Why and when?- History
Many assume that The Troubles were the beginning of the conflicts between Northern Ireland and Republican Ireland, well, nothing more wrong. The encounter and battles between the two countries began all the way back during the reign of Henry VIII. That’s when King Henry invaded much of Ireland and declared himself King of Ireland, despite never having full control. It was especially the Northern parts of Ireland which were attractive due to the fertility of the land. Therefore, many English and Scottish settlers, who had taken on Protestantism, spreading their culture and religion further on into the 17th and 18th century Ireland.
Everyone expected that the Republic of Ireland would sooner or later join the Union, but that never happened. Then came the Civil War and The Troubles, thinking that if not by peace, they would force Ireland to join the union by war. The conflict was primarily political and nationalistic, fuelled by historical events. The key issue was mainly between the Catholics and Protestants.The reason back the riots was a political campaign, wanting to stop the unionists from discriminating the nationalists. The main participants in the Troubles were republican paramilitaries such as the Irish Provisional Army (IRA) and Irish National Liberation Army (INLA). The conflict lasted almost 40 years, killing over 3500 people and totally demolishing the city. It ended with “The Good Friday Agreement”, or “Belfast Agreement”. The peace treaty brought an end to the riots. Then again in 2007, the agreement had to be renegotiated, hence the difficulties in implementing it. Despite all the hassle, all the way to this day, the biggest part of Ireland remains independent.
Brexit and Northern Irish concerns
With the UK’s decision to leave the EU in March 2019, there have been many concerns from the people of Northern Ireland. Many people are scared that the withdrawal from the EU will result in the return of physical borders and military control stations on the almost 500km long border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, that split the two parts of Ireland until. The Republic of Ireland is a part of the EU, and there are a broad array of opinions on the consequences of Brexit, and how it will affect Northern Ireland as a part of the UK, but also as a part of the Island of Ireland.
One part of the problem is the result of the referendum of Brexit. While the majority in the whole of the UK voted to leave the EU, 56% of people in Northern Ireland voted to stay. Only 40% of the Protestants in Northern Ireland voted to stay, while 85% of Catholics wanted to stay in the EU. We can see here the same divide that’s been in Northern Ireland since the British made it a part of the UK, the divide between the Loyalists (Protestants) and the Republicans (Catholics). Everyone agrees that they don’t want another physical border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, but a stricter border is almost inevitable. Even though the British government has been clear on the fact that they will work against a hard border, officials from both Northern Ireland and The Republic of Ireland want a specific plan from the UK on how that could be avoided.
But if everyone agrees that a hard border should be avoided, why are they still debating? Couldn’t they just keep it the way it is, and move on to the other remaining Brexit-discussions? Well, the core of the problem is actually trade. The EU has tariff-free trade between all EU-countries, something the UK will be giving up in March 2019 (if they don’t agree on a new trade deal). This means that there has to be some sort of border control between Northern Ireland and The Republic of Ireland, to prevent smuggling of goods. But as a person who lives in a non-EU country that borders to an EU-country, I know that It’s possible to have border control without causing any trouble. The border between Norway and Sweden have control stations, but unless you are taken in for inspection (which rarely happens, especially if you’re in a personal vehicle) you just drive past the control stations. Even though you could call it a physical border, as there are controls by the border, you barely notice it, and it doesn’t really feel like entering another country. I can understand the difference in Norway and Sweden’s history to the history of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and how even control stations at the border may cause a reappearance of conflicts that have been dormant for years. Considering the conflicts ended less than 20 years ago, it’s probably still very touchy for many people, especially in Northern Ireland, but also in the Republic of Ireland.
One suggestion that was posted by the British government was to give Northern Ireland a special status in the EU, to prevent having a border between Northern Ireland and The Republic of Ireland. That would result in the border being in the Irish Sea, between the Island of Ireland and Great Britain. Although this sounds like it could be a good way to solve this border-issue, it has faced great criticism, and especially by the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). They claim that this proposition is a campaign for Irish nationalists, that want to separate Northern Ireland from Great Britain. One of the problems here is that the prime minister, Theresa May, needs the support of the DUP. After the snap election last year, where the Conservative Party didn’t get as much support as they thought they would, they needed the help of smaller parties like DUP. The British government can’t just decide on a fate for the border, they need the support of DUP, or else they will pull their support, and Sammy Wilson, an MP from East Antrim, told BBC that “if there is any hint that in order to placate Dublin and the EU, they’re prepared to have Northern Ireland treated differently than the rest of the UK, then they can’t rely on our vote”.
Written in cooperation with Camilla. 🙂