The European Union must help to protect our hard-won peace

Posted By: April 29, 2017

Deaglan de Breadun. Irish News. Saturday, April 29, 2017

Does Europe care? Let’s hope so because it is crucially important.

I refer to the need to ensure that any agreement between Brussels and the United Kingdom on the latter’s departure from the European Union takes full and proper account of the hard-won peace on this island of ours.

Much has been written about the work that went into the Good Friday Agreement. John Hume and David Trimble were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts. Father Alec Reid, George Mitchell, Bertie Ahern, Tony Blair, Mo Mowlam and Bill Clinton were among those who went the extra mile back in 1998.

Gerry Adams and the late Martin McGuinness led the bulk of the republican movement out of the blood-soaked swamp that we call the Troubles. Violent conflict is always dreadful but surely the one that took place in the Seventies, Eighties, and part of the Nineties has to be among the most miserable and horrific of the genre.

Even though the present writer lived in the south for most of those years, he knew people whose lives came to a premature end in that terrible time. Some of them were political activists who were part of the Dublin scene of public meetings and protest demonstrations on the issues of the day but, after they died, turned out to have had another, covert existence as armed militants. Most of them were young and, had their lives not ended so tragically, would have made a significant contribution to Irish society and a fairer, more just world.

Their faces flash before me as I write: intelligent, sharp-witted, hungry for social change. But they privately came to the conclusion that the pursuit of justice necessitated taking up the gun and shooting other members of the human race who happened to be wearing particular uniforms. Growing up, I never expected my adult years to be overshadowed by a “dirty war” characterized on all sides by inhumanity and pointless bloodletting.

We can’t go back to that. No more generations on this island can be exposed to the type of tragedy that unfolded here in the past. There are soothing words from London and Brussels about the importance of the peace process but we need to have these guarantees spelled out in unambiguous black-and-white terms.

The EU has a well-deserved reputation for achieving compromises that leave all sides feeling more or less content. However, this characteristic was not greatly in evidence prior to the Brexit referendum. Surely Prime Minister David Cameron could have been granted sufficient concessions to help him get the ball over the line and win a majority in that crucial vote? It is hard to avoid the conclusion that complacency reigned.

There’s no room for complacency now. And vagueness could quite literally be fatal. When German reunification took place at the end of the Cold War, the former German Democratic Republic merged seamlessly into what was then called the European Economic Community. Provision for a similar process must be put in place in the event that a majority vote for Irish unity comes about.

This would not imply that the EU supports or seeks to promote Irish unity. But it must not allow a situation to develop where the Good Friday Agreement is undermined by critics who say that, even if there is a majority vote in each jurisdiction, north, and south, for a 32-county state, the EU will block rather than facilitate such an outcome.

This weekend, the leaders of the 27 remaining EU states are due to sign off on their position for the negotiations on the UK’s departure. Since the Common Market, as we used to call it, began as a peace process to ensure there were no more wars between France and Germany, surely they will understand the crying need to avoid doing anything to hinder the cause of peace on the island of Ireland?