Professor. Marc Lavergne, a French Senior Fellow Researcher (Emeritus) on the Geopolitics and Geostrategy of the Contemporary Middle East and Horn of Africa at the French National Center for Scientific Research.
Violence is back in the streets of Belfast and Londonderry! Within the past two weeks, 70 policemen were wounded in confrontations with young protesters. This is the unexpected, if not unsurprising, result of the Brexit negotiated between the European Union and the United Kingdom of Great Britain… and Northern Ireland.
There was a loophole in the agreement reached after these lengthy negotiations: Northern Ireland presents the only land border of the United Kingdom with an EU member, namely the Republic of Ireland, and there was a need to set a border to materialize the new external limit of the EU.
For my generation, the sheer mention of Northern Ireland – more commonly referred to as Ulster – is a sad reminder of a colonial war in the heart of Europe : two communities were there at odds during 30 years, till the 1998 Good Friday agreement : on one side, the Republicans, representing the supporters of the unification with the republic of Ireland, from which it had been severed in 1921, and who were mainly Catholics and workers’ class, and on the other, the Unionists, who were defending the status quo within the United Kingdom ; they represented mainly the Protestant’s community, which held the upper hand in the society. This has been a heinous and bloody civil war, between neighbors, from quarter to quarter, which left 40 000 wounded and 3700 killed.
In 1998, a peace deal was finally reached: The Good Friday Agreement. It granted the Republicans an equality of rights, and the Unionists the upholding of the province within the United Kingdom. Since then, the two communities have been able to run the province in harmony. But the land border was never materialized, to satisfy a demand by the Republicans, ensuring a free move of people and goods between the two parts of Ireland. The solution found by the EU was to suggest that the border control would be set in the province’s harbors. This establishes a border between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, which inflames the Unionists, who feel betrayed and abandoned by London. On the first century’s anniversary of Ireland’s independence from Great Britain in 1921, there is a feeling of bitterness, to which no easy solution can be found : the revenge of geography on politics… Let’s hope that wisdom will prevail: Ulster could benefit a lot of this “in-between” situation!