If Northern Ireland were a normal democracy, the election campaign would be dominated by a single question: how did the Democratic Unionist Party end up advancing the cause of a united Ireland through its support for Brexit? More specifically: what role did dark money play in that extraordinary decision? This story has all the makings of a John le Carré thriller but democracy on this island needs facts, not fiction.
To recap briefly: two days before the Brexit referendum last June, the Metro freesheet in London and other British cities came wrapped in a four-page glossy propaganda supplement urging readers to vote Leave. Bizarrely, it was paid for by the DUP, even though Metro does not circulate in Northern Ireland. At the time, the DUP refused to say what the ads cost or where the money came from.
We’ve since learned that the Metro wraparound cost a staggering £282,000 (€330,000) – surely the biggest single campaign expense in the history of Irish politics. For context, the DUP had spent about £90,000 (€106,000) on its entire campaign for the previous month’s assembly elections. But this was not all: the DUP eventually admitted that this spending came from a much larger donation of £425,622 (€530,000) from a mysterious organisation, the Constitutional Research Council.
I started working as a journalist at the height of the troubles in Northern Ireland, between 1972 and 1975, and then moved to Lebanon where the 15-year-long civil war was just beginning. I saw both countries as interesting but bloody and atypical, sad casualties of their divisive histories and out of keeping with the modern world.
Unfortunately, over the following 40 years it turned out that the Lebanese war was a foretaste of the violent sectarian, ethnic and social divisions that were to tear the Middle East apart. Nation states ruled by despots became more politically fragile by the year and foreign powers exacerbated civil wars by military intervention and by backing their local proxies. Extreme Islam flourished in conditions of chaos, replacing nationalism and socialism as the ideological vehicle for opposition to the status quo.
Just how Britain plunged into this morass without much idea of the dangers it was running should be illuminated at great length by the Chilcot Report when it is published next Wednesday, but the risks involved were obvious from the beginning.
While the results of last night’s Brexit referendum put a square majority of voters in favor of leaving the European Union, the vote split starkly across geographic regions, with Northern Ireland and every single district in Scotland voting decisively to stay. Ultimately it was England and Wales that carried the night.
That’s not necessarily the end of things, however, with Scotland’s First Minister calling the Brexit referendum “democratically unacceptable,” and vowing that the Scottish government would immediately move toward another independence referendum.
[…] Northern Ireland might not be far behind, with the major Sinn Fein party calling for a vote within the region to withdraw from the United Kingdom and unite with EU member Ireland,. a long-time ambition for many in Northern Ireland at any rate.
Even tiny Gibraltar, which voted over 95% to remain in the EU, might be up for grabs, with Spain pushing for Britain to allow joint control of the tiny region as a way to keep the rock within the European Union’s economy.
‘It’s a thin line between morbid curiosity about the catastrophes of others and a genuine desire to understand the world’s most sensitive areas. It’s what separates war tourism from deep journeying into a region in conflict. Nicholas Wood, a former New York Times Balkans correspondent who founded the study-tour company Political Tours five years ago, insists that his firm’s activities fall into the latter group. You want to get a nuanced and complex understanding of the situations we see on the television news, he said, adding, that the idea is not to be voyeuristic, but rather to gain a deeper understanding.
[…] Political Tours’s list of destinations is long and varied. It includes North Korea, Bosnia, Kosovo, South Africa, Russia, Georgia, Libya, Northern Ireland and Scotland, where the focus is on the referendum on independence from the United Kingdom. A tour of Israel and the Palestinian Authority is planned for October.’
‘Torture methods used during internment of Irish nationalists at the height of the Northern Irish Troubles were sanctioned by the British government minister, an Irish television documentary claimed Wednesday.
In 1971, as violence intensified in the sectarian conflict, internment â or imprisonment without trial â was introduced by the British state as they tried to bring order to the province.
Hundreds of Catholic nationalists were brought to detention camps at army bases. Twelve men, who became known as the Hooded Men, were selected for ‘deep interrogation’.’