Backstop critics should “remember murdered customs officials”

Majors Major Peace Process Concerns
Photo: Sam Boal/

Colin Gannon

Customs officials murdered during the early years of the Troubles should be remembered by those pushing back against the backstop arrangement, a former British Prime Minister has warned.

John Major, who led the Conservative Party from 1990 to 1997, has argued that the mechanism intended to prevent a hard border on the Northern Ireland border is “vital” and in the national interest of both the UK and Ireland.

Major said that Brexiteers who perceive the Irish backstop as merely a way of thwarting Brexit are blind to the complex realities of Northern Ireland.

“Those who mock and disparage the backstop should reflect on the risks of destroying it and stop relying on uninvented fanciful alternatives that for now exist absolutely nowhere,” he said in a speech in Longford at a memorial honouring former Taoiseach Albert Reynolds, who died in 2014 aged 81.

“At stake is not only community relations but security and with it lives as well. We should never forget that the Troubles began in the 1960s with the murder of customs officials at the north south border.”

The level of ignorance from the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) on the backstop, led by Arlene Foster, who continue to oppose the arrangement, is “breath-taking”, according to Major.

Speaking during a heated parliament session after Theresa May announced that the vote on her deal was to be postponed in favour of chasing better terms with EU leaders, Nigel Dodds, the DUP’s deputy leader, warned her assurances about the backstop’s text are not enough.

“Does she not accept the legally binding text of the document is not acceptable to this House,” he said, adding that it will be voted down if the agreement does not ensure that Northern Ireland stays aligned with the rest of the UK.

John Major visited Longford on Monday to pay tribute to the late Taoiseach Albert Reynolds’ contribution to the Northern Ireland peace process.

This week marks 25 years since the Downing Street Declaration was signed by Major and Reynolds which affirmed the right of the majority in Northern Ireland to determine constitutional status, reaffirmed nationalist civil rights and stated Britain no longer had any colonial designs on Northern Ireland.

It is seen by many today as a milestone on the road to the Good Friday Agreement, which came less than five years later.

Major, who had a close relationship with the late Mr Reynolds, took centre stage at the ‘Inaugural Albert Reynolds Memorial Lecture’ at Longford’s Backstage Theatre.

Prior to his address, Major met with members of the Reynolds family.

Major said during his keynote speech that the Brexit vote was a “colossal error” and that those who seek a return to a Europe of nation states are “profoundly wrong”.

The former PM also noted how ironic it was that the UK was the first country to leave the EU despite the first proposal for an EU of sorts – the European diet, published in the 17th century by William Penn – came from an Englishman as a means of ending cyclical conflict.

Fianna Fáíl councillor Mick Cahill, who initiated calls for a special event to mark Albert Reynolds’ contribution to the peace process, said the occasion had been a long time coming.

Following Major’s speech, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin addressed those in attendance.

More than 10 former ministers in Reynolds’ cabinets were also present.

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