THE past week has been another landmark in the bizarre official relationships between our islands. And one that will have lasting implications.

The disclosure by Justice Minister Helen McEntee TD that her department believes that over 80 per cent of new asylum seekers to the southern jurisdiction are entering via the North has fed into a wider debate on immigration to Ireland, into the testy relationship between the Irish and British governments and between the UK government and the EU.

We then saw a political pantomime play out. Helen McEntee started by saying she was meeting her British counterpart James Cleverly to discuss ameliorating arrangements – ie sending the human beings back to Britain. Then Rishi Sunak, not one to normally pay a blind bit of attention to our island, said these statistics showed his human rights-burning Rwanda exportation policy is working. Then Helen and James did not meet after all and the media started saying Anglo-Irish relations are taking a significant hit.  

Meanwhile, the British-Irish Intergovernmental meeting in London, at which the Legacy Act and the plight of thousands of victims affected by all actors to the conflict was due to be discussed, became a site for the playing out of this melodrama. All matters of disagreement were downplayed by An Tánaiste and the British Secretary of State playing “nothing to see here” and we were all asked to consider it a non-issue. Mícheál Martin then played coalition politics by casting the Fine Gael TD McEntee as getting her figures wrong. A bad look for Team Ireland and the Minister for Justice who, along with her young family, has had a week from hell, being forced from her home by fascist thugs.

If the rest of us weren’t buying the storm in a teacup routine, neither was Rishi Sunak, who widened the public lens of the issue to Europe and started to replay Brexit rhetoric of standing up to Brussels and not taking the asylum seekers back from Ireland! It has to be said immigration, Brexit and Rwanda are British tabloid themes no sensible Irish person would normally touch with a barge pole.

Legislators in Dublin and Belfast now face multiple challenges on an issue which will not go away and matters of border controls, racial profiling and unplanned immigration will capture and create lots of unsavoury headlines, and worse, in social media. 

Meanwhile, at the Intergovernmental Panto the matters of legacy went glossed over. Victims and survivors had thought the days of political footballing over their rights were over when the Stormont House Agreement was signed in 2014. Taking the politicking out of legacy had been a huge step forward. But it seems that Tories just love political football too much and everyone else can be a casualty. It is a sign of the times we live in that the heinous Rwanda policy got in the way of the two guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement discussing the heinous Legacy Impunity Act.

Legacy now enters a new phase. A new generation of families enters into an era of impunity and lawlessness. The Labour Party has said that it will repeal the legislation, and as it will be the responding party to the interstate case this is pragmatic. Families will never give up, though, and they will hold the incoming UK government to their word, albeit without confidence.