalism of the Protocol has been exposed in the Court of Appeal with the Court finding and Article VI of the Acts of Union has been “subjugated” by the Protocol.
“It is therefore imperative that the Government acts to restore British sovereignty in Northern Ireland.
And this is why the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland (Crown, 2022f) was necessary to finesses the relationship between these two EU Member States – Ireland and Northern Ireland – and the third party of Great Britain. However it can reasonably be argued that the status of Northern Ireland vis a vis both the EU and UK is still in flux, and has yet to be finalised.
Figure 1. VIES.
Current post-Brexit Withdrawal Agreement manoeuvres by the DUP arguably have more to do with internal divisions in that party. Electoral arithmetic placed DUP MPs in an unrivalled position to affect the outcome of Brexit negotiations as they held the balance of power at Westminster throughout much of those Brexit negotiations, and they were the only unionist party at Westminster from NI. Meanwhile their NI Assembly MLAs were muted when Sinn Féin withdrew their Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness, to collapse the Assembly for three years over the ‘RHI scandal’. The DUP’s current predicament over the Protocol is entirely self-inflicted as they were placed in an unrivalled position to directly influence the outcome of Brexit withdrawal negotiations, and the Protocol is their baby.
However, having said all that, there is rarely anything to be gained from merely reciting the hows and whys of the current stalemate affecting both Northern Ireland and Westminster. Westminster? Yes, the prime minister, Rishi Sunak will hope to host the U.S. president, Joe Biden, at an event held next April at Queen’s University Belfast to celebrate or mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of the GFBA 1998. For that occasion to be successful, the prime minister needs the NI Assembly and Executive up-and-running. The question begging is will the prime minister square this particular circle in the run up to that event? Moreover, there is some considerable speculation that the Johnson government was merely using the DUP and the NI Protocol as leverage to negotiate better terms for Great Britain with the EU.
At the time of writing the jury is out on that one. But, there might be a route out of this paradox. As a few enlightened NI negotiators understand, including the DUP’s former leader, Peter Robinson, one way to deal with a problem is to broaden it out to include or incorporate a larger slate of contents that might offer up a possible negotiated solution.
Yes, but, what kind of ‘union’, and with whom?
It can reasonably be argued that the current impasse over the NI Protocol is over what kind of union we want to live in, and, as with the GFBA 1998, this is a multi-tiered problem. In this case it encompasses both the European Union (EU), and also the ‘union’ of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland as defined by both the GFBA 1998 and the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement 2020 and its Ireland/Northern Ireland Protocol. There is a clear overlap between the two ‘unions’ of the EU and UK, and the Withdrawal Agreement and its Protocol is an attempt to manage that overlap.
It has previously been observed (Mulholland, 2016) that the GFBA 1998 is similar in many to the Nordic Council, which allows for and manages a complex set of interrelationships between its members and the EU. If these Nordic countries can co-exist with the EU and still function as a regional trading and cultural bloc then there appears to be no reason why the nations in Great Britain and Ireland cannot do so also.
The question begging then is, as with the Nordic Council, whether the natural outworking of the GFBA is that the constituent nations of the British-Irish Council all become independent nations, and, those that wish to, also have full or partial membership of the EU as well. From 1998 the Republic of Ireland is one of those independent nations, and it is currently a Member State of the EU as well as a full member of the British-Irish Council (BIC) and Intergovernmental conference. If the Republic of Ireland can walk and chew gum at the same time, i.e. hold full membership of the EU and BIC, then surely Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Isle of Man and the Channel Islands can also manage this feat – should they choose to?
And, there’s another important reason for raising these matters here in Polyphony.
White man speaks with forked tongue
Eurosceptics are not a homogenous group. Far from it; they demonstrate a range of knowledge about the EU and UK and it is readily apparent that many simply reflect or parrot the views expressed in whatever media they happen to regularly access. The pros and cons of EU membership were discussed at length in the pages of Poliphony/Politicks over the last thirty-plus years and many of those currently writing for Polyphony took part in these discussions.
However, one of the key challenges facing Eurosceptics in their engagement with the EU is that they argued that, instead of mirroring the United States of America by merging to form the United States of Europe, the EU should function solely or mostly as a trading bloc. Had the UK itself functioned as a simple trading bloc then British prime ministers such as Tony Blair and David Cameron could have used it as an exemplar to make their argument for them. However, instead power in the UK is vested in a centralised Westminster government in which English MPs run roughshod over all of the devolved institutions, and the trading bloc is an irrelevance as England does what it want and the others have to tag along whether it is in their interests or not.
Show, don’t tell
And so if Eurosceptics want to shape and influence the EU then it can be constructively argued that they need to configure the United Kingdom in the image that they want the EU to emulate so that EU Member States can see how it would function, and evaluate the evidence and benefits for themselves. But, the Eurosceptics, who currently dominate the British government, appear to all adrift in the wake of Brexit with no clear road map as to where they’re going.
