10 April 2021   Leave a comment

Over the last month, violence has broken out in Northern Ireland over the ambiguous terns of the Brexit deal. People in Ireland were told that the British departure from the European Union, commonly known as Brexit, would not upset the delicate terms of the erasure of the economic border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. There has been relative peace in Ireland since the Good Friday Agreements in 1998. It was a complex agreement and it was always regarded as somewhat fragile.

The background to the conflict has deep roots and it is a serious mistake to think that it is fundamentally a conflict between Catholics and Protestants. The Associated Press gives a succinct summary:

“Geographically, Northern Ireland is part of Ireland. Politically, it’s part of the United Kingdom.

“Ireland, long dominated by its bigger neighbor, broke free about 100 years ago after centuries of colonization and an uneasy union. Twenty-six of its 32 counties became an independent, Roman Catholic-majority country. Six counties in the north, which have a Protestant majority, stayed British.

“Northern Ireland’s Catholic minority experienced discrimination in jobs, housing and other areas in the Protestant-run state. In the 1960s, a Catholic civil rights movement demanded change, but faced a harsh response from the government and police. Some people on both the Catholic and Protestant sides formed armed groups that escalated the violence with bombings and shootings.

“The British Army was deployed in 1969, initially to keep the peace. The situation deteriorated into a conflict between Irish republican militants who wanted to unite with the south, loyalist paramilitaries who sought to keep Northern Ireland British, and U.K. troops.

“During three decades of conflict more than 3,600 people, a majority of them civilians, were killed in bombings and shootings. Most were in Northern Ireland, though the Irish Republican Army also set off bombs in London and other British cities.”

The Brexit agreement forged by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson moved the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland to the Irish Sea which separates Ireland from the United Kingdom. People in Northern Ireland regarded the move as a betrayal and fears have grown that the commitment to Northern Ireland has been weakened. Since the Republic of Ireland remained a member of the European Union, it means that Northern Ireland no longer enjoys any of the benefits of being able to trade freely with the European Union. The BBC explains:

“The violence that has erupted this week on the streets of Belfast and other towns and cities in Northern Ireland has many causes.

“But anger about post-Brexit trading rules that came into force in February is a factor.

“The section of the Brexit deal known as the ‘protocol’ was designed to protect the peace process by avoiding the need for checks on the border with Ireland.

“But it also means that some European laws continue to apply in Northern Ireland.

“And that has reinforced long-held feelings among Unionists that they are being cut off from the rest of the UK – and that they’ve been misled by the UK government and that the EU is not listening.”

Writing for The Guardian, Jonathan Freedland develops the other causes of the renewed violence which are rooted in the 600-year history of British abuses in Ireland. But he places the blame squarely on the shoulders of Boris Johnson:

“This is the ineluctable logic of Brexit. Once Britain chose to be outside the single market and customs union while the Irish republic remained inside, there would always have to be a border. The only question was where. One option was a land border on the island of Ireland, once again separating north and south – which would appal nationalists. The other was a frontier in the Irish Sea, appalling unionists. Boris Johnson swore blind that he would never agree to any such thing, only to do exactly that – devising, negotiating, signing and passing into law the Northern Ireland protocol, which gives that part of the UK a separate status. The result is that loyalists feel that, once again, they have both lost out to the nationalists and been betrayed by London.”

There are serious consequences for pretending that details do not matter and assuming that people are not paying attention.

Posted April 10, 2021 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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