Irish question center stage in Brexit bartering

Posted By: April 29, 2017

Irish News Editorial. Belfast, Saturday, April 29, 2017

The vote last June in favor of Britain leaving the EU has set in train a process that will have profound consequences for the UK and may ultimately herald the break-up of the Union.

People in Scotland and Northern Ireland voted decisively in favor of remaining in Europe leading to Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon seeking to call a second independence referendum while the issue of Irish unity is now moving into sharp focus.

As we know, the mechanism for a border poll is enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement, and there is no sense that we are close to this matter being put to the test in the near future.

Certainly, there is no appetite in the British government for such a poll.

However, the Irish question has now moved center stage in Europe, with the European Council meeting today to adopt guidelines for the upcoming Brexit negotiations.

Ahead of the meeting, council president Donald Tusk issued an extraordinary letter saying that before discussing the future ‘we must first sort out our past.’

He then cited three issues where sufficient progress has to be made before holding talks on the future relationship with the UK.

These were the need to secure guarantees for EU citizens and their families, an agreement that the UK will honor all financial obligations to Europe and the avoidance of a hard border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

He reinforced the point saying “it is clear that progress on people, money, and Ireland must come first.”

For such an influential figure to make this statement is deeply significant to all Irish nationalists and will be viewed with dismay by the British government which will not want Ireland to be a central element of this process, never mind a pre-condition to talks.

The Irish government is also seeking agreement on a provision that Northern Ireland would automatically rejoin the EU following a vote in favor of a united Ireland.

Enda Kenny has been pressing this issue and has cited the case of East Germany which became an EU member following reunification.

Achieving agreement in relation to Northern Ireland on this matter will be regarded as a considerable success for the


The fact that The North is now assuming much greater importance in Europe as Brexit negotiations gather pace has to be welcomed.

It is abundantly clear that Northern Ireland is not at the forefront of the British government’s thoughts at this time.

However, these latest developments should force ministers to much more specifically think about our unique position and the full implications of a future Brexit deal.