By Charlotte Molloy
A hot topic in any conversation about Brexit at the moment is the Irish border. The terms Good Friday Agreement, The Troubles, and hard or soft border are being thrown around a lot, but what do all these things actually mean and how are they going to affect our lives and Ireland’s future?
In case any of you didn’t realise, like the MP David Davis didn’t (seriously, Theresa? you put this bloke in charge of Brexit?) Ireland is actually two separate countries.
Northern Ireland, which is part of the UK and will have to leave the EU when the rest of the UK does, and the Republic of Ireland, which definitely does not intend to leave the EU anytime soon.
Therefore, when the UK leaves the EU, because the UK parliament has voted to not join the European Economic Area, inevitably a “hard border” will have to be put up between Northern Ireland and the Republic.
What this means is that trade and freedom of movement between the two nations will be massively restricted. When this happens, it’s going to seriously undermine a mega important treaty between the UK and the Republic of Ireland called the Good Friday agreement.
Aaaaand… what’s the Good Friday agreement?
It’s a peace pledge and a diplomatic, cultural, and economic integration framework signed in 1998 that effectively brought peace to Ireland after the Troubles.
The Troubles in Northern Ireland, for those of us lucky enough to be too young to have lived through them, were three decades of extreme sectarian violence between Unionists (those in favour of Northern Ireland remaining part of the UK) and Republicans, those in favour Northern Ireland joining the Republic of Ireland and being independent from the UK.
3,500 people died between 1968 and 1998 due to the Troubles. Just over half of that number were Irish and British civilians that were not directly involved in the conflict.
If these numbers don’t convince you, go to Google Images and type in the Omagh bombing, or the Enniskillen bombing, or the Bloody Sunday massacre. Words honestly cannot fully describe the fear, suffering, and sheer destruction that characterised this as an extremely dark period in Irish and British history. If Brexit is risking a return to this, we should all be deeply concerned.
So how exactly will this hard border damage the Good Friday Agreement?
Brexit has already damaged the Anglo-Irish diplomatic relations established by the Good Friday Agreement pretty badly.
Although the British Government at Westminster technically holds the ultimate sovereign power over Northern Ireland, thanks to the Good Friday agreement they are supposed to respect and consult the Republic of Ireland’s government at Dublin and Northern Ireland’s devolved parliament at Stormont before they do anything drastic.
Imposing a huge constitutional change like Brexit against the will of both those governments, and the people of Ireland as a whole, is like Westminster basically giving the Good Friday agreement a massive middle finger.
That’s the sort of stunt you expect from your inconsiderate college flatmate not the government of a G7 country.
In retaliation, the Republic has got the EU to agree to Northern Ireland being allowed to join the EU in the event of Irish reunification. Things are getting cold between Dublin and London and no, its not just the weather.
Another pillar of the Good Friday Agreement is greater economic integration between the North and the Republic, and boy will Brexit throw all that amazing work achieved in the last twenty years between these two countries down the drain!
Economically Northern Ireland is massively dependent on the Republic and the rest of the European Union. Whilst just 5% of the Republic of Ireland’s exports go to Northern Ireland, over 25% of Northern Ireland’s exports, which are largely small scale agricultural produce, go to the North.
The current 22.5% tariff on agricultural imports from outside of the EU will lock the bulk of Ulster farmers who are the backbone of the economy out of their most lucrative market.
Moreover, as part of the Good Friday agreement, the EU provides annual funding to Northern Irish social services and cultural programmes that amounts to 9% of the countries’ entire GDP!
When they lose out on that funding, which amounts to 3.5 billion between 2014 and 2020, it is unlikely that the austerity mad social services sceptic government at Westminster is going to be either will or able to make up for it.
So not only is Brexit going to drastically reduce the quality of life for Northern Irish folks, but it’s going to further undermine the Good Friday Agreement by basically distancing people in the North and the Republic from each other even further.
Whilst the economic problems for Northern Ireland that Brexit poses are black and white, the threat to the peace it poses are less clear. The hard border creates a fantastic opportunity for gangs and dissident republican groups to engage in smuggling, which could in turn lead to turf wars and violence.
It also represents the ideological and economic collapse of the Good Friday agreement, which both Republican and Unionist groups will inevitably use to rally support for their respective causes and to justify further violence.
Its impossible to predict what kind of violence could arise from this situation, but the way the Brexit looks set to undermine the diplomatic and economic relations established by the Good Friday Agreement there is a very real possibility that there could be a return to some degree of violence.
Through the kind of Brexit they are pursuing, the current government will have to impose a hard border in Ireland which will seriously undermine the tremendous achievements of the Good Friday Agreement in working towards a lasting peace. We should really be concerned about this, lives are at stake.
Is whatever objective Brexit is supposed to achieve really worth risking a return to the horrific events of the Troubles?