By Sara Kamsvåg and Sondre Bakker
Northern Ireland and Ireland has had a complicated and troubling past. Ireland is an independent country, but Northern Ireland is on the other hand a part of Great Britain. The roots of the conflict go back til 1541 when Henry 8. conquered Ireland and introduced a protestant regime. The government started to give rewards to those landowners who established north of the country. This drove the original population south. In 1922, Ireland resigned from the United Kingdom. It was a hard fight, and six counties remained under British control. It formed Northern Ireland, and its inhabitants were looked at as a lower class. Today there is a split in the Northern Ireland population were one half want to stay as a part of the United Kingdom and the other wants to join the rest of Ireland.
The split has led to conflicts between the catholics in Ireland and the brits. After the Northern Ireland population started a political protest in 1969 the Great Britain sent military to keep order in the province. Among other things, the IRA – which had long led an anonymous existence – revitalized as a powerful military organization, which in the 1970s and 1980s, ran regular military activity against the British forces, in addition to a series of terrorist acts in Britain. The time between 1968 and 1997 is in Ireland called The Troubles, because of the terror during that time.
One of the most cited episodes in the conflict is called The Bloody Sunday, and occurred January 30th 1972, when British soldiers shot at civil right demonstration which killed 13 people and injured 16. This made the relationship between the catholics and the brits even more hateful.
The Good Friday Agreement in 1998 was hailed as one of the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s greatest accomplishments. A cease-fire was agreed upon by most of the political parties in Northern Ireland and the British and Irish Government. They committed themselves to use only democratic and peaceful means. In spite of some dissident groups that continue the fight, the Belfast Agreement in 1998 seems to be the most effective effort to end decades, and even centuries of conflicts and disagreements.
When it comes to the Northern Irish – Irish border after Brexit, nobody really knows what will happen. On one hand you have people that would like to keep an open border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, but on the other hand you have people that would reinstate the former border. People of older generations in both Ireland and Northern Ireland would not want to see border crossings be reinstated, they remember The Troubles and would not want to be reminded of the destruction that took place during that time. Not only would it remind people of The Troubles, it would also be time consuming, and expensive. Simply, every civilian moving between Ireland and Northern Ireland would have to be checked every day, both time consuming and expensive for both countries. Another question that is likely to be asked is what will happen with people working on the opposite side of the border (i.e. Irish citizens working in Northern Ireland and vice versa)? Both the Irish and UK governments, as well as the President of the European Council has said that they do not wish for a hard border between the United Kingdom and Ireland, and they want to keep the Common Travel Area agreement. The Northern Irish economy will be severely damaged if they return to a hard border. Their largest trading partner is Ireland, 33.4% of all exported goods are exported to Ireland, which means that Ireland accounts for more than £2 billion of the Northern Irish GDP. Ireland is also Northern Ireland’s largest import partner.
Not going back to a hard border is difficult to say the least. When Brexit is complete, the Irish border will suddenly be the external border of the EU. This means that there almost has to be checks. There is no way that the UK can keep the Irish border open, because if they leave one border open they have to keep borders to all countries open, according to rules set by the World Trade Organization. This is not an option, as the UK would see cheap import goods being sold on their market, and not their own UK-produced goods. An open border would also mean less taxation on goods flowing into the country, which would result in a loss of income for the UK government. If the UK had decided to still be a part of the free market or remain in the customs union, things would have been a lot easier, but the current government has decided that they are opting to leave the single market and customs union when they leave the EU. It seems that the only option is a hard border, although this is not suitable due to the history on the island, or for the economy of Northern Ireland. If the solution to the border question was easy, it would simply have been solved by now. However, this is not the case and it will be interesting to see what the solution will be.