22 March 2019 No Comments by The Northern Standard

British Prime Minister Theresa May’s request to European Council President Donald Tusk yesterday for an extension of the now balefully looming Brexit deadline of March 29 will no doubt be widely interpreted and presented as a somewhat desperate attempt by an embattled political leader to kick a smoking can with devastating explosive consequences just a little further down the road. But surely it presents a moment for this sad, silly, maddeningly protracted political mess to be put out of everyone’s collective misery.

Acceding to Ms May’s request for an extension of British membership of the European Union it has voted to leave until her stipulated date of June 30 would be tantamount to madness. It would open up the prospect of British participation in the coming May’s European Parliament elections, and one shudders to imagine the tone of that campaign and the disposition of those who would get their hands on the short-lived seats on offer to a country that has voted by majority to effectively reject the communal ideals on which the EU project is founded.

The EU as an institution is far from perfect, but the work of conceiving and implementing the reforms necessary to make it an entity more pro-people and less at the influence of powerful vested interests that the MEPs elected to its next manifestation must perform can only be carried out with the Brexit issue well and truly done and dusted.

Already the forced preoccupation with the British vote to leave has pushed other vital issues for which the EU has responsibility, such as those concerning the migrant crisis, into an unacceptably lower place of attention. Enough is now surely enough.

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier’s comment yesterday that any concession to a UK extension request must carry with it concrete evidence of “a new event or new political process” translates into an accurate evaluation of the real choices facing the British Parliament. Rather than staging further votes on the withdrawal deal or some rejigged version of it, Mrs May, her Government and the other denizens of the House of Commons must face up to the facts and either call a General Election or a second referendum on the Brexit question.

The conclusion of this issue would inevitably be protracted by either eventuality – but at least there would be the strong promise of a definitive conclusion. What Mrs May is currently looking for is merely more time to prove the hopelessly lost nature of her Quixotic cause.

With fears of tariffs following hard on a no deal outcome very much in the minds of Irish observers of this fiasco, particularly those watching on from our own Border area, today’s summit in Brussels must insist that there is a substantial tariff to be paid by the UK for any modest extension that might be granted.

That tariff has to be the expedient conclusion of the Brexit saga, one that further copperfastens the European stance of solidarity with the Irish position and demands that the UK, whether by election, referendum or capitulation, ensures that what has surely been the darkest hour of what used to be styled “the mother of Parliaments” is not let extend a second more than necessary.


Whether it had anything to do with the real and imagined threats of Brexit to our own sense of identity, there seemed to be an especially zestful and enthusiastic flavour to the celebrations of Irishness that constituted last weekend’s St Patrick’s Day celebrations across our county and region.

The parades and festive events held in Co Monaghan at this time of the year have grown into very significant community occasions. The enormous voluntary effort that ensures their success reinforces the bonds that bind our towns and villages together as distinctly disparate entities, and reflect pride in achievement. But that is not to suggest that these are insular or exclusive occasions.

How we celebrate St Patrick’s Day has changed quite radically across recent decades – while the occasion has perhaps become more secular than sacred to something of its detriment, its associations with immoderate alcohol assumption and rowdiness have been largely cast off and relegated to the margins. The events that mark the feast of the National Apostle have evolved in our county, and across Ireland as a whole, to become accurate barometers of what it means to be Irish. And that concept is being fundamentally recast.

Even a cursory appraisal of the audiences and participants for the parades held in our towns and villages this year would have disclosed an ethnic and cultural diversity that would have been very hard to imagine even in the final years of the 20th century. 21st century Ireland is a place where people of many nations, creeds and cultures now comingle – sometimes companionably, sometimes inhibited by the restraints of what is still an evolving mutual understanding. But to see Irish nationals and people born in other lands coming together in a celebration of what being Irish means is surely an encouraging thing, a sign that the country is becomingly increasingly at ease with diversity, and that our new communities while preserving their own cultural integrity feel sufficiently at ease to partake of, and contribute to, the culture of their new homeland.

There is much work in the area of inclusiveness that remains to be done in our county and in Ireland as a whole. But the picture of modern Co Monaghan presented by our St Patrick’s Day Parades is an encouraging and positive sign that there are many hands willing and eager to carry that work out in a spirit of Christian fellowship of which St Patrick, who himself underwent the experience of a stranger in a strange land, would surely have blessed.

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