If you want to know the utter contempt that United Kingdom Prime Minister Theresa May holds for Northern Ireland, you need look no further than her selection of Karen Bradley as the minister for the province.
Now, bear in mind that the Northern Ireland Assembly, the power-sharing body that is supposed to govern Northern Ireland from the regional parliament in Stormont on the southern edges of Belfast, hasn’t actually functioned in two years, and you’ll begin to appreciate just how important that ministerial position should be.
What’s more, given the distinct and unique history of the province, where more than 3,600 people were killed and another 36,000 injured in three decades of political and sectarian strife, you’d imagine the person appointed to that position might have more than a degree of savvy.
And a bit of knowledge about the province might help too — like knowing that flags and symbols, not even ill-advised or poorly chosen words, can do great damage.
What’s more, since that power-sharing executive and Northern Ireland Assembly haven’t functioned, the province is in effect being directly governed by Westminster, with the government of the Republic in Ireland also having a say.
Now, admittedly, when it comes to Northern Ireland — and Westminster, with the whole Brexit thing being one absolute mess — May’s thinking is a bit skewed. She is, after her disastrous showing in the general election of June 2017, fully dependent on the 10 members of parliament from the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) from the province for her majority in the House of Commons. That being the case, I guess I can cut the embattled Conservative leader a modicum of slack — she has, after all, paid £1 billion (Dh4.83 billion) into the province to but those DUP votes, and they have stood behind her, mostly, except when it came to the really crucial issue of supporting her Withdrawal Deal from the European Union.
But appointing Karen Bradley as the Minister for Northern Ireland last September was, quite frankly, a colossal error of judgement.
Well, no sooner had the neophyte Tory being appointed than she gave an interview to a Westminster magazine where she admitted she knew very little about the province for which she was now responsible. Even if it’s the truth, it’s the last thing you should admit.
Imagine a doctor of philosophy being put in an operating theatre and told to perform open heart surgery? Or a truck driver being told he has to fly a plane responsible for all 200 souls on board? That in essence is what Bradley said — she knows nothing about the province she is supposed to be running, a region that the Conservative party holds as an integral part of that disunited kingdom ruled by their ranks and their 10 DUP colleagues.
Somehow, Bradley managed to survive that misspeak and get down to the business of running the region she knows nothing about. But if that wasn’t bad enough. She has once more firmly placed her foot in her mouth with a comment of the utmost insensitivity in the most sensitive of places in that disunited kingdom.
‘At the hands of terrorists’
This is what Bradley said at a Commons committee last week: “Over 90 per cent of the killings during the troubles were at the hands of terrorists. Every single one of those was a crime. The under 10 per cent that were at the hands of the military and police were not crimes; they were people acting under orders and instructions, fulfilling their duties in a dignified and appropriate way.”
Fulling their duties in a dignified and appropriate way — like the murder of 14 unarmed people on a cold January Sunday in 1972. And that’s just one instance alone. As Bradley was placing her foot firmly in her mouth — she has since apologised, but the hurt will have a hard time being undone — there was another bit of unfinished business wrapping up in London, one that speaks to collusion between those security forces that could do no harm, and Loyalist paramilitaries who still vote in droves today for DUP candidates.
In a unanimous verdict by a five-judge panel of the UK’s Supreme Court in London, it ruled the official investigation into the 1989 murder of the Belfast solicitor Patrick Finucane, one of the most notorious killings of the Troubles, was ineffective and failed to meet the standards required under human rights law.
Finucane, 39, a Belfast lawyer who represented a number of high-profile republicans, was shot dead in front of his family by loyalist gunmen who forced their way into his Belfast home 30 years ago this month in an attack found to have involved state collusion.
Between May’s blind support for her inept Northern Ireland minister and her refusal to acknowledge that the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland must be kept open and the backstop rejected, she is doing more to advance the cause of Irish political unity than those 30 years of violence.
Bring it on.