We Need To Talk About A New Good Friday Agreement

 

Matthew Moynihan highlights the need for a revised agreement in the threat of a no-deal Brexit. Tongue-in-cheek, he bluntly concludes that the cabinet of Boris Johnson is as bizarre as the man himself.

 

With Boris Johnson’s government performing what can only be described as diplomatic ‘flexing’ and the EU sticking resolutely to its position that the Withdrawal Agreement cannot be renegotiated, one thing is becoming abundantly clear – the United Kingdom is increasingly likely to crash out of the European Union on October 31st without a deal. In the absence of a deal, the re-emergence of a hard border is becoming a stark reality, a reality that is almost guaranteed to reignite the violence which predated the hard-fought peace achieved by the Belfast Agreement of 1998.

Research published in February 2018 by Fianna Fáil Senator Mark Daly and two UNESCO Chairmen argues that “There will be a return to violence in Northern Ireland in the event of the installation of infrastructure, custom checks and security on the Irish border as a result of a no deal Brexit. The only issue is the scale of the violence.

A large proportion of the readers of this article did not live through the pain and misery attached to the generations of spilled blood in Ulster, but we need only ask a parent or grandparent to understand the magnitude of what we could be facing. The brutal murder of journalist Lyra McKee by dissident republicans in April and an attempted murder of PSNI officers in Fermanagh earlier this month should be ringing alarm bells North and South of the border. Brexiteers can no longer claim this is Project Fear. This is a reality check. So, what to do? In semi-archaic terms, this is the $64m question.

Scrapping the backstop is a non-starter as the Irish government has a responsibility to maintain the integrity of the single market as members of the European Union and no realistic alternative to the controversial insurance policy has been offered by our UK partners. It is currently the only means of doing so without the implementation of a physical border for customs checks. Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, tweeted his frustration with the cavalier attitude of Number 10 this week claiming “Those against the backstop and not proposing realistic alternatives in fact support re-