Brexit and implications for Ireland (Guest viewpoint)
Posted By: March 29, 2017
Twenty-five years ago, I was on a bus with then-Speaker of the House Tom Foley that was crossing the Border from the Irish Republic into The North. In what seems unthinkable today, the bus was boarded by heavily armed British soldiers and thoroughly searched. During the period of time known as the Troubles, this inconvenient and intimidating behavior along the Irish border was commonplace. But if you make that same passage today, there are no checkpoints, no watch towers, and the 30,000 British Army troops who were once deployed in the region are gone. The most tangible way to know you’ve crossed from one jurisdiction to the next today is when your cell phone signal switches. Or when the signs on the road change from miles to kilometers. For all intents and purposes, there is no longer a physical border on the island of Ireland. That’s the good news. But a vote taken in June in the United Kingdom (UK) could significantly change that.
In a stunning referendum, 30 million British went to the polls last summer and decided to leave the European Union (EU) after a more than a 40-year partnership. The process was called Brexit, and nine months after the vote, there is a growing level of confusion and uncertainty in Europe and around the world on how to move forward. British Prime Minister Theresa May has said she will invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty this month which officially begins a two-year process between the UK and the 27 EU members to negotiate their future relations on issues like trade and immigration. The difficulty is, no country has ever gone through this process before. And to complicate matters, the people of Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU and feel they are being forcibly removed against their democratic wishes. And just this week, Scottish Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon called for a second independence referendum. It truly is an unprecedented moment in history for the people of the British Isles.
But Irish Chamber of Commerce, a return to checkpoints would also put the economic viability of the island of Ireland in great jeopardy.
But celebrations. And given the urgency of the situation, that is why I called on President Donald Trump to appoint a new Special Envoy to Northern Ireland at the earliest possible opportunity. With the ramifications of Brexit still to be determined in the UK and abroad, one thing is certain. We cannot wake the ghost of the past and return to the bad old days of partition and searches.
After Taoiseach Enda Kenny about the prospects of Irish unity being discussed in the context of Brexit. The Prime Minister told a British-Irish conference in Oxford that “the possibility of unity by consent must be maintained as a valid democratic option into the future.” He compared Ireland’s aspirations of unification to Germany’s and said that “if there were democratic consent to Irish unity at some point in the future, there must be a mechanism to ensure that decision can be implemented within the European Union.” One year after the recognizing the centenary of 1916, these words are a profoundly significant for all those who seek Irish unification. And the March 2nd election results in the north where nationalists made historic gains also reflect a growing trend towards a new dispensation on the island.
I believe the time has come for the people of Ireland and the wider diaspora to have a sincere conversation on the prospects of Irish unity. History reminds us that unity by consent was always the cornerstone of the Good Friday Agreement. That was the genius of Strand Two of the historic peace accord. And in a bit of irony worthy of James Joyce, a vote by the British to leave the European Union may have brought us one step closer to the elusive goal of unity.