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Brexit and Ireland - Borders and Sticking Plasters

by British Awakening – 25 Nov 2017

Blarney Castle, Ireland

Last week I had an interesting Twitter debate with one of the more thoughtful Remainers. He raised the issue of the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland demanding that Brexiteers provide an answer. Very quickly I replied that a solution is that the Republic also leaves the EU and comes with us. Yet as soon as I sent it I thought more deeply about it, my response was a boiler plate Brexiteer response, but in this case it is not what I really think. I am from an Anglo Irish family, my side of the family is Unionist the other is Republican, I have seen for myself how divisive the issue is, the best we can do as a family is just agree not to talk about it. As for Brexit all I think has happened is that it has lifted a stone that covered up unresolved problems from the past, problems that were always there but we refused to address them.

In a certain sense Ireland has had a number of periods in its history where it has been united. The ancient geographer Claudius Ptolemy wrote about the island as being distinct from Britain, Ireland did not receive the attentions of the Romans but there is much evidence that trade took place between Roman Britain and Ireland. After the Romans left Britain, Ireland consisted of a patchwork of small kingdoms. The concept of a High King of the island began to emerge at the beginning of the 7th Century AD and there were periods where Ireland notionally united under a High King but the role was mainly ceremonial and the holders seldom able to consolidate the small kingdoms into one with any continuity. The complicated rules of succession further impeded the unification of the small kingdoms despite the need to unite in order to fight off the Vikings.

In 1169 the Normans invaded Ireland heralding in the fraught relationship between the United Kingdom and Ireland. Over the next few centuries the Normans had introduced a feudal system across much of Ireland which only started to decline after the ravages of the Black Death in the mid 14th Century. Toward the end of the 15th Century Norman (by now effectively English) influence withdrew to a small enclave around Dublin known as the Pale, Irish culture with its Norman influence flourished during this period.

For almost a Century the English seemed to have lost interest in Ireland until Henry VIII decided to recreate the title of King of Ireland leading to the Tudor conquest of Ireland. Complete conquest came about by the late 17th Century. The Kingdom of Ireland merged with the United Kingdom in 1801 with the Acts of Union, with the small matter of the Catholic majority in Ireland being banned from becoming members of Parliament. With remarkable speed the British moved to deal with the discrimination against Catholics - thirty years later.

British involvement during this period was not particularly glorious, Westminster displayed remarkable incompetence and an almost willful lack of care during the potato famine which made it nigh impossible for Ireland and Britain to work as a single entity. A number of unsuccessful attempts were made at finding a model for Home Rule for Ireland but William Gladstone could not gain the required support in Parliament nor resolve the sectarian issues. The resentment of Irish Nationalists towards the rule of Westminster famously manifested itself in the Easter uprising of 1916. Following five further years of low level warfare Ireland was partitioned in 1921 creating an independent Irish Free State - the Republic and the state of Northern Ireland which remains part of the United Kingdom. Almost 100 years later the partition remains, in that period the only positive has been the peace that ended what many Republicans called the Long War with the signing of the Good Friday agreement.

In 2016 the United Kingdom held a referendum on its membership of the European Union, by a small margin the vote was to leave the EU. The partition of Ireland in 1921, the problem that was kicked into the long grass many years ago, has resurfaced. If and when the UK leaves the EU the border between the Republic and Northern Ireland becomes the border between the EU and the rest of the world. The border that was placed there in 1921 as a sticking plaster has come off, it would have fallen off one day in any case but there is no sense in pretending anymore – it was us the British that put that border there in the first place. Put Brexit to one side for a moment and ask yourself did we really expect that border to stay there forever? Did we really think that this problem had gone away? How long are we going to keep on kidding ourselves? Sorry, reality check now - the current situation in Ireland is a dog’s breakfast.

The talks over Brexit will have to find a solution for the border problem - not least because a lot of goods from the Republic of Ireland travel across the UK to get to market in the rest of the EU. Irish exporters have enjoyed this facility for centuries, I find it unimaginable that the UK would even consider denying our Irish cousins this ancient right of way.

Since the referendum Remainers and Brexiteers have used Ireland as a subject to score points from one another. Northern Ireland aside, with few exceptions Remainers and Brexiteers are from mainland Britain and this is what troubles me. Once again we have British people deciding - or rather thinking they have the right to decide the future of Ireland. It is time for us to stop this, both sides of the debate, all that Brexit has done is expose the errors made by people who have long since passed, it was the Normans and not the English that invaded Ireland. It was the actions of a tyrannical monarch that compounded this crime against the people of Ireland. It was the arrogance and incompetence of Westminster that ensured Britain and Ireland did not achieve unity. It was the pragmatism of politicians in the early part of the 20th Century who settled for partition and it was far sighted men and women from both sides who brought us the Good Friday agreement.

It is difficult to find a single positive amongst all the British interventions in Ireland, I see no value in further interventions. Few of us alive today have had anything to do with the situation we now find ourselves in but the mainland British amongst us, be they for Brexit or Remain should not use Ireland as a football, our forefathers have done enough damage already. The only people that can resolve the problems of Ireland are the people that live there. A long period of silence from the rest of us would go a long way.

What do you think? Should the Irish have right of way? Please leave a comment below.

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