This is then the immediate challenge facing Eurosceptics and the ERG (European Research Group). The answer may be staring them in the face in the form of the GFBA 1998.
The Irish Question Answer
The 25th anniversary of the GFBA will be celebrated during April 2023. Whether the NI Executive and Assembly will be in situ by then is anybody’s guess at the time of writing. If, as argued previously, the GFBA is an Act of Union by another name, then the Republic of Ireland is currently an outlier, i.e. it is both a full Member State of the EU and also a full member of GFBA institutions such as the BIC and Intergovernmental Conference. It is arguably the exemplar par excellence for how this relationship can be successfully managed, i.e. it provides tangible and visible evidence that can be assessed.
Ireland has managed this dual membership adeptly for almost twenty-five years now after the GFBA was agreed. Unlike Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, Ireland receives no subvention or support from Westminster. In fact Ireland probably contributes more to the British Exchequer through taxes on trade than do the three devolved nations together. And it runs a budget surplus at the same time as being a net contributor to the EU. In contrast Scotland receives a subvention or block grant of between £35-41 billion depending on what source is referenced, Wales receives £16 billion, and NI £15 billion-odd, which comes to around £70 billion.
Ireland is the exemplar par excellence for how an independent nation can simultaneously be in the BIC – the Union – and at the same time also a full Member State of the EU. If Scotland, Wales and NI could emulate Ireland then it can be strongly argued that England would also benefit immeasurably as well.
Moreover, Northern Ireland is currently situated exactly (Mulholland, 2016) where I anticipated it would be, i.e. an independent Member State of the EU in its own right. The casual reader might dismiss this statement for where NI currently finds itself, but, Jim Allister, the TUV (Traditional Unionist Voice) leader, confirms this analysis (2022), and validation of this position is also provided by the European Commission (2022). For the last twenty-plus years I have persistently and consistently argued in the Letters pages of the three NI regional newspapers (The Irish News, Belfast Telegraph, and News Letter) that an independent NI is in the best interests of all the people of NI, and for Great Britain as well. And so, it would take little effort for Westminster to work with the EU to complete Northern Ireland’s full transition into a full Member State of the EU in its own right with all the bells and whistles that go with it. This could then, should they wish, provide a template that the Scots and Welsh could apply.
ADDENDUM: Fool’s Gold and the ERG
John Major’s ribs must be sore. The former British prime minister will be forgiven if he fell about laughing as, on Wednesday’s Peston (October 19), former ERG (European Research Group) chairman and current Minister of State for Northern Ireland, Steve Baker, ended his appearance on the live show with a plea for party unity amid growing calls for the prime minister to resign, which she duly did the following day. Those of us of a certain vintage well remember ministers in the Major government vainly appealing to their Eurosceptic party colleagues – the ‘bastards’ – to maintain party unity. And so, when Steve sat there on live television beseeching his party colleagues to show unity, John Major and his put upon party colleagues must have allowed themselves a good old-fashioned belly laugh. What goes around comes around!
And nor do Steve’s woes end there for the previous prime minister, Liz Truss, put him in to bat at the Northern Ireland (NI) Office together with Secretary of State for NI, Chris Heaton-Harris, who is another former chair of the ERG. Had this dynamic duo any self-awareness this would have raised a red flag for them, surely? When the pair were appointed to the Northern Ireland Office it was already apparent that it was at cross-purposes with the DUP. Why? Well, firstly, the twenty-fifth anniversary of the GFBA is next April, and all the parties to that Agreement – the US administration, the EU, the Irish Government, and many in the British government – are expecting to mark this important milestone with all its component parts fully functioning, and especially the Northern Ireland Assembly at Stormont. At the time of writing, responsibility for Stormont’s restitution lies entirely upon the shoulders of Chris Heaton-Harris and Steve Baker. Secondly, the DUP (Democratic Unionist Party) lost the May 2022 Assembly elections to Sinn Féin, which has nominated a First Minister. However, the DUP are blocking the formation of a NI Executive by refusing to nominate a Deputy First Minister. The DUP’s stated reason for refusing to nominate is that they object to the NI Protocol, which they were instrumental in negotiating.
It can be argued that these positions reflect two apposite post-Brexit views held by Conservative MPs and the wider British body politic.
ERG world view: the Protocol is scrapped and NI joins GB in a full-fledged hard Brexit to full-throated roars of “huzzah!” and much slapping of desk tops by the ERG. This world view has support in Westminster of the ERG and DUP, and outside Westminster of Brexiteers such as Nigel Farage.
Alternative world view: GB instead joins NI to avail of its beneficial trade terms with the EU in the Single Market. This world view probably has support at Westminster from the majority of MPs in the Conservative Party, Labour, SNP, LibDems and others.
