25 years later, is Brexit unraveling Northern Ireland’s delicate peace? By Gabrielle Debinski, GZERO Daily (Ian Bremmer). 10th April 2023 is the 25th Anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.

25 years later, is Brexit unraveling Northern Ireland’s delicate peace?

By Gabrielle Debinski

The 1998 Good Friday Agreement ended decades of bloody violence in Northern Ireland, as paramilitary groups agreed to disarm. The agreement was such a watershed that US President Joe Biden is expected to visit Belfast and the Republic of Ireland this week to mark its 25th anniversary.

But the stability of the 1.8-million-strong country has been thrown into question as a result of Brexit-induced bedlam.

Indeed, post-Brexit negotiations over trade and border arrangements have sparked some violence and raised fears of broader destabilization, prompting Britain’s MI5 intelligence agency to recently raise the domestic terror threat level in Northern Ireland from “substantial” to “severe.”

Twenty-five years after the landmark accord — also known as the Belfast Agreement — how stable is the situation in Northern Ireland, and how has Brexit threatened the status quo?

A Troubled backstory

The region has long been mired in violence, particularly since the partition of Ireland in the 1920s, which gave rise to a bloody civil war. While the North remained under British control, the southern Ireland Free State formed the basis of an independent Ireland. The well-known Irish Republican Army, also known as the Provos, survived the civil war and continued to agitate against the British.

But the modern conflict arose in the 1960s, when Irish republicans (nationalists), most of whom were Catholic, began protesting against the Northern Irish government, made up of pro-UK Protestants that they claimed were discriminating against them. While it was not a religious conflict, tensions flared along denominational lines.

Indeed, civil rights demonstrations morphed into deadly sectarian clashes, and nationalist paramilitary groups on both sides engaged in terrorism to further their aims. In a move that deepened divisions, the British government deployed troops to the North in 1969.

The bloody 30-year period that followed — depicted in iconic films like “In the Name of the Father” and “Hidden Agenda” — became known as the Troubles.

A delicate peace is born

While campaigning for the US presidency in 1992, Bill Clinton vowed to help promote peace in Northern Ireland if elected – and he followed through, adopting a new approach that eventually granted constitutional legitimacy to the IRA as a step towards full normalization. Clinton also allowed Gerry Adams, president of the political arm of the IRA (Sinn Féin), an exemption to visit the US for 48 hours to further peace talks.

As part of the agreement, which set out a political system based on shared power, both sides committed to releasing hundreds of political prisoners and to a sweeping review of policing in Northern Ireland. The hope was that mutual recognition would pave the way for greater communal integration.

Beyond cessation of violence, what else was the Good Friday Agreement trying to achieve?

“Human rights and equality are central to the Good Friday Agreement,” says Professor Colin Harvey of Queen University’s School of Law in Belfast. Harvey, who grew up in conflict-plagued Derry in the 1970s and 80s, says that 2023 compared to the 1990s is like night and day. “Young people growing up today in cities like Belfast and Derry are growing up in a very different environment from that violence.”

“The agreement holds out a vision of a better society,” he says, adding that “the peace process is not only about ending violence but also delivering transformative change for individuals and communities.”

Much of this is still a work in progress, he notes, pointing out that Northern Ireland still doesn’t have a Bill of Rights.

The Brexit effect

The UK’s decision to leave the European Union has served as the most destabilizing force in Northern Ireland since the Troubles. That’s because most Northern Irelanders didn’t want to leave the Union — 56% voted against the move compared to 44% who backed Brexit.

The Good Friday Agreement rejected any sort of hard border between the two provinces to allow for the free flow of goods and tariff-free trade within the United Kingdom and the European Union. But by creating a hard border between the two provinces — meaning that Northern Ireland is subject to UK trade rules while Ireland remains part of the EU’s Schengen Economic Area — there are fears that age-old anxieties are remerging, putting mounting pressure on the power-sharing arrangement.

What’s more, former UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s approach to the withdrawal agreement failed to skillfully address these sticking points and only added fuel to the fire — literally. This caused a spate of violent riots in 2021, driven in large part by extreme loyalists and disillusioned youth.

How has Brexit caused both economic disruption and political stagnation in Northern Ireland? And why shouldn’t we only blame Brexit for the unrealized promise of peace of the Good Friday Agreement? Keep reading here.

About michelleclarke2015

Life event that changes all: Horse riding accident in Zimbabwe in 1993, a fractured skull et al including bipolar anxiety, chronic fatigue …. co-morbidities (Nietzche 'He who has the reason why can deal with any how' details my health history from 1993 to date). 17th 2017 August operation for breast cancer (no indications just an appointment came from BreastCheck through the Post). Trinity College Dublin Business Economics and Social Studies (but no degree) 1997-2003; UCD 1997/1998 night classes) essays, projects, writings. Trinity Horizon Programme 1997/98 (Centre for Women Studies Trinity College Dublin/St. Patrick's Foundation (Professor McKeon) EU Horizon funded: research study of 15 women (I was one of this group and it became the cornerstone of my journey to now 2017) over 9 mth period diagnosed with depression and their reintegration into society, with special emphasis on work, arts, further education; Notes from time at Trinity Horizon Project 1997/98; Articles written for Irishhealth.com 2003/2004; St Patricks Foundation monthly lecture notes for a specific period in time; Selection of Poetry including poems written by people I know; Quotations 1998-2017; other writings mainly with theme of social justice under the heading Citizen Journalism Ireland. Letters written to friends about life in Zimbabwe; Family history including Michael Comyn KC, my grandfather, my grandmother's family, the O'Donnellan ffrench Blake-Forsters; Moral wrong: An acrimonious divorce but the real injustice was the Catholic Church granting an annulment – you can read it and make your own judgment, I have mine. Topics I have written about include annual Brain Awareness week, Mashonaland Irish Associataion in Zimbabwe, Suicide (a life sentence to those left behind); Nostalgia: Tara Hill, Co. Meath.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s