Belfast, Borders, BREXIT and a Scottish Backstop – Geo-politics on a few small islands

Updated: Dec 28, 2020

Much Ado About Something ….

Ireland Flag 

While waiting to board the ‘Stena super fast ferry’ to Scotland, two immigration officials wandered through the waiting area. Two days beforehand, we technically crossed an international border at 100 km/h whilst driving between Eire (Republic of Ireland) and Northern Ireland.

Of course, many people in the North feel far more Irish than British. A small majority are devout ‘Unionists’ who much prefer to be part of the United Kingdom. Whichever side one falls on this long-standing difference of opinion, virtually everyone has enjoyed the security and economic development that has accompanied 20+ years of peace.

And then the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union.

Dublin’s General Post Office – sight of the 1916 Uprising

Once again there are deeply divided opinions and negotiations have thus far proven complicated. People will continue to rigorously debate the merits of withdrawal, but on the little green island to the west, re-establishing a border could, in fact, have violent consequences.

Through the arduous peace process, the Irish and British governments along with brave local leaders, managed to establish a subtle truce. Those who feel Irish may be Irish and those who hold tighter to the UK still have their union. Perhaps not perfect, but certainly much better than bombs, discrimination and hate.

political graffiti

However, if and when the UK withdraws from Europe, it will no longer be part of the free trade zone. This requires a border. I remember when there was a hard physical border on the Island of Ireland. These were tough times, where border police and a huge military presence defined the line between the two political entities.

road across border

We would almost never stay in the North on tour because tourists were too afraid. Now I love staying in Belfast! The North Coast competes as one of the most beautiful drives in Ireland.

If one knows Ireland well, there is a distinct accent difference between North and South and certainly a shift in culture, but along with just about everyone, I still know I am in Ireland. 

So a hard border, necessary to enforce European trading regulations is a very concerning prospect. Certainly, it is so concerning, the Republic of Ireland will have to veto any deal that brings back a wall.

political art Belfast pub

Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams – Nationalists and Unionist have at least found peace

One solution is a ‘backstop’ border at crossing points between Ireland and Britain.

In fact, as I write this, I am on a ferry from Belfast to Scotland. It probably would not be too hard to establish some sort of control at these points of entrance and exempt the six counties of Northern Ireland.

Belfast City Hall

Sound good? Unfortunately, this is entirely unacceptable to the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). The DUP hold 10 of the seats in the Westminster Parliament in London. Well, 10 of 650 does not appear terribly relevant, yet since Theresa May’s Conservative party failed to secure a majority in last year’s snap election, she is now dependent upon a coalition with the DUP to support her government  – this is how the British Parliamentary System works. And the DUP’s raison d’etre is an absolute, indivisible union with the United Kingdom. The suggestion of a border between the North and Great Britain would be beyond unacceptable.

So if a border emerges in Ireland, there may be a return to the violence of the past as Republican Nationalists may blow it up. And a border that makes Ireland appear united may lead to equal challenges from the Unionist side. Any sort of violence is entirely unacceptable, but these things really matter to some people and unfortunately, they feel violence is the best response.

Tourism is booming, while the Stormont (NI Assembly) sits empty

During these last ten days in Ireland, the news has been dominated with talk of BREXIT and borders. Up in the North, the regional Stormont government has been completely dysfunctional for 18 months. This is over a series of intransigent positions maintained by politicians on both ends of the nationalist divide.

Ireland is beautiful, friendly, fun and kind.

Ireland to Scotland ferry

Its mild climate is ideal for agriculture, and its musical and literary traditions are second to none. But politically it is extremely complicated. Now that the violence of the past troubles has passed, I actually quite enjoy the cacophony of debate on one little island.

And then there is Scotland! ‘England’s noisy upstairs neighbour’ does not want to be outdone. The SNP (Sottish National Party) generated enough enthusiasm to hold an expensive referendum for independence which was soundly defeated 55-45.

Seems fair, and then along comes BREXIT (British exit from the European Union) and the whole of Scotland – every region – votes NO! The Scots, in their entirety, voted to stay with Europe (so did Northern Ireland), but England and Wales wanted out. So now a genuine rift has opened between Scotland and the UK. We’ll see if that leads to another independence vote.

the good stuff, Belfast Guinness at the confession box

Pints and debates – all part of good Irish craic (fun)

So there we have it. If one is a political junky it is all fun to watch, but from a social and business point of view this is all quite risky. The threat of violence returning is alarming and the possible disruption to business a serious concern. For those of us who work in tourism, peace has been perfect. 

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#politics #UniteKingdom #Belfast #Parliament #SNP #scotland #Ireland #NorthernIreland #brexit #DUP #Borders #England #EuropeanUnion

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