Conor P McArdle is a Law Student from Queens University Belfast and describes himself as “annoyingly liberal and pro-European”. Conor has a unique perspective on the future of a Brexit Northern Ireland and wishes to share it with us today.
For those of us born in the late 1990s we grew up with relative peace and stability here in the Northern Ireland , yet that is now under threat.
We grew up with the ability to move freely across Europe to enjoy holidays, school trips and educational programmes without any barriers. The hangover of the troubles remained, yet as a society, there was a clear sense of progress and this embedded itself in young people creating hope for the future. The European Union has played a significant role in creating lasting peace and in our daily lives. Virtually all major infrastructure projects in Northern Ireland in the past 20 years have had some European funding, as well as the EU supporting countless other peace and community initiatives.
Yet this is under threat. While we may hope that funding will continue to the North, this remains speculative as the form of the UK’s divorce remains a mystery. The border is a central issue as the European Union facilitated the creation of a ‘mental border’ for those living in Northern Ireland. Whilst a Nationalist could see the border as almost non-existent, Unionist can see a solid line denoting their sovereignty. Yet this bespoke solution to a unique problem is under serious threat as Police Service of Northern Ireland Chief Constable George Hamilton recognised that any alteration to the current border arrangement could create untold economic and security chaos. Brexit has turned the essential input of the European project in the peace process a political issue. During the peace process, the European Economic Community played an important role, like the United States acting like an adult in the negotiations, assisting the British and Irish governments in brokering a compromise.
However, during and in the immediate aftermath of the EU Referendum, the role of the community has been exploited for political aims. Though the Democratic Unionist Party is an overtly Eurosceptic party, they have happily accepted the benefits of EU membership for the north. Whilst Sinn Fein have historically been Eurosceptic reflecting their leftist ideology, they have pragmatically exploited the issues surrounding the UK’s withdrawal from Europe to push for a referendum on Irish unity. With Northern Ireland’s leading parties adopting approaches which are highly irresponsible, they are once again betraying the interests of the province’s young people. They are contributing to the destabilisation and the hard-line policies they are pursuing are helping to polarise an already divided nation. If Brexit ought to symbolise anything to young people, it is the importance of engaging with the political process to protect the achievements of the peace process. Whilst our political leaders are committed to dragging us further away from the centre ground in which peace can flourish, we must act to ensure that Brexit does not damage the fragile peace we are fortunate to enjoy.
Northern Ireland is a society which is finally beginning to heal from the wounds of our complicated and troubled past. But Brexit has the potential to rip the scabs from deep and painful wounds which could leave its young people burdened with a trauma that will take much longer to heal.