It can be constructively argued that Steve, and his colleagues in the ERG, have entirely misread the unfolding scenario vis a vis the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement. On Sunday (October 23) Steve doubled down on his rhetoric as he confidently asserted that there would be no celebrations to mark the 25th anniversary of the GFBA 1998 until “the legitimate interest of Unionists […] to end the jurisdiction of EU law in Northern Ireland” is met. He went further, and confidently asserted that unless Unionist demands were met the ERG “Eurosceptics would implode the government”.
There are at least two problems with Steve’s interpretation of events.
Firstly, Eurosceptics have now had six years from the 2016 referendum on membership of the EU in which to demonstrate to the British electorate that their vision of Brexit can be successfully delivered. GB now has a16% trade deficit with the EU and it appears to be getting worse. Trade deals with non-EU states or trading blocs have been all but non-existent. Given historic links between the Tories and the Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM) an appropriate means of measuring Eurosceptic performance after the Brexit referendum would be Sterling’s performance against both the US Dollar and Euro (Figure 1). The former is currently 1.13 and the latter 1.14. To be fair, these historic lows against both currencies have been there from the Conservative Party took over from the Blair-Brown government, and have stubbornly refused to improve. And so, whereas in the recent contests to lead the Conservative Party they have regaled the media with tales of how the Conservative Party is trusted on the economy, the available economic evidence is that the party is not trusted at all by the markets.
In short, Steve’s ERG has failed to deliver the promised land, and instead found only Fool’s Gold.
Figure 1. GBP against US Dollar and Euro from 2000 (Bank of England, 2022a and b).
Secondly, the ERG seem to think that the outworking of the current impasse at Stormont will be resolved by Northern Ireland adopting the same Brexit Withdrawal terms as Great Britain. However, both the United States and the European Union, the two most powerful political, military and economic powers on the planet, have told successive British governments that the 1998 Good Friday or Belfast Agreement (GFBA) is sacrosanct, and have made it known that the NI Protocol Bill currently passing through Parliament is in breach of both the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement and the GFBA. Given their current economic woes, the British government can ill afford a trade war with the EU and everyone knows that. The British government will almost certainly have to back down.
While Steve’s opinion on how to resolve the current impasse at Stormont may appear eminently sensible to the ERG, it can instead be argued that the easiest and simplest way to resolve both the Stormont impasse and also Westminster’s woeful economic performance is for Great Britain to adopt the same Brexit Withdrawal terms with the EU that Northern Ireland has. This would immediately resolve the East-West trade barrier in the Irish Sea and, as GB would be subject to EU law, also remove Unionist’s objections to being treated differently from GB.
It can be argued that Liz Truss’s Bill to neuter the NI Protocol should just be binned by the government, and they should start negotiations with the EU all over again with the benefit of 20:20 hindsight. The newly-minted British prime minister, Rishi Sunak, has a far better understanding of the economic situation than did any of his recent predecessors, and, instead of being hamstrung by a poorly conceived Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, could be expected to negotiate a more equitable settlement.
Whilst the aforementioned analysis is by far the most credible solution to the Brexit omnishambles delivered by the ERG, it must be noted here that throughout the 90s and into the 21st century my own views were decidedly Eurosceptic, and so also were my contributions to Poliphony. In other words, I have some sympathy for the ERG worldview. More than that, I also arguably have the solutions they need to turn events around at a rapid pace.
However, these come at a cost:
1. Fee £100 million after taxes: Brexiteers have singularly failed to strike post-Brexit trade deals. There is arguably a relatively simple fix that could see the UK, or GB, rapidly secure specific trade deals that would speedily and positively impact GDP. Consider this the entree, i.e. a quick fix that sets the stage for part 2.
2. Fee £10 billion after taxes: £trillion, £trillion, £trillion, £trillion, and another £trillion. Two of these may appear over-egged, but one suspects not. Ambitious? Of course, but arguably relatively easy to implement, and at pace – to borrow a term much-beloved by the Civil Service these days. A freebie was already posted in letter to the Belfast Telegraph that argued for a 15-mile wide causeway or isthmus to be constructed across the Irish Sea between GB and Ireland so as to create two back-to-back deep water harbours on a scale of two Shanghai ports. While a 15-mile wide causeway appears ambitious, firstly, the land that forms this connection would probably become the most valuable property on the planet, secondly, when two separate port infrastructures are taken into consideration this might have to be enlarged, and thirdly, GB-Ireland infrastructure would almost certainly be added to the equation once the ramifications sink in. Ideally to run from Preston to Drogheda at the widest point so that the tidal forces either side of the causeway are manageable, and to maximise the land value. But, if the Irish government is not interested, then from Preston to the Isle of Man, if they agree, and on to Northern Ireland.
