Thu | Sep 24, 2020

Brexit ignites fears of renewed violence in Northern Ireland

Published:Wednesday | October 16, 2019 | 8:58 AM
In this photo dated Monday, October 14, 2019, a man walks past an Irish Republican mural depicting scenes of the Battle of the Bogside area of Derry in August 1969. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)

BELFAST, Northern Ireland (AP) — Kate Nash says the time known as “The Troubles” never really ended in Northern Ireland.

While the 1998 Good Friday Agreement brought an era of relative peace and prosperity to the UK region, paramilitary groups still exist and lower levels of violence continue to plague the community, says the 70-year-old grandmother who lost a brother in the 1972 Bloody Sunday massacre.

Brexit may cause the smouldering conflict to flare up once again, she fears, especially if there are renewed customs and passport controls along the now-invisible border between EU member Ireland and the UK’s Northern Ireland after Britain leaves the European Union.

“If they’re going to man the border ... that’s really something that will start violence again,” she said.

“They’ll be targets, you know, for the IRA or whoever.”

Fears about a return to the violence that killed more than 3,500 people over three decades have made Northern Ireland the biggest hurdle for UK and EU officials who are trying to hammer out a Brexit divorce deal. 

Besides securing the Irish border from fraud and smuggling, they must tiptoe around anything that will inflame the tensions between those who want Northern Ireland to remain part of the U.K. and those who want it to be reunited with the Republic of Ireland.

“Brexit has been the greatest existential threat to the peace process in 25 years,” said Eamon Phoenix, a historian at Queen’s University Belfast.

“The island of Ireland has enjoyed really unbroken peace for 25 years after violence in which 3,500 people died ... and suddenly in the last three years, we have the risk to all that.”

The EU underpinned the Good Friday peace deal, negotiated with the help of the US because both Britain and Ireland were members of the bloc.

That meant people and goods could flow freely across the frontier and allowed authorities to tear down the hated border posts that were once a flashpoint for violence.

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