Drapeau du Royaume-Uni. Crédit Rob Micthell.

Brexit: A Divided Northern Ireland


Since March, Brexit has led the British regions to rethink their relations with England and Europe. The discussion surrounding the hardening of a North Irish Border has led to a debate on the potential reunification of Northern and Southern Ireland.

Northern Ireland has always been an instable and divided province of the United Kingdom. Since it decided not to join the Irish Republic/ independent Ireland in 1922 and following the violence during the 60’s to the 90’s, the country has seen many social issues. The Good Friday Agreement of 1998 relatively ensured peace. Since that, the republican discontent represented by the Sinn Fein party persists. After Brexit, things could change. As with Scotland, the majority of the Northern-Irish constituency – 55.8% – have refused to leave the European Union.

Re-establishing control at the Irish border

The central government of Westminster and the decentralized Parliament of Stormont, in Belfast are discussing the future of Northern Ireland outside of the European Union. The hardening of the borders between the two Irelands could lead to an automatic recognition of number plates system at checkpoints. This could nearly conduct to a free trade between Northern Ireland and the single market. David Davies, the British politician in charge of the Brexit negotiations, declared considering the adoption of this solution. However, the costs and the technological feasibility have not been estimated in details.

Kathryn McGarry, is a graduate of Political Science at Ulster University. She gave her point of view to le Journal International on the complexity of the Irish border. “The rest of the United Kingdom tends to trivialise the problems in Norther Ireland. With regards the unionist-republican conflict, the government has reached many agreements to reinforce the peace. For example, after many years of political instability, the Saint-Andrews Agreement was signed in 2006. Since our childhood, at the beginning of the 21st century, the situation has indeed improved… but it is still a sensitive topic!”

(Will there be a) A Reunification?

Citizens’ reactions are less concerned. Doyle Braden (Braden Doyle?) who comes from County Tyrone is annoyed by the British electorate decision. “I feel a bit swindled”, he confesses. “This is my future that the older generation have threatened. That’s democracy for you! This is how it works. On the other side of the border, Aidan Kavanagh, an Irish student studying in France, acknowledges that his country will be impacted by an isolation from its neighbour. However, he expresses a more neutral position. “There are advantages and disadvantages of Northern Ireland’s exit. In any case, it is the politicians who will make the decision, not the citizens. The citizens only want their voices to be heard”. The Irish young people are used to a steady political and economic landscape. This is completely threatened by Brexit.

The trust in Stormont seems ludicrous. Weakened by the resignation of Martin McGuiness in January [who passed away in March of this year E.D.[1]], the Chamber held an election last March 2. The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) came first, followed by Sinn Fein with one seat less than DUP. Unionists and Republicans have seen two decades of collaboration. But this collaboration now falters and they still have not succeeded in forming a coalition government. The main obstacle is the reunification claimed by Sinn Fein. On this point, Kathryn is sceptical. “It is more conceivable today than it was in the 1990’s. But this will take at least 20 years. It will be better to ensure that the future border with the EU will be as open as possible.”

Instability remains

This political instability questions Belfast’s ability to handle its own difficult future. The passing of McGuiness is a strong sign of things to come. At the heart of the 1998 agreement, he recalled the country’s desire for peace. An issue which Brexit has now stirred up. Not only is the province locked by geographical barriers on one hand but by historical barriers as well.

Banner picture: United Kingdom flag. Credit to Rob Micthell


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