These two interdictions are obviously the inane ramblings of a madman. And yet, through a series of interventions, which are in the public domain, I have arguably changed the political, economic and military landscape around us, i.e. there is ample evidence that I have delivered. Moreover, there is no expectation that these will be taken up. Instead the expectation is that the ERG will be purged from the Conservative Party, and Steve’s frequent appearances in the media are the prelude to join Nigel Farage in a new career on chat shows.
Mulholland, B. (2016) ‘the man from MENSA’ – 1 of the 600: Politics 1990-1995, Charleston: Independent Publisher.
Mulholland, B. (2022) ‘The Northern Ireland ‘peace process’ in context with respect to the European Parliament, European Commission, and the Good Friday or Belfast Agreement 1998’, Polyphony, 365, pp. 28-28.
To cite this article: Bernard Mulholland, ‘The Northern Ireland ‘peace process’ in context with respect to the European Parliament, European Commission, and the Good Friday or Belfast Agreement 1998′, Polyphony, 364, pp. 24-29.
As a preface to this piece it is important to observe, firstly, that key data do not appear, and that the author is a 65-yo with health problems – mad as a hatter. Secondly, to anchor the contents of this piece, many current members contributing to Polyphony were also present 20 years ago when the first two articles referenced here were published. British (Welsh, Scottish and English) readers might want to skip to the last section that has broader relevance.
Twenty years ago I was the editor of Poliphony, as it was titled then, and, as a means of (i) generating feedback for the journal, and (ii) as there was at that time intense pro- and anti-EU debate, I decided to test some aspects of the European Union (EU) by putting forward two petitions to the European Parliament.
The first was Petition to the European Parliament (363/2002) ‘Alleged gender, regional & racist discrimination in the UK’s Royal Society’ (see: ‘the man from MENSA’ – 1 of 600: Mensa Research, 2016, p. 156-164). While the petition itself was declined, the annex submitted with it requested ‘that the European Parliament establish, and fund, a European Academy of Science’. And, sure enough, Philip Weis wrote in Science (298, 6 December 2002) that an observer from the Royal Society was in attendance at the formation of the European Academy of Sciences (EAS) held in Brussels on 29 November 2002 in a room borrowed from the European Commission. And this evidential trail, which was also published in Poliphony at the time, is why I lay claim to be the Fons et Origo of the EAS.
The second was Petition to the European Parliament (24/022002) published in ‘the man from MENSA’ 1 of the 600: Politics 1990-1995 (2016, p. 142-143). This petition was pivotal to the Northern Ireland ‘peace process’, and was arguably instrumental in bringing the Irish Republican Army Council (IRAC) in from the cold. In early 2002, as editor of Poliphony, when the Attorney General in the Republic of Ireland, Michael McDowell, publicly observed that there were those in his jurisdiction who pledged loyalty to another legal government in Ireland, i.e. the IRA, and I saw an opportunity to address an outstanding problem. It is important here to observe that a number of other outstanding issues had already been addressed, such as prisoner releases and then the formation of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI).
Key to this petition, as had been discussed by those in Poliphony ad infinitum, was negotiation at that time by EU Member States towards developing a constitution for the EU, which was to be the goal of the Lisbon Treaty, which was intended to be ratified by 2004, but that was not formally implemented until 2009. One key reason, arguably, for this hold up is that the EU is a very legalistic construction, and each treaty of the EU had to be ratified by THE legal government of each Member State. And so when Attorney General Michael McDowell publicly acknowledged that another organisation claimed to be THE legal government of Ireland, i.e. the Irish Republican Army Council (IRAC), I took the opportunity to petition the European Parliament to resolve competing claims by the IRAC and the Oireachtas (Irish Parliament) to be THE legal government of Ireland. Important to observe here that the petition made no reference to either the British government, nor to the Northern Ireland Assembly. The European Parliament wrote back to say that in view of the significance of the petition they were forwarding it to the European Commission to deal with.
In effect the existence of the IRAC and its claim to be THE legal government of Ireland blocked the EU and its Member States from ratifying the Lisbon Treaty, which had been intended to serve as the founding Constitution of the EU as a ‘United States of Europe’, and a mirror image of the United States of America.
It must be acknowledged here that it was the IRAC’s decision, and theirs alone, to take the steps necessary to remove that block on progress during 2005 when the IRAC effectively ceased to exist. Or, to be more precise, just as a caterpillar metamorphoses into a butterfly, the IRAC chose to metamorphose into a new and more vibrant reconstituted Sinn Féin. And this transition cleared the way for ratification of the Lisbon Treaty by EU Member States, including THE government of Ireland.
