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WE can usually count on Jeremy Corbyn to approach complex and sensitive issues in a clear and principled way, and his speech today in Belfast was a good example of this.
Much of the recent public discussion, in Britain at least, about Northern Ireland has been dominated by those willing to use the territory as a tool to advance their particular view of how, or whether, Brexit should be carried out.
People who had not previously taken an obvious interest in the wellbeing of the people of Ireland, north or south, have grasped their megaphones to declare what a disaster this or that might be, and how the Irish are doomed unless things are done a certain way.
Corbyn comes at the problem from a different place entirely, one of determination that the Irish should be the arbiters of their own future — a position that should come naturally to any serious democrat.
Such principles lead to conclusions which have been ignored by those in power in Britain, who seem to be perfectly content with letting Northern Ireland’s power-sharing crisis drag on for 18 months now.
Corbyn stressed the importance of dialogue and discussion, invoking the spirit of compromise which led to the Good Friday Agreement. That spirit is required to sustain the agreement, to make its institutions work, however flawed they may be.
But sectarian concerns have meant that no compromise has been brokered. Given the importance of the DUP to the Tories in propping up the government in Britain, it is difficult to see a way out.
Reconvening the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference would be a good next step; one that many in Ireland have demanded and yet the Conservative Party and its DUP allies have refused to take.
Corbyn warned against being complacent or reckless with peace on the island; astoundingly the Tories and DUP have managed to be reckless in their complacency and the DUP’s rejection of serious negotiations on long-standing republican concerns shows clearly the need for the conference.
It is the practical and principled next step in resolving the immediate problems of the power-sharing crisis, for those who really do wish to see them resolved and not just score political points, whatever the cost.
We see the same practical and principled approach in Corbyn’s comments on the effect of Brexit on Northern Ireland — an approach that even Sinn Fein, which has been outspoken in demanding continued EU membership, has welcomed.
The Labour Party leader has elaborated what he wants to see: economic and social progress alongside continued and deepened peace, and taking advantage of whatever powers the British government regains after Brexit to help do so.
His pledge that a Labour government in Britain would ensure that Northern Ireland has the resources to invest in its people and public services, so long as the people of Northern Ireland want that help from Britain, comes from those same principles.
It is an outstretched hand, an invitation to work together, to seize the opportunities to improve our countries for the many who have suffered under eight years of Tory (and Lib Dem) austerity, and the preceding 30 years of neoliberalism.
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