Leading article

Brexit deal still presents major Irish issues

While the last minute EU-UK trade and security agreement reached on Christmas Eve at least avoided a catastrophic no deal outcome, there can be no doubt that 2021 will present a range of major post Brexit risks to people from all traditions in Ireland.

In the north, where Brexit is being imposed on citizens despite their clearly expressed wishes in the 2016 referendum, established structures have been turned on their head and future developments on a range of fronts are surrounded by uncertainty.

In the south, which remains firmly in the EU but is now geographically separated from its fellow members, the economic implications are particularly far reaching and will take a considerable period of time to properly assess.

Although there is effectively a consensus among all the main Dáil Éireann parties about the scale of the challenges ahead, there can only be concern about the growing tensions across the board within the Stormont power-sharing arrangements.

The pandemic was always going to present enormous issues, but relationships between the two largest groups, the DUP and Sinn Féin, have been steadily deteriorating to a stage where the stability of the present administration has been increasingly called into question.

One of the few positive factors is that the DUP, which previously believed it had a special understanding with Boris Johnson, now finally realises that his aggressive brand of English nationalism is as dismissive towards the concerns of Arlene Foster as it is to Nicola Sturgeon.

Mr Johnson, as soon as he gained an overall majority at the last UK general election just over a year ago, made it abundantly clear where his real priorities lay.

The arrival of what is essentially a new trade border along the Irish Sea is an appalling prospect for the DUP, and its enthusiastic endorsement of the Vote Leave campaign four years ago will probably come to be regarded as unionism's greatest strategic error in living memory.

Ms Sturgeon's already strong position has been significantly boosted by the events of recent days, and her drive for a second referendum on Scottish independence - which every recent poll suggests she would win - is gaining serious momentum.

The final break-up of the union was always a logical consequence of Brexit and Mr Johnson may well place himself in the history books as its central architect.

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