This move by the IRAC also then in turn paved the way for the St. Andrew’s Agreement in 2006 that led to the Northern Ireland Assembly Elections 2007 and formation of a DUP-Sinn Féin led Northern Ireland Executive. In view of the preceding paragraphs it can be constructively argued that Sinn Féin were now an integral component of THE government of Northern Ireland, and have been now for the last fifteen years. An important observation given that, if pollsters are correct, Sinn Féin is now poised to also form THE government of Ireland as well. From aspiration to reality? THE government in Ireland, both north and south simultaneously.
At this juncture it is important to pause for a moment to reflect on a number of observations. Firstly, the term ‘DUP- Sinn Féin government’ reflects the fact that the DUP chose the First Minister (FM) and Sinn Féin chose the Deputy First Minister (DFM), and the other ministers were then appointed by running D’Hondt. But the DUP did not have to form a government with Sinn Féin. Under the St. Andrew’s Agreement, the First Minister went to the largest political party, and the Deputy First Minister to the largest party in the next largest designation, i.e. as the DUP self-designated as Unionists the DFM was selected by the largest party in the second largest designation, which was Nationalists. However, had the UUP (18 seats) and SDLP (16 seats) both designated as Other instead of Unionist and Nationalist respectively, then the DFM could now be selected by the UUP as, taken together with the 7 Alliance seats and 1 Green Party seat, designated Others would have formed the next largest designation. This would have led to formation of a DUP-UUP government. It could be argued here that the SDLP would never have agreed to designate as Other, but, had the UUP agreed to share the DFM or offered other concessions, then they might have done. It is unfortunate that politics is a numbers game all too often played by the innumerate!
The same can be said for the 2011 Northern Ireland Assembly. The DUP again got to select the FM, but, had the UUP and SDLP chose to designate as Others then their combined 30 seats added to the 8 Alliance seats and the 1 Green Party seat would have easily shifted designated Nationalists into third place, and so blocked Sinn Féin from nominating the DFM. And the same can be said also of the 2016 and 2017 NIA.
The 2022 NI Assembly elections revealed another facet to the St. Andrew’s Agreement, which observed that largest political party nominated the FM, and then the largest political party from the second largest designation (Unionist, Nationalist or Other) nominated the DFM. But, where the largest political party did not come from the largest designation, it fell to the largest political party from the largest designation to nominate the DFM. In the 2022 NI Assembly election Sinn Féin, the largest political party, did not come from the largest designation, and so the DUP, as the largest political party in the largest designation was to nominate DFM but has refused to do so. As observed in a previous article, it is likely that the DUP backroom team have determined that their party can retake the FM position after fresh elections to the NI Assembly if they can negotiate a deal with the new kingmaker on the bloc – TUV leader, Jim Allister.
Once again, had the UUP and SDLP chosen to designate as Other in the aftermath of this 2022 election to increase its numbers to 35, then this would now become the largest designation, and, as the largest party in that designation, the Alliance Party would be entitled to nominate DFM. If good old fashioned pork barrel politics were at work, then the UUP and SDLP could have negotiated a just reward from Alliance for having done so, but, instead, these political parties secured no electoral advantage for their shrinking electoral college, i.e. why vote for these lumpen MLAs when they don’t even attempt to deliver for their electorate?
And so what is the significance of these observations? Well, the TUV leader, Jim Allister, has consistently argued that the Northern Ireland Assembly has an enforced mandatory coalition, and he has argued in favour of a coalition of the willing instead. That coalition was arguably always possible under St. Andrew’s had unionist politicians chosen to engage in pork barrel politics instead of their usual bloody pig-headedness. They never had to share power with Sinn Féin at the level of First or Deputy First Minister level if the UUP had instead reached out to the SDLP and/or Alliance Party to share the DFM position, or come to some other mutually beneficial arrangement instead.
Had the UUP & SDLP (and Alliance Party?) reached out across the political divide then who knows what effect this might have had upon their own electoral fortunes over that decade? And also prior to St. Andrew’s the UUP, SDLP and Alliance Party could arguably have combined as designated Others to break the political mould to dominate the 1998-2006 political landscape. Instead the SDLP appears to be in terminal decline.
The UUP, stripped of most of its civilian membership, could arguably and ironically be characterised as the Ulster Unionist Army Council. Their meetings must now be a parody (view on YouTube) of the Captain Morgan television advertisement: ‘Captain, captain, captain? Captain!’ It’s fair to observe that no loyalist would ever trust politicians who swear loyalty to a foreign state, i.e. England (Westminster is to all intents and purposes the English parliament dominated by English MPs, and always has been after the House of Commons unceremoniously removed the Scottish king for a more pliable European monarchy. Albeit that it is ironic that this monarchy has since arguably established a parallel government and infrastructure owing loyalty solely to itself). Nationalists are little better given that they also swear their allegiance to a foreign state, but in this case to the Republic of Ireland.
