GERRY ADAMS. New York Times.

Posted By: July 12, 2016

By GERRY ADAMS. New York Times. The Opinion Pages | Op-Ed Contributor . Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Credit Andrew Holder

Dublin — IN 1998, for the first time since partition in 1921, the people of Ireland, North and South, joined in voting for change when they took part in referendums on the Good Friday Agreement. That agreement was founded on the democratic principle that the people of Ireland, North and South, should determine their own future.

The Good Friday Agreement replaced decades of conflict and injustice with a deal that put power-sharing and equality at the heart of government. The agreement was endorsed by a resounding 71 percent of voters in the North and a remarkable 94 percent in the South of Ireland. History was made, and work began to establish all-island institutions that for nearly two decades have secured peace and justice in Ireland.

That achievement and legacy is now at risk. In last month’s referendum on Britain’s membership in the European Union, the citizens of the North of Ireland voted by 55 percent to 45 percent to remain within the union. As voters in the North did in the 1998 referendum, Irish nationalists, British unionists and others found common cause.

In Scotland, too, a strong majority of citizens voted to remain within the European Union, while more people in England and Wales voted to leave. That was their right, but because the total votes narrowly went in favor of Brexit, by 52 percent to 48 percent, the British government will now seek to drag the North of Ireland out of the European Union — based on the preference of voters in England and Wales.

The Brexit vote has caused political turmoil in London, a collapse in the value of the pound, predictions of a recession and economic uncertainty across the country. American investors have postponed a visit to the North of Ireland, and the Nevin Economic Research Institute, a think tank, has forecast a slowing of growth across the whole of Ireland.

This referendum had nothing to do with Ireland’s economic interests, or even with reform of the European Union. Instead, it was precipitated by a toxic mix of factional fighting and leadership intrigue within the British Conservative Party and the rise of far-right, anti-immigrant groups like the U.K. Independence Party.

Leave campaign leaders like Michael Gove were also opposed to the peace deal in Ireland, which he once called a “capitulation.” The Tory Party’s presumptive new leader, Theresa May, believes that Britain should withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights, which is a central component of the Good Friday Agreement.

In this Tory political game, the people of Ireland, our peace, economy and institutions, would all become collateral damage. By its reckless action, the British government has set aside the democratic consent that was central to the Good Friday Agreement and set a course that would fundamentally alter the relationships between the North and South of Ireland, and between Ireland and Britain.

The first and most obvious impact will be on the North-South border. In the past, this was marked by checkpoints, military bases and customs posts. Today, thanks to the peace agreement, the long stoppages and searches are gone, and the border is almost impossible to discern.

As a consequence of Brexit, that near-vanished border will become an international frontier between the European Union and an external state. Ireland’s economy and people will face the renewed imposition of checkpoints, as well as blocks to trade, services and the free movement of workers. Communities united by the Good Friday Agreement will be divided once again.

With the loss of European Union funding for peace programs, progress on North-South cross- border cooperation will stall. A hard border will also undermine the operation of the All-Ireland bodies that promote business links, tourism and investment in health care and higher education.

This is preventable — if the Irish and British governments respect the vote of the people in the North to remain within the European Union.

The Irish government must act to guarantee the progress made by the Good Friday Agreement and subsequent accords. Ireland’s prime minister, Enda Kenny, supports my proposal for an All- Ireland forum of political parties and civic partners to deal with the consequences of Brexit. We need maximum coordination among those who support the democratic demand that the North remain in the European Union.

Successive presidents of the United States, with the support of Irish-Americans, have played a central role in promoting political progress in the North of Ireland. Given its investment in the peace process, America’s leaders must act to safeguard it, insisting that the British government honor its obligations under the agreements and give effect to the North’s choice to remain.

As a party of Irish republicans and democrats, Sinn Fein believes in Irish unity. The Good Friday Agreement already allows for concurrent referendums on reunification to be held in the North and South. The British and Irish governments are obliged to legislate for the unity of Ireland if a simple majority in the North supports change.

The Brexit vote provides both a reason and an opportunity to enable this democratic decision. The British government should respect the popular vote in the North for European Union membership by bringing forward a referendum on Irish unity. The Irish government, too, should act on this.

The people of the North could then choose whether they wanted to be part of a Britain outside the European Union or belong to a unified Irish state in Europe. For the Irish after Brexit, that is the democratic way forward.