THERE is a real danger that a “hard” border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic could reawaken, in a detrimental way, differences from the past that had lost their importance after 20 years of the Good Friday Agreement, the Archbishop of Armagh, Dr Richard Clarke, has said.
In an interview with BBC Radio on Sunday, Dr Clarke said that a frictionless border was the hope of “absolutely everybody”.
“I think the reason people are anxious — and, in a way, it’s both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and people of different political persuasions — is simply the belief that, yes, there would be inconvenience, but that’s probably not the major thing. I think it would reinforce, in a way that has actually seeped out of consciousness, the identity of ‘the other’, which suddenly becomes something far more important than it has been for years.”
Citizens with differing political views on the island of Ireland, whether in the North or in the Republic, were, he said, happy with the idea of maintaining the current invisible border. “At the moment, people in Northern Ireland who are Unionists are comfortable and confident with that. People in the Republic of Ireland — or, indeed, in Northern Ireland — who’d be more nationalist are comfortable and confident with that, but they don’t find any sense of dislocation from those of different political views.”
As efforts are renewed to find a solution after the destruction of the proposals put forward in Brussels by Theresa May, and both the Irish government and the EU negotiators insist that there must be no return to a “hard” border, Dr Clarke said: “What’s hoped for at the moment is a cast-iron guarantee that there will not be a ‘hard’ border, and I think that’s probably something that all the people of Ireland — Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland — are looking for. And I don’t think it’s more than that. The technicalities of how you will have a frictionless border are certainly a matter for much better minds than mine.”
On Monday, a group of human-rights organisations and specialists in the field called for written guarantees that rights protected by EU law would be protected after Brexit. In their letter, published in The Irish Times, they said that the crisis talks over the border meant that fundamental questions about human rights and equality were at stake.
Calling for the maintenance of an open border, the group, which includes the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, and academics from both sides of the border, said: “As activists and organisations working in the area of human rights and equality across the island, we call on all parties present to the negotiations to give written guarantees that the core principles of rights and equality set out in the Belfast/Good Friday agreement of 1998 are respected.”
Leader comment: Misalignment