Instead Loyalists, of whatever religion or cultural background, swear their allegiance to God and Ulster, and in that order. Again ironically, it is the Alliance Party that is arguably the only ‘loyalist’ political party in the NI Assembly. The party has so far refused to commit to pledging loyalty to either the ‘Unionist’ or ‘Nationalist’ cause, choosing instead to put the interests of the people of Northern Ireland first. A recent poll published in the Belfast Telegraph (August 20) revealed that an increasing number of people in NI are self-identifying as Northern Irish, and especially young women. The strongest argument in favour of this stance is self-love, i.e. the people of NI need to learn to love themselves, their family and those around them instead of prioritising foreign states. The people of NI are worthy, they are deserving of something better for themselves and their families. And, one presumes, if the Alliance Party could be persuaded of the benefits of an independent Northern Ireland, either within or without the EU, then it could become a powerful advocate for that position. Interesting, eh? And especially in light of the final section of this article.
The reason for penning this article now is the upcoming twenty-fifth anniversary of the GFBA 1998 next year in 2023. Many of the signatories to that agreement are now no longer with us, and, if Queen’s University Belfast (QUB) once again hosts a celebratory anniversary event, the only party leaders still around from that event will likely be former president of Sinn Féin, Gerry Adams, former leader of the Alliance Party, Dr. John (Lord) Alderdice, former leader of the Women’s Coalition, Professor Monica McWilliams, and former leader of the Ulster Democratic Party (UDP), Gary McMichael. Also, I attended the unveiling of a portrait of David (Lord) Trimble at the School of Management at QUB on June 27, 2022 and have read many of the comments following his recent passing, which need to be addressed.
Why do they need to be addressed? Well, the history of Northern Ireland has two key contexts that are best characterised by the terms ‘overt’ and covert’. Almost all what is published falls under the term ‘overt’ and forms the official history, i.e. what Westminster wants you to know. The ‘covert’ history is all too often there is plain sight, but academics and the media notoriously follow the money, and that money comes from Westminster.
The first part of this context occurred before my time, and I may, or may not, be familiar with aspects of the others.
Phase One: defence of the nation.
The formation of the Northern Ireland (NI) state occurred during a time of considerable turbulence. When they looked south its occupants saw another new state that had just undergone a ‘War of Independence’, and, upon securing that independence, almost immediately turned in on itself in a brutal ‘Civil War’. After the first event the victors exorcised many of the incumbent Irish Civil Servants who were replaced by their own supporters, and the same process occurred again after the latter event. Most of those Civil Servants who were forced to flee would quite happily have objectively administered the new state for their new political masters, and the majority were Roman Catholics, but, as ever, to the victors go the spoils, and these jobs were shared out to reward loyalty to the cause. Many ousted Civil Servants moved elsewhere in the Empire/Commonwealth, but a significant number of these Irish patriots relocated to Northern Ireland to help build this state. The leaders of the Northern Ireland Parliament were concerned that, after they had finished this bloodletting, the army in the south would switch their attention to them. They were concerned for the very existence of their new state, and so they took steps to import sufficient modern weapons that the NI state could withstand any assault by the southern army. However, the expected assault failed to materialise.
During World War II, the Northern Ireland state first served to protect convoys of supplies from Canada crossing the Atlantic for the United Kingdom. And then, when the United States entered WWII, Northern Ireland served as a crucial linchpin to not only protect maritime convoys, but in-and-around a hundred airfields were constructed here. Some were used by flying boats and seaplanes to protect shipping. Others were crucial in protecting heavily-laden aircraft flying into Ballykelly, which once had the longest runway in Europe to facilitate these heavily-laden aircraft coming to a rolling stop, i.e. otherwise, had they used their brakes to come to a stop then, they would need to replace their brakes every time they landed because they were so heavily laden.
The Atlantic supply chain to the UK and Europe was still in full flow when a cessation to hostilities in Europe was announced at the collapse of Nazi Germany. As a result, the NI state was still jam-packed with weapons and munitions of every conceivable type intended for the front line. Our American and Canadian cousins wanted to avoid the costs inherent in flying/shipping all the hardware and munitions back to North America, and they were also reputedly keen to show their appreciation to those in Northern Ireland who had supported the war effort, and so they allegedly gifted a vast arsenal of weapons and munitions to the Northern Ireland state, which were concealed in underground bunkers for future use. Such was their generosity that considerable stocks were also allegedly secured in bunkers throughout the Irish Free State/Republic of Ireland for the protection of the Anglo-Irish population who felt under threat. Moreover, even after the Northern Ireland Parliament was successfully overthrown or ‘prorogued’ in 1972 by Westminster, arguably to prevent it from emulating Rhodesia’s 1965 declaration of UDI (Unilateral Declaration of Independence), it retained its independent ability and infrastructure to defend itself. It is important to note here that this arsenal was always intended solely for state-on-state warfare in the event that the Republic of Ireland engaged in hostilities and, insofar as is known, none of these weapons were ever used during ‘the Troubles’.
