During the UK’s EU referendum campaign how Brexit would impact on the North of Ireland, especially in relation to the Irish border, was an issue not seriously considered in Britain. EU officials may have considered it and if they did they kept their powder dry to use the implications this issue would have at a later stage in Brexit negotiations. As we have seen in the last few months the Irish border issue has become one of the most serious sticking points in progressing the UK’s leaving the EU, especially with EU officials during Brexit negotiations over the last eight months or so. There is no doubt EU officials have used the Irish border issue as a divisive bargaining chip. It could be argued that the border issue was not even thought of as an agenda item in 2016 and it questions why more recently it only did so. This is strange as the Gibraltar question did become part of the early Brexit negotiations.
While negotiations initially focused on the impact the UK leaving the EU would have on the freedom of movement of goods, services and people, immigration, border controls with continental Europe and issues related to the influence EU law and Court of Justice of the European Union decisions would have on the UK post-Brexit, Ireland seemed not to enter into the equation in the early stages. This is disconcerting as it appears it was forgotten that the Irish Republic is the only one of 28 Member States with a land border with the UK. I have raised this issue in my previous blog posts as it appears it is only now are British MP’s, mainly the English politicians, waking up to the fact how Brexit can be an instrument to be used by dissident Irish republicans, mainly in the North to destabilise the peace brought about the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) in 1998. At the time of writing the UK Prime Minister is in Ireland discussing the issue trying to find a resolution. As such, recent dissident republican action has put dissident loyalist groups on alert to prepare for taking action against a united Ireland.
Regarding dissident republican groups, prior to Brexit there has been a steady growth of violent activity that can be traced from the attack on British Army soldiers outside Massereene Barracks in 2009, statement bombings such those outside the MI5 offices in Belfast, car bomb outside Derry’s Strand Road police station in 2010, even the plan to mortar bomb that police station in 2013 and killing of PSNI and prison officers (examples include the killing of Ronan Kerr in 2011 And David Black in 2012). In certain areas of the North support for former dissident republican group the Real IRA (RIRA) never disappeared. For example in Derry’s Creggan area when the 32 County Sovereignty Movement (32CSM) held Easter Rising commemorations at Creggan Cemetery RIRA members not only attended in paramilitary uniforms, but gave addresses to the attendees. The ten year period of 2009 to 2019 has seen changes in dissident republican movements and groups. In 2012 the New IRA was formed between RIRA, Republican Action Against Drugs and disaffected members of the Provisional IRA. The INLA and Continuity IRA did not join this group and continue to exist in their own right as separate terrorist groups. More recently the far-left political party, Saoradh was formed 2016 and is an amalgamation of groups such as the 32CSM and Republican Network Unity.
As I have reported in my more recent blog posts, Saoradh and the New IRA (and arguably the INLA and CIRA) have taken advantage of Brexit and the Irish border issue to deliberately misinform and use for propaganda purposes in order to incite further unrest and violence. Using the border issue saying that a hard border is evidence of British imperialism on the Irish, they have used the issue to recruit members of the nationalist community to their cause. As such, we have witnessed an increase in dissident republican activity, with the latest being the car bomb outside Derry’s Bishop Street courthouse in January 2019 and the two ‘punishment’ shootings in the Ballymagroarty area of Derry on the 2nd February 2019. Also on the 2nd February an arms cache that included a suspected mortar bomb tube was found by the Gardaí in County Louth close to the border with County Armagh in the North. This in addition to the guns found buried in a cemetery in Derry in January 2019.
There is no doubting dissident republicans are going to use Brexit as a vehicle to promote unification of all 32 Irish counties under governance from the Dail in Dublin. As such this has put dissident loyalist groups on alert. As one of their Belfast murals says, ‘Prepared for Peace, Ready for War’. While murals are perceived as tourist attractions, recent murals like this on both republican and loyalist sides have a ring of authenticity related to the current situation. This is seen with the number of loyalist shootings and killings in the last 12 months, the latest being Ian Ogle, a spokesman for the loyalist community on the 27th January 2019. These actions on both sides suggests they are preparing for conflict and a return to the Troubles.
One catalyst for this is the very real prospect of a poll being held on Irish unity. If this occurs, never mind a return to the Troubles, its turning the clock back to 1919 and there is no way loyalists want a united Ireland. Even though we have seen an increase in violence, we may still be left of bang regarding the North of Ireland, but if this situation is ignored by British based MP’s, EU officials and, as it appears, not recognised by DUP politicians who are pro-Brexit, very shortly we will be right of bang with an increase in violence. If this occurs all the hard work by the likes of John Hume and David Trimble that brought about peace via the GFA will have gone.
Issues related to this blog post can be read in more detail in my book ‘Terrorism: Law and Policy’ published by Routledge