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Another rant about Brexit: Northern Ireland Edition

Photo taken from the Scottish Green Party Twitter. 

This weekend I spent my Saturday at the Scottish Green Party Autumn Conference. As geeky as it sounds, these conferences are highlights of my year. I get to vote on new party policies, I get to catch up with political pals and I can learn more about issues effecting society.

It probably comes as little surprise that Brexit was a major point of discussion. We're still no closer to a deal, and it looks like the EU isn't going to bow down to any cherry picking. And legally the whole thing is still a complete mess.

One topic that came up in conversation was that of Northern Ireland. This year Clare Bailey, the only Green MLA in Northern Ireland, was a guest speaker. While Green politicians from other countries usually talk about the movement in their homeland, Clare was primarily talking about Brexit from an Irish perspective. Or more accurately, how Northern Ireland has been ignored in Brexit talks - both before and after the vote.

I'm not going to pretend that I'm an expert on Northern Irish politics and roll my eyes at Scottish independence supporters who take a stance in other separatist/re-unification movements. Until Clare's talk I was previously ignorant to the unique issues Brexit would pose to the Northern Ireland population.

But I had noticed that Ireland has a physical international border. 

While Scotland, Wales and England fit nicely into one island, Northern Ireland shares a landmass with the Republic of Ireland. While we all know Brexiters don't exactly have the highest IQs, Clare felt as though a lot of leave voters didn't actually realise the UK was made up of four countries. There was no discussion about the Irish border and what would be done about it. What about children who live on one side but go to school on the other? Or employees who work in the south but live in the north? Or people who like to nip to the Tesco on the other side? The Irish border isn't patrolled and you can easily drive across (I've done so myself).

Even now, Northern Ireland has no answer as to what will happen with the border. Will they start needing passports to cross the line? Will there be patrols? There's even been talks about putting the UK border in the sea and turning the Scottish and Irish ferry ports into border control (meaning Northern Irish people will need a passport to visit other areas of the UK).

While other international borders (most notably the Swedish-Norwegian border) have come to a free movement agreement, the point Clare was making is: this important conversation is not happening and no viable solution has been put forward.

But something I hadn't already thought about: the ramification this could have on the Good Friday Peace Agreement. 

I'm not ignorant to Northern Ireland's sectarian past. But I was seven when the Good Friday Agreement was signed and for most of my life Northern Ireland has been okay. Still work to be done, but great strides have been made.

One of the key parts of the deal was the free movement of people between the North and South. As well as allowing anyone born in Northern Ireland to be a citizen of Ireland or the UK, or both. How will this work with a stronger border between a EU country and a non-EU country? It could be workable but - like the border - this conversation isn't happening and there's a strong worry all the peace work carried out in Northern Ireland could become undone. 

And because I like a Google and the Guardian: The English have placed a bomb under the Irish peace process.

After the Brexit election result I did notice a few calls for a united Ireland. 

I take no stance on the re-unification of Ireland, and Clare didn't share her personal beliefs. But she did share that Sinn Féin are using this as an opportunity on both sides of the border to promote a united Ireland. Democratically they are allowed to do this but they're treading on a delicate issue, and it's unlikely that a referendum on Irish re-unification would go as smoothly as the Scottish referendum.

Sinn Féin's campaigning has some of the Unionists worried and the ground has become shaky again. And loyalist flags have been going up in her constituency of South Belfast. Brexit is opening a lot of wounds. She also took the time to remind us that the re-unification of Ireland relies on the Republic wanting to take the north back. Her own words were "who would want to take back such a broken nation?".

As I said at the start, I'm not an expert an Irish politics, the Good Friday Agreement or The Troubles. But what Clare had to say was definitely food for thought and demonstrates how England-centric this decision was, and how it was a very badly thought out decision with many political ramifications.

morag | mo adore
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