Phase Two: 1966-1973.
In short, the assessment by those advising the Northern Ireland was that either the Republic of Ireland or the IRA, or both, would use the upcoming 50th anniversary of the 1916 rebellion to mount an offensive against the NI state and take the six counties. In preparation, they called upon every person with military training to make themselves available – both regular soldiers and irregulars. Many of these individuals had served throughout the British Empire/Commonwealth in various theatres of war. Quite a few were veterans of the Cold War, and their activities can be labelled under the terms ‘overt’ and ‘covert’. The former provides the basis for almost all the official histories published by academics and the media. But the ‘covert’ activities that had a global impact throughout the Cold War.
When the IRA was a no-show a decision was taken to artificially bolster its membership with agents tasked with upping the ante. Yes, a bit too sensitive to be included here.
The assessment at that time by ministers in the Northern Ireland Parliament was that the Republic of Ireland was susceptible to being destabilised by IRA activity and loyalist counter strikes to such an extent that the British army would be invited in to restore order, and a puppet government installed. The fly in the ointment, so to speak, was that applications by the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom to join the EEC (European Economic Community) were accepted and, together with Denmark, they formally joined on January 1, 1973. This event was unexpected as successive British governments had previously applied for membership and all these applications had been rejected. Once again their carefully laid plans were disrupted by unfolding events. In the relatively long run-up to that event it was deemed bad form to undermine a neighbouring state that was soon to be a fellow EEC member. Because of this, an official decision was taken to call a halt to subversive activities, and at the end of 1969 the leadership of the IRA moved to recognise the British government, Irish government and that of Northern Ireland.
This led to a split as the northern actors were by now confident that the Northern Ireland Parliament could be overthrown. And so the Provisional IRA/Sinn Féin was born. However, there was another reason.
Phase Three: ‘the Troubles’ – A rethink was needed by 1973.
As steps were taken to unwind this strategic position a number of observations were made that led to the existing framework being adjusted to target a more important global threat. At this time complete control was exerted covertly over both loyalists and republicans. It was noted that republicans had, either directly or indirectly, found themselves with links to almost all the terrorist groups or freedom fighters associated with the USSR, i.e. the Eastern Bloc and Communism. The Cold War was in full flow at this time, and those governments affected by these groups were desperate for intelligence on their operatives and activities, which republicans now had in abundance. In fact, not only did they possess this knowledge, but they were reputedly also able to actively influence these groups and their activities. The same could be said of loyalist paramilitaries, which were approached by a substantial number of Western governments and agencies, and their allies. In short, Northern Ireland was arguably the most important intelligence operation of the Cold War.
Tight control was maintained over huge arsenals imported by both loyalists and republicans to prevent Northern Ireland deteriorating into feudal warfare similar to that in Somalia, Afghanistan and other theatres of war. Research will likely reveal that a relatively small number of weapons were used during the conflict compared to the hundreds of tons available.
It should come as no surprise then that both republicans and loyalists were to almost simultaneously declare ceasefires in 1994 after the conclusion of the Cold War just over two years beforehand, and when the USSR ceased to exist. As Western intelligence agencies swarmed into the USSR and the Eastern Bloc, the primacy of Northern Ireland effectively came to an end, and ‘the Troubles’ began to wind down.
However, there were at least two factors at play that Westminster overlooked. Firstly, their own military-industrial complex was heavily invested in ‘the Troubles’ and those involved were reluctant to see this cash cow end. Secondly, republicans still held republican ideals, and loyalists still aimed to thwart these. And so, there was still a residual impetus for some violence.
The Good Friday or Belfast Agreement 1998.
I’ll keep this brief. The Good Friday or Belfast Agreement 1998 is an Act of Union by another name. Almost anybody who comments upon it has read the opening section dealing with Northern Ireland, and it is readily apparent that few – if any – have read the most important section describing the relationship between the sovereign governments of the United Kingdom (Westminster) and Republic of Ireland (Dublin) as Member States of the European Union, and the devolved institutions in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, Isle of Man, Gibraltar, etc.
Without getting into an involved discussion, which would only serve to muddy the waters here, it can be argued that – in the aftermath of Brexit – the only intelligent way to treat with the GFBA 1998 is for it to be transformed into an Act of Union between sovereign nations, i.e. for Westminster to cut Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (and the other states) adrift as sovereign nations.
Well, the poster child for this model, which is similar to the Nordic Council, is the Republic of Ireland. Ireland receives no subvention whatsoever from Westminster, and yet HM Treasury benefits exponentially from British-Irish trade. In a recent article, historian Brian Feeney (The Irish News, August 3, p. 16), cites work by economist David McWilliams which observes that, while in 1911 Belfast was the biggest city on the island of Ireland and two-thirds of industrial production came from NI, nowadays the economy of the Republic is six times larger than that of NI, despite only having roughly three times its population.
It’s fair to say that the annual subvention from Westminster has led to a century of underperformance by all three main devolved institutions, and casting all three adrift as sovereign nations would or should lead to their eventual mirroring of the Republic’s success.
But why would Westminster do this?
Well folks, according to gov.uk Northern Ireland receives ‘a record’ £15 billion subvention now, Wales ‘a record’ £18 billion, and Scotland ‘a record’ £41 billion, i.e. £74 billion in total. As our readership in Polyphony is mainly resident in England, that means you could have an extra £74 billion every year going forward if you tell your Westminster MPs to get a grip and cast Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland adrift as sovereign nations.
But what does that mean for England?
Well, no recession. No cost-of-living crisis. No energy crisis this winter. Funding for Ukraine – no problem. Funding for the British Army – no problem.
And do you know what the kicker is? The real medium-to-long term benefit for England? Well, just the Republic of Ireland has exponentially grown its economy and its trade with England, so we would expect Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to do the same, which means HM Treasury can expect to receive far more funding from these three nations as sovereign states than they do now from them as devolved nations dependent upon begging bowl politics. Liz Truss, the candidate for leadership of the Conservative Party and therefore possible upcoming prime minister, has said there is no need for a recession. And she’s right. All Westminster has to do is cut unilaterally Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland adrift.
Dr. Bernard Mulholland
78 Malone Road
Belfast BT9 5BW
Tel: 07793068286 Novel/Fiction:
Bernard Mulholland, Nazareth Quest (Independent Publisher, 2022).
Academic publications: Bernard Mulholland, The Early Byzantine Christian Church (Oxford, 2014).—, ‘Identification of Early Byzantine Constantinopolitan, Syrian, and Roman church plans in the Levant and some possible consequences’, Patristic Studies in the twenty-first century: proceedings of an international conference to mark the 50th anniversary of the International Association of Patristic Studies, ed. Brouria Bitton-Ashkelony, Theodore de Bruyn and Carol Harrison (Turnhout, 2015), 597-633
—, ‘the man from MENSA’ – 1 of 600: Mensa research (Charleston, 2016).
— , ‘the man from MENSA’ – 1 of the 600: Politics 1990-1995 (Charleston, 2016).
— , Ratio analysis of financial KPI in the Higher Education sector: a case study (Belfast, 2018).
—, Early Byzantine Ireland: a survey of the archaeological evidence (Belfast, 2021).
—, Navan Fort, Ireland: archaeological and palaeoecological analysis (Belfast, 2021).
The first volume: ‘the man from MENSA’ – 1 of 600: Mensa research, had as its focus STEM research. This second volume in the series takes as its subject politics and the social sciences. Bernard Mulholland was born in West Germany during 1957 to a German mother and a Northern Irish father who was serving in the British Army. Having left the army, the family relocated during 1965 to the town of Portadown in Northern Ireland. Shortly afterwards Northern Ireland was to descend into sectarian turmoil associated with ‘the Troubles’ and the British Army’s Operation Banner.For thirty years Bernard Mulholland worked as a heating technician for all sections of society in Northern Ireland across counties Fermanagh, Armagh and Down, which encompass ‘Bandit Country’ and also ‘the Murder Triangle’. Portadown itself was later to become synonymous first with sectarian and political violence over ‘the Tunnel’, and then later with Drumcree.After joining British Mensa during the late eighties Mulholland joined its politics interest group and wrote for its monthly journal Poliphony for almost thirty years. This tome includes many of these texts from 1990-1995 in its Appendix. It also explores the outworking of some of the thoughts and ideas expressed therein which came to have real world applications, and that also feed into Brexit. Arguably this volume provides a unique political and historical insight that informs the narrative leading up to the first ceasefires by the Provisional IRA and the loyalist groups that later developed into the ongoing peace process.But it is in many ways also a history of British Mensa at a time when its membership peaked at forty thousand. There is little in the public domain about this élite international high-IQ society, MENSA, which boasts a membership tested to have an IQ among the highest two per cent of the population. MENSA was originally conceived of as a third pillar intended to complement the Royal Society and the British Academy. When it was founded in Oxford during 1946 its original goal was to gather six hundred of the most intelligent people in Britain as scientifically measured through an IQ test who the government and its agencies could contact for advice on matters of government. This book was written by an insider who as a member of MENSA contributed extensively to this high-IQ society over a span of almost thirty years, and it is hoped that it helps to fill a gaping void in the history of this quintessential post-WWII British institution.