(4 Oct 2019) Irish Republicans believe the prospects of the island’s reunification are stronger than ever in the wake of the UK’s recent Brexit proposals that have been poorly received by both the European Union and the Republic of Ireland.
Hundreds of people living along the border gathered Thursday night at a conference centre on the border despite stormy weather organisers had feared would keep people away.
“There is going to be a referendum on Irish unity,” said Gerry Adams, the former leader of Sinn Fein instrumental in the Good Friday Agreement. “Brexit has been the accelerator for all of that.”
Farmers, tradesmen and women and local Sinn Fein supporters listened quietly to the panel of campaigners, politicians and experts outline their thoughts on the way forward for Ireland but their own questions were much more pragmatic: will my southern driving license still be valid in the north? Will I need a residence permit to live in south? Will my child residing in the north still be able to attend the local school in the south? There were few clear answers.
Speaking earlier in the day in Stockholm, Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar outlined five ways to avoid a border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, the first being a united Ireland.
This would be possible under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement that brought an end to decades of fighting in Northern Ireland between armed factions of republicans and unionists. The agreement allows for a referendum to take place across the entire island.
“The main institution that has to lead our plan has to be the Irish government,” said Adams, yet warning “to have a referendum without a plan is stupid.”
“No other generation of Irish people have had that peaceful way.”
The Vice President of Sinn Fein, Michelle O’Neill, said the UK’s proposals are “unacceptable” and that the best solution to Brexit would be Irish unity.
“There’s an opportunity here for us to plan something better because the partition of this island has failed all of us equally,” she said, aware of the need to reach out beyond her party and beyond republicans.
“Brexit has now made all those people living in this island question the constitutional position including those with a British identity.”
Farmer-turned campaigner, Damian McGenity from Border Communities Against Brexit, believes the UK government’s proposals were not intended to be accepted, but rather to be used to blame the European Union for a breakdown in talks.
He said many people living along the border who rely on access to the European Union would see unification as an obvious fix to an apparently unsolvable problem.
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