The settlement reached more than 20 years ago with the Good Friday Agreement on the contested border between Ireland and Northern Ireland is under “real and imminent threat due to Brexit,” Sinn Fein President Mary Lou McDonald said on Monday.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency in an exclusive interview, the Northern Ireland nationalist party leader said Brexit contradicts the 1998 Belfast Agreement – an international deal which ended the sectarian violence in Northern Ireland.
“Brexit totally comes into conflict with the Good Friday Agreement, which is a peace agreement between Ireland and Britain, an agreement which recognizes that there is a British border on our island and that it is contested,” McDonald said.
McDonald said the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland has “caused division across our society and many many decades of conflict,” and Brexit would “damage Ireland” even with a deal, but a crash-out Brexit would be “catastrophic.”
Returning to a hard border on Ireland would be “equivalent to building up the Berlin Wall in political terms” and “would potentially undermine the huge progress we have made as a society,” she added.
“As an Irishwoman, as a citizen, but also as a political leader, I believe I have a duty to state that very clearly.”
Referendum for Irish unity
Turning to a possible referendum asking Northern Ireland citizens whether they would want to unite with the Republic of Ireland, McDonald underlined that a border poll and referendum for Irish unity are “provided by the Good Friday Agreement.”
“I think it is a matter of ‘when,’ not ‘if,’ that poll is taken,” McDonald said.
“We have a good deal of work to do to advance on that because obviously as a society coming out of conflict and looking to the future, we have to have a conversation about how we organize ourselves, what a new Ireland looks like.”
“I can’t give you an exact date, but I can tell you that the conversation on Irish unity and ending partition is now very much alive in Ireland,” McDonald said.
'War is over'
As many fear that Brexit effects and a possible return to a hard border could push Northern Ireland back into a violent past which saw some 3,500 people killed, the Sinn Fein leader thinks it would be stupid to challenge peace.
“There is no appetite or desire for violence in Ireland,” she said.
“The war is over, the conflict is over.”
“But it would be very very foolish, indeed a deeply stupid person, who would gamble there with our peace,” McDonald added.
Rejecting the option of direct rule by the Westminster in Northern Ireland, McDonald said she told British Prime Minister Theresa May that “it is not an option” and not on the table.”
She said if the U.K. crashes out from the EU, May must consult with Dublin, as the governance arrangement is not a decision to be made by London alone.
McDonald said: “If there is a crash, there would be an emergency intervention by Dublin, by London, and by our partners at the European level, because let me repeat: We cannot have a hard border on the Ireland, we cannot turn the clock back, we cannot go backwards, we can only go forwards.”
1998 Belfast Agreement
The Troubles – an era of conflict between the British government and pro-British paramilitaries on one side and Irish republicans and nationalists on the other – ended in 1998 after the Belfast Agreement put an end to decades of armed struggle in the divided U.K. region of Northern Ireland.
The U.K. and the Republic of Ireland signed the deal, brokered by the U.S. and eight political parties in Northern Ireland, on April 10, 1998.
The deal – dubbed the Good Friday Agreement – largely saw the end of the Troubles-era violence, in which some 3,500 people lost their lives.
The agreement committed the U.K. and Irish governments to respect the “principle of consent.”
If a vote on Irish unification got a positive result, the agreement specifies that "it will be a binding obligation on both governments to introduce and support in their respective parliaments legislation to give effect to that wish".
The border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic has been one of the thorniest issues in Brexit negotiations between the U.K. and EU.
A deal reached by May and EU officials has been thrice rejected by the House of Commons mainly due to the backstop clause – a measure to avoid a hard Irish border.
Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU in a 2016 referendum, and it is feared that the Brexit process could trigger enmity in the region.
A car bomb targeting a courthouse in Londonderry (Derry) in January was blamed by local police on a dissident republican group, the so-called New IRA.Anadolu Agency website contains only a portion of the news stories offered to subscribers in the AA News Broadcasting System (HAS), and in summarized form. Please contact us for subscription options.