Leave vote forces us to confront fundamental issues

Border town centres, such as Dundalk, could suffer as a result of Brexit, it has been claimed
Denis Bradley

Forgive me, reader, for I have sinned. In the referendum I voted to remain while hoping that the leave people would win.

My motives were impure. I believed a remain win was the more desirable but it would also be a boring and bland result. A remain win would have left so many fundamental issues unaddressed, a leave win forces a radical examination of political questions about the relationships among the peoples of these islands.

As a convinced European I know I am skating on thin ice because the result opens up economic and political tensions that might affect jobs and slightly increase the moral of militant republicans. But a remain win would have confirmed the laissez-faire complacency about constitutional and identity issues that are pertinent in the UK, Ireland and across Europe. Strong emotions that are not addressed have a tendency to break out in erratic ways. What is true in life is equally true in politics. It was predictable that a leave vote would release all the dormant and unaddressed issues that the political elite and many commentators thought could be ignored or kicked further down the road. The only surprise is the range and the depth of those emotions.

Those issues reach across a wide spectrum but the ones that are of most relevance to this part of the world revolve around the constitutional question. It was becoming annoying listening to half baked theories that nationalist people had given up their unity aspirations and were now fully content within the new Northern Ireland and equally to hear the voice of dissident republicans continue the juvenile mantra that all would be well once the Brits had been forced out of Ireland.

Perhaps the biggest learning to come from the referendum is that complex political issues are poorly served by simplistic slogans. And while my sinful desires for greater definition are unlikely to be ever fully satisfied there is certainly no possibility of the conundrums released by the referendum being tidily swept under carpets.

A short story. A number of months ago the minister for foreign affairs, Charlie Flanagan, did a question and answer session for the business community in Derry - nationalists and unionists. He expressed surprise that no one had asked a question about the implications of Brexit and possible border controls. I think the reason the question was not asked was because neither nationalist or unionist in that room believed it would be possible ever again to impose a physical border on this island.

Whatever about the arguments around the UK v Northern Ireland validity issue, a glance at a colour coded map reveals that from Derry to Down and well into the middle of Ulster is coloured exclusively in the remain colours. I can't see how a hard or a semi hard or a soft (whatever that means in reference to immigration) border could be constructed and policed. I have a strong feeling that people would tear it down with their bare hands. And that being the reality, the claims of taking back control of borders is either an untruthful slogan or what was really meant was that it would be constructed and policed exclusively around England.

I am of an age that witnessed political and economic protectionism disappear from large tranches of the world's map. Open borders and international co-operation lifted millions of people out of poverty and oppression. The downside was that it also led to globalisation and a sense among some people that they were losing their own local and national identity. Humankind finds it difficult to integrate being small and big at the one and the same time. It is that tension that partially explains why so many working class, 'small people' voted to leave and the case was not well made that if Europe politically breaks up at the moment, there will arise, within a few decades, a movement to re-establish a European Union mark 2.

Within days of the result and even in the turmoil there are beginning calls for an inclusive solution that accommodates big and small, in and out, national and international identity, accommodated within a loose federal structure. Scotland will be at the forefront of those arguments and hopefully the Irish government will be a proper friend to both Scotland and the peoples of the north who are also strongly in the remain camp.

And within those discussions it will become clear just how Irish the Irish government considers the people of the north.




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