A guest post by Sammy McNally.
Theresa Anne Villiers is of excellent British aristocratic stock. The Viliers family came to prominence in the 17th century during the rule of King James 1st and the family’s interest in Ireland stretches back to George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham, who was a driving force behind the Irish plantations of the 1620s.
And Theresa is a very clever girl, an Oxbridge educated lawyer who no doubt harbours ambitions of promotion when her tenure as SOS comes to a close. And why not – she has, (at least up until now and her stance on Brexit), displayed a very safe pair of hands, in an environment where the inappropriate use of a phrase (or the singing of a song at the wrong time as with Peter Brooke) can cost you your job.
Her time in Northern Ireland will have afforded her the opportunity to tune her diplomatic skills and acclimatise herself with sensitive security issues – which may well give her an edge over her rivals competing for the plum British cabinet jobs of Foreign or Home Secretary.(As was the case with the similarly careful and cerebral Douglas Hurd who went on to hold both positions.)
Theresa, will no doubt, have a good and thorough knowledge of her ancestor’s history of involvement in Ireland and also a good grasp of where her own role fits into the unfolding relations between Britain and Ireland. To be fair that includes her own positive contribution in navigating a number of extremely difficult situations – especially the furore over Flags and the controversial killings where suggestions that the PIRA were allowed by a previous (Labour) British government to keep some weapons for ‘housekeeping’ activities.
Having dealt with these issues and helped keep a wobbling political process on track, Theresa will surely be well aware of just how fragile the so-called ‘Peace Process’ actually is. She will also be aware that since long before and long after the 1st Duke of Buckingham expanded British property interests in Ireland, periods of relative peace have often been followed by periods of precisely the opposite. She will also hopefully be honest enough to acknowledge, that her own party positions on Ireland, from Bonar Law (inciting treason) to Ted Heath(Bloody Sunday) not to mention her own leader Dave Cameron (attempting to woo Unionists in secret talks to get elected) has not always had the interests of the people of Ireland to the fore.
In her role as SOS for Northern Ireland Theresa has overall responsibility for Security and she will of course consult extensively with MI5 on matters of government and the implications for the Peace Process of any unfolding political scenarios and we can therefore reasonably conclude that Theresa will have consulted with MI5 on their view of the likely security fallout of Britain leaving the EU.
Given the uncertainty over what the future relationship between the EU and Britain will look like, there is a strong suggestion of at least some restrictions on the movement of people and goods between the EU and Britain and the probable re-emergence of some border controls between the 2 parts of Ireland. Such a scenario would (at least privately) delight many Unionist politicians and (at least partly) upset the balance painstakingly established in the GFA that allows for increased social and economic integration of the island of Ireland – not to mention the serious economic implications for the South (and hence its own political stability).
So do tell us Theresa – what MI5 told you when you asked them what the security implications of your favoured policy of Brexit are?
Is it conceivable that MI5 don’t realise the absolute gift that Brexit would constitute to those Republican Dissidents who have tried and failed to re-ignite the conflict? Did they explain to you that any border posts will be a prime target for a reinvigorated Dissident movement with those border posts requiring protection from police and if and when that proves inadequate, protection from British soldiers. I’m guessing they outlined the (extremely negative) implications of the reappearance of British soldiers in South Armagh?
Whatever reservations there may be amongst Nationalists about the continuing role of MI5 in Northern Ireland I think it fair to assume they have actually learned something during their stay and Theresa will surely have been left in no doubt that whatever her political ambitions – perhaps as Foreign Secretary in the next Tory government led by Boris Johnson – that, just as with her ancestor the 1st Duke of Buckingham and long after she too has gone – that narrow Tory party interests will once again be shown to be directly in conflict with the interests of the people of Ireland.