Brexit could once again divide Ireland from itself. What is now a porous border between the Republic and Northern Ireland could become instead a guarded, passport-required wall. In Northern Ireland the unionists voted to leave, wanting to take England and their own country back to a place of xenophobic isolation that will work to keep the two Irelands separate. The Remain voters were in the clear majority (56-44) but, like Scotland, which was similarly out-voted in its desire to remain in the EU, both Northern Ireland and the Republic must now deal with the consequences of an England gone mad.

The best outcome would be that the Border Poll being called by Sinn Féin would unite Ireland, but the likelihood of that happening without factionalism or worse is remote at best. Ireland has just finished marking 100 years since the Rising of 1916. The Republic itself was only fully brought into being in the 1930s–such a new nation. The northern unionists have fought fiercely to keep Northern Ireland separate, and won’t easily let that go now.

July is marching season in Northern Ireland, culminating on July 12th in a celebration of the Battle of the Boyne, William of Orange’s conquest of the Irish. This is typically the tensest time of the year in Northern Ireland, with the Orange Orders insisting on parade routes that take the marchers through predominantly Catholic, nationalist neighborhoods. These parades can turn ugly and violent, defiant rather than celebratory.

In some Belfast neighborhoods the walls which have separated Catholics and Protestants into segregated neighborhoods are still present. The gateways through them are propped open but the walls themselves have never been knocked down. This situation seems like a tinder box. If Ireland is miraculously able to find its way to unification as a result of Brexit the ultimate outcome would be spectacular. At what cost might this happen?

East Belfast BrigadeBobby Sands

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