English nationalists have planted a bomb under Irish peace

Fintan O’Toole writes: All but a few diehards had learned to live with the partition of the island of Ireland. Why? Because the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic had become so soft as to be barely noticeable. If you crossed it, you had to change currencies, and if you were driving you had to remember that the speed limits were changing from kilometres per hour to miles. But these are just banal details. They do not impinge on the simple, ordinary experience of people sharing an island without having to be deeply conscious of division.

What will now happen is not that the old border will come back. It’s much worse than that. The old border marked the line between neighbouring polities that had a common travel area and an intimate, if often fraught, relationship. It was a customs barrier. The new border will be the most westerly land frontier of a vast entity of more than 400 million people, and it will be an immigration (as well as a customs) barrier.

It will, if the Brexiters’ demands to take back control of immigration to the UK are meant seriously, have to be heavily policed to keep EU migrants who have lawfully entered the Republic from moving into the UK. And it will run between Newry and Dundalk, between Letterkenny and Derry. The Dublin-Belfast train will have to stop for passport controls. (Given that the border could not be secured with army watchtowers during the Troubles, it is not at all clear how this policing operation will work.)

Meanwhile, the cornerstone of the peace settlement, the Belfast agreement of 1998, is being undermined. One of the key provisions of the agreement is that anyone born in Northern Ireland has the right to be a citizen of the UK or Ireland or both. What does that mean in the new dispensation? Can someone be both an EU citizen and not an EU citizen? Likewise, the agreement underpins human rights through the “complete incorporation into Northern Ireland law of the European Convention on Human Rights”. Though not strictly required by Brexit, the leave leadership is committed to removing the convention from UK law – in other words to ripping out a core part of the peace settlement. [Continue reading…]

Kathryn Gaw writes: Almost 20 years have passed since the Good Friday Agreement, and huge progress has been made in that time. Since our last referendum in 1998, Northern Ireland has enjoyed relative peace, and the province has flourished. The tourist industry is now worth £723m and the economy has been further boosted by the surprise emergence of the local film industry, which hosts the Game of Thrones cast and crew for six months of the year. The IT industry is also growing, and there are plans to attract even more private investment by bringing corporate tax down to 12.5%, in line with the Republic of Ireland.

The majority of this growth has been courtesy of the EU itself. Northern Ireland received almost £2.5bn in the last EU funding round, and a further £2bn is promised before 2020. The EU has also helped to create a number of cross-border programmes such as Intertrade, Peace and Tourism Ireland, all of which have been hugely successful in bringing together communities both north and south of the border. Today, Northern Ireland is more integrated than it has ever been – even if sectarian attacks and marching season riots haven’t been eliminated completely. [Continue reading…]

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