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Windsor Framework: The Strange Contentment of Irish Nationalism

3 March 2023

Sinn Fein leaders call for return of Stormont executive after Windsor Framework deal

In the aftermath of the new framework to resolve the contradictions of Brexit, Irish unionist reaction has veered between outright rejection and cautious suspicion. Even involving the British King and calling the deal the Windsor Framework has done little to lift their mood.

In contrast, like Dr Pangloss, the character from Candide, the nationalists believe that they live in the best of all possible worlds. The only person to express even a modicum of political acumen was Colm Eastwood of the SDLP, who qualified his welcome with the remark that, of course, he would have to read the document carefully. Michelle O'Neill of Sinn Féin gave an unconditional welcome, calling for pragmatism, which in this context meant dismissing the content of the framework and focusing on winning around the DUP. Later John Finucane MP expanded, explaining that the party’s concerns were focused on maintaining an open land border (which had not been the subject of discussion). Sinn Féin then became the first northern party to endorse the framework.

In Dublin, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar gave a fulsome welcome, claiming that the Dublin government were so philanthropic that they had left the details of trade restructuring to the European negotiators and had learnt the outcome alongside everyone else. This claim is almost believable when we remember that Vlad initiated the current crisis by surrendering the EU backstop for the transparent lies of Boris Johnson, ushering in the current crisis, and that no nationalist party has ever questioned him about that.

In fact, a major new element of the framework is the Stormont Brake.  In the past the unionists were given a veto through a "petition of concern" that required a majority of both unionists and nationalists separately. Added to that is the brake, that just requires 30 unionist MLAs. So, a partial veto by a minor unionist party stretches across the North, Britain and Ireland and now across Europe!

So, what explains this universal complacency? What are the demands of Irish nationalism? In the North it is for stability.  The partitioned settlement is all they require and must be made to work.  Hysterical denunciation of the recent attack on a policeman shows how central this is to northern nationalism. More generally it is dependency. Irish capitalism wants to bow to the demands of Britain and also to the demands of Europe and transnational capital. More recently support for war and unofficial membership of NATO have become concerns. Ireland is ruled by comprador capitalism, ruling on behalf of imperialism and taking its own cut of the proceeds.

In the absence of class consciousness, the need for a Stormont government is accepted everywhere. In a whole series of pantomimes, issues of health, human rights and cost of living payments have been brought to a non-existent executive only to fail and then be passed on to the British secretary of state who actually runs the area.

Yet the system is in decay. Sinn Féin's fig leaf of a border poll is getting more bedraggled and the Irish economic model is facing strangulation due to the wholesale financialisation of housing.

The supporters of the latest deal hope that unionists, if they accept the new framework, will not misuse the Stormont Brake. Yet they have a history of misusing the petition of concern. Behind the framework is the difficulty of a unionist leader re-entering Stormont as a minority leader. More amendments are needed.  At what point would unionism be satisfied?  When will nationalist capitulation spark revolt?

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