29 August 2019 No Comments by The Northern Standard

Following the disquiet and concern generated by last week’s bomb explosion at Wattle Bridge, it was timely and heartening to see and hear manifestations of peace-building and cross- community solidarity among the people of the Border community at an event in Ballyjamesduff on Sunday.

The gathering of ex-Defence Forces members from the Republic and Northern Ireland for a military parade and formal ceremony at Cavan Co Museum had symbolic resonance as it celebrated the work they had come together to engage in for the advancement of mutual community understanding. The contribution being made by the ex- servicemen to foster the fragile flower of peace in an environment rendered uncertain by the continued political impasse in the North and the anxieties generated by the unknowns of Brexit was paid due tribute by Government Minister Heather Humphreys. The Minister was obviously deeply cognisant of the significance of men who had spent their early lives preserving security on the island finding common ground in their retirement in order to ensure that the fruits of peace were nurtured and protected.

Her words of strong condemnation of the Wattle Bridge terror event were given added weight by her emphasis on the commitment by the Government, regardless of Brexit’s ultimate outworking, to continue to provide funding for the European Union’s PEACE programme, which has done much to enrich the physical and cultural landscape of the Irish Border region.

The words of Minister Humphreys, and the example set by the military veterans she was addressing, drew a clear demarcation line between the baleful light of the past which flared briefly back into luminescence last week and the hopeful brightness that the years of peace we have lately enjoyed have mostly been played out in. It was also a solid, and defiant, pledge that the future of our island, although overshadowed by the inevitable complications of the Brexit aftermath, was not going to witness any slide back into sectarian enmity, that there would be no foothold in the future for those clinging to the violent shadows of the past.

Sunday’s event reflected many dimensions of what has come to be referred to as the peace dividend. Those who perceive the dividend in material terms would have to acknowledge the transformative effect of the funding which flowed to Northern Ireland and the Border region as a consequence of the peace process taking hold. Peace is about more than money and big buildings, but its stability and longevity is strongly linked to improving the environment and community facilities of areas that suffered destruction of property and deprivation of resources when the Troubles were raging. While there are certainly some parts of Northern Ireland still suffering economically and socially from the damage wrought by the conflict and which have not yet received their due investment attention, many parts of our own Border region have had vibrancy and viability restored to them thanks to the expenditure from PEACE and other programmes.

That there are strong national and European commitments to continuing this and other funding initiatives regardless of what shape Brexit ultimately takes is not in any way a sop or pay-off to sweeten the inevitable bitterness of the pill we will all be forced to swallow when the UK eventually takes its leave of the European Union. It is an important acknowledgement that the work such funding streams were founded to do is far from complete, and that the importance of their outstanding objectives cannot be compromised or imperilled by the practices of politics on this or the neighbouring island. Brexit may be the dominant topic of political discourse at the present time but, compared to the importance of peace, its purposes and pretensions are petty indeed.

And the enormous value of the cultural dimension of peace, also embodied in Sunday’s Ballyjamesduff event, should never be understated. Projects which bring together the people of north and south to explore their shared history and understand better the distinctive culture and identity possessed by each other do enormous and immeasurable good. At local lane and street level, the ordinary people of the Border area were always as good neighbours as circumstances allowed them to be – projects such as those the ex-servicemen of the Republic and the North have been engaged in together, and cultural exchanges such as those showcased in Monaghan Town on Tuesday evening at an event organised by the Co Armagh Community Development Organisation, elevate that spirit of neighbourliness to its proper place at the forefront of the practices which will ultimately dilute and dissolve the lingering seeds of sectarianism that continue to intermittently produce their poisonous fruit.

Following last week’s grim evocation of our unhappy past, this week has brought some welcome manifestations of neighbourly cross-Border good will that has placed the principle of peace on this island in its proper perspective: as the property of all the people, and the responsibility of all the people to protect and let grow. If we mind well our common property of peace and are attentive to our shared responsibilities for it, then it will never again be in the gift of the practitioners of violence to give or take away.

“The solution to this is simple – it won’t be found in the courts. Pay farmers a fair price instead of paying lawyers big fees.”

The pronouncement of Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers Association President Edmond Phelan yesterday had a powerful ring to it.

The failed attempt to talk out a solution to the problems that had beef farmers blockade processing factories in order to highlight their price grievances has had a deeply unfortunate aftermath of recrimination, frustration and recourse to the courts.

At a time when processors and producers in the sector should be standing shoulder to shoulder to fend off the threats posed to the Irish industry by the Mercosur trade deal and the market upheavals that Brexit could precipitate, they were never so divided and at odds.

That meat plants felt it necessary to seek temporary High Court injunctions to prevent a resumption of the disruptive factory gate protests is deeply saddening. They may have their rationale, and it may indeed be the case that jobs are put at risk by such demonstrations of frustration, but surely a fresh round of talks is preferable to litigation and the inevitable deepening of the divide between the parties that this will create.

The fact that a Chinese trade delegation is due in the country in the coming days to visit factories with a view to increasing the amount of Irish beef purchased by this important market has been cited as the reason for such drastic action.

Surely this is missing the point? Trade health in the beef sector will not be preserved by cosmetic customer-pleasing exercises. If the fight for survival by many of our beef farmers is not recognised, taken seriously and addressed, there will be no product to export, to China or anywhere else.

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