Brexit – What Next? – a view from Ireland

The vote in the UK, by a small majority, to leave the European Union appears to have taken even the leave camp by surprise.

It is a source of amazement that people can have led such a crusade without thinking of how a decision in their favour might be implemented.

The campaign in Britain to leave the UK has unleashed restless forces of primitive nationalism. Furthermore, it has given comfort to a dangerous segment of the UK population, xenophobic in outlook, and caught up in some time warp even in this 21st century.

And what about that poster on the Leave side? An illustration unworthy of anyone who purported to argue a rational case, showing a throng of unfortunate refugees and implying that aid to suffering humanity would break the nation.  Shame on anyone who had any part in the production of that piece of misleading and fear-inducing propaganda.

Is there any good news in all this?

Well the UK has never been a comfortable and enthusiastic member of the European Union.  If now, rational consideration of the economic and social fallout resulting from going it alone, has brought home the wisdom of European co-operation, then this fiasco might indeed produce some good.  Certainly, a vote by a small majority to remain would have left UKIP and the Leave side snapping at the heels of any future UK government and holding them hostage for years to come.

So now what?

A new election and a new pro-EU government might be the excuse to ignore the result of the recent referendum or call another.  (No more giggling at how we in Ireland have a practice of doing just that in order to get the right result)

If the UK trigger Article 50 and proceed to leave the EU it is as clear as day that Scotland will seek full independence in order to re-apply for membership of the union. Bye bye UK and thank you UKIP who will have had the distinction of being remembered as the United Kingdom Independence Party who actually broke up the United Kingdom.

And what about our friends in Northern Ireland?  Are they to be separated from the rest of us on this island by a hard border?  It had best be a hard one and a high one, 300 miles long if the UK is to protect itself from the free-to -travel remaining hundreds of millions of EU citizens. Think of the Berlin Wall or the Trump plan to protect the US from his feared swarming hordes of Mexico.   That is just not a runner.  Imagine the nationist response if this island was to be divided by a wall? The more practical alternative would be to set the UK independent boundary at the mainland of the UK.  But can you imagine Northern Unionists being happy having to show their passports in order to enter the UK mainland?  Neither would they be likely to respond favourably to the misguided and premature idea put out by Sinn Fein calling for a border poll.  We in the south are seeking a warm relationship, and perhaps, in the long run, an eventual mutually agreed happy civil partnership between the peoples of this island, but not a gunshot wedding of the sort believed achievable by Sinn Fein.

Oh, and remember UK, the rule is “no free trade without free movement”, you take it or leave it.

These are indeed interesting times ahead.  There are economic opportunities for us in the midst of this uncertainty as we find ourselves as the only committed members of the EU having English as the everyday spoken language.  Let us make it clear to one and all that, whatever the outcome in the UK, Ireland Inc. is open for business and ready to provide whatever services the people of Europe, or the world, might require.  This continent has been divided for too long. Too many people have died in its wars over centuries, bloodily so on a frightful scale in the lifetime of people still living. We in Ireland who believe in the idea of greater co-operation between the peoples of Europe are not taking part in any effort to break our unity asunder.

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Place names and other controversies

 

Unionists in Northern Ireland have expressed understandable annoyance following the decision by Derry City and Strabane District Council to vote in favour of changing the official name of the city of Londonderry to Derry.

 

The vote on Thursday last at the Guildhall on the controversial name change was passed with support from Sinn Fein, the SDLP and independent councillors. Understandably the proposal was opposed by the minority unionist group on the nationalist-controlled council.

 

Why, in the name of all that is good and reasonable, cause needless tension and dispute by tinkering with the city name? The name Derry/Londonderry has been in common use for some time and that seems, to an outsider like me ay least, to be an acceptable solution in a place where opinions are still strongly divided along nationalist/unionist lines. Derry/Londonderry seems to be a peace-bridge type of name which accommodates two traditions living side by side in one recently very troubled place.

 

Raising sectarian disputes by proposing what was clearly going to be a controversial vote on a name change is just as de-stabilising to peaceful relations as the wearisome regular call by Sinn Fein for a plebiscite on the question of whether Northern Ireland wishes to be united with the Republic of Ireland.   Do Sinn Fein really believe that if a day dawns when (a) nationalists in the north slightly outnumber unionists and (b) vote en masse for unification, that the new slender minority of unionists will be happy to unquestioningly throw in their lot with the people south of the border?  Is this simple majority rule the Sinn Fein idea of democracy?

 

The Good Friday agreement has been a wonderful, and rather amazing, resting point along the road to better relations, north and south, east and west between the diverse traditions on these islands. If, as a follow up to that agreement, friendship and co-operation can be fostered in the very many areas where it make sense to work together, that will be good job, a wonderful job and, for now, a sufficient job. Marriage proposals can be left until both parties are truly in love. The pain of recent events on all sides requires time and careful attention in order to heal. The flower of co-operation requires time and careful attention in order to bloom.

 

We have to learn to celebrate diversity and not to fear it.  The two main traditions on this island have much to offer each other.   It is painful to see sectarian views expressed in relation to flags and symbols, parades and celebrations, the wearing and non wearing of poppies, the use of words in church.   I happen, by good fortune, to belong to a church, the Unitarian Church in Dublin, where diversity is celebrated.   If a survey was to be taken in our church I expect that no two of us would hold the same views and yet week by week we worship together to seek meaning and celebrate the wonder of existence. I pray that unionists and nationalists, inspired by progressive, patient and far seeing leaders will one day be happy to celebrate their differences and live together in that peace which is the entitlement and hope of all people.

 

Tony  10 November 2015

 

 

 

 

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