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.
The UK, at least Westminster, are dependent on lies. The DUP depends on illusions. There are details they are continually left unmentioned. DUP and UUP delayed the GFA by at least 10 years. The DUP are largely responsible for the suspension of Stormont. Arlene Foster is heavily implicated, as are others, in the ‘cash for ash’ scandal, and scandal it is. The Tories in Westminster know all of this yet attempt to justify bribing them with £1bn for Northern Ireland, yet no clear audit of its use is available, so bribe seems more appropriate to me than funding.
Then comes the trade agreements issue. The hard right repeatedly talk about stepping out of the EU FTA into trade under WTO terms. That is without being a member of it. To apply means getting past a number of the 160 members who would vote against, some presenting strong, valid reasons why the UK should not join. So actually trade under WTO terms is rhetorical rather than substantial. If it was negotiated and the UK became a member then Ireland enters the picture. Under WTO rules it requires particular fiscal arrangements that include a revenue system whereby collection of tariffs such as VAT, control of the flow of goods, including livestock, transport of consumable and capital goods such as manufacturing machinery, but also personal and hazardous items, commercial aircraft, non-military sea vessels, indeed even control over the trucks that transport goods into and out of a country if a multinational company proposes to base ‘foreign’ purchased transport vehicles in a receiving state. So, that requires strict controls, those under WTO rules impose a hard border. Westminster omits that detail. Then for all of the EU negotiations, if as a sovereign state, should the Republic of Ireland reach a point at which they are no longer able to tolerate breaches of any agreed terms, they could simply put up a hard border from their side. There is neither law not logic that forbids any nation from doing so. Not even Westminster’s English exceptionalism that continues to treat Ireland as a vassal of a vast empire that no longer exists.
So, who is threatening peace and stability? Westminster mainly, since Holyrood is regularly voicing warnings about maintaining peace. Why that? Well, pretty well on the back of the 2016 referendum the Orangemen/women of Fife and the west of Scotland began literally and metaphorically beating their big drums. Since most of the UK media scarcely look out of the window of fortress SE England unless there is trouble of a disaster, little was said about something that is minor in England anyway. So Scotland voiced concern. It may just be coincidence, but it is NI and Scotland who wish to remain in the EU.
We can believe the UK government if we wish, but look at simple facts and watch the sacrificial lamb being offered on the altar of nostalgia for a world that all but bowed down to London as the centre of the known world. We have all seen polls and heard enough from politicians whose mouths fire off faster than their brains engage to know that there is a large enough part of political and civil society that would be happy to see the back of NI, but a few hardliners who hold out a kind of flat earth attitude in a world that lingers in the nineteenth century who are useful puppets right now, but like puppets can be released from the hands that pull their strings and discarded in a useless heap.
A very well put and heartfelt resume of Brexit in Northern Ireland. Time for a new centrist political party in the whole of the UK?