Comment writer Emma Gilland describes how Brexit is undermining the stability of Northern Ireland.

Written by emmagilland
Images by Candice Seplow

With the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday agreement on the 10th of April, many are hoping for peace and stability to be celebrated and remain in Northern Ireland. However, with the political tensions rising in the region, the breakdown of the democratic government, and the contests with the EU, to me continued stability is seeming unlikely. Instead, the prosperity and hope given to the former generation will likely be in decline.

Tony Blair, the former Prime Minister, in the spring of 1998 felt the ‘hand of history’ as the Good Friday agreement was signed. Yet, with the anniversary of the peace agreements, there is growing concern that stability and peace could be lost, especially among global political leaders, specifically US President Joe Biden. Despite the Windsor Framework, there has been no movement towards stability in Northern Ireland due to the DUP’s continual refusal to return to power sharing. I believe that the legacy of Brexit will continue to cause issues in Northern Ireland due to both the EU and the UK negotiating for their own benefits rather than negotiating to improve the circumstances of both the unionists and nationalists.

This shows the prioritisation of political disagreement over maintaining stability and cohesion

The fundamental change from Brexit has been the lack of communication, especially due to the disagreements over the Northern Ireland Protocol. This has resulted in the failure to restore power-sharing between the DUP (the Unionists) and Sinn Fein (the Nationalists) completely in the Northern Irish Government. However, these issues of political governance and concerns over citizenship, due to fears of further separation from the UK national identity, are not due to any changes within the Northern Irish communities themselves but due to changes in the relationship between the UK and the EU. This shows the prioritisation of political disagreement over maintaining stability and cohesion within the Irish communities.

The fundamental problem as I see it is the creation of a dangerous power vacuum both in the executive and a crisis in the legitimacy of governance that results from continued suspension. As with Brexit and broader global instability, the centres of power have been lost. The controversies caused by the Windsor Framework, following the Northern Ireland Protocol, have had a damaging effect on the functionality and sovereignty of the government. The legal complications of the Stormont Brake and the implications of EU trade law have created a further democratic deficit in a Northern Ireland ruled by EU law, with the UK losing control over significant areas of governance. This undermines the fundamental agreements made in 1998.

There remains a conflict of interest between the international political stage and those living within Northern Ireland, as the political significance of the Windsor Framework to the UK and the EU, has significantly overlooked the needs of those who live in the country. There has also been a shift away focus away from the preservation of stability and the ability for Ireland to be properly democratically governed due to the new regulations regarding trade and customs have not been decided by the Northern Irish government. I see this as causing a tragic reduction in the sovereignty of Northern Ireland, and further highlighting the fragility of the Good Friday Agreement.

There is a fundamental issue with allowing the political vacuum to remain much longer

The situation in Northern Ireland continues to be confused and unstable, as the deep interference and interconnection with the European and British questions the ability of the government to decide its own future. However, in all of this, the significance of the Good Friday agreement has shaped the lives of thousands living in Northern Ireland today, as, there have been 25 years of peace, reconciliation, and rebuilding- transforming the stability country and the freedom of those living there hugely.  

This I believe is the most important consideration within the changes in the Northern Ireland situation. There is a fundamental issue with allowing the political vacuum to remain much longer, as it creates a lack of accountability and action within the country and further instability in the people and the institutions. Moving forward, we need to remember the hope that was given to the people of Northern Ireland through the Good Friday agreement, to live in a country void of violence, conflict, and economic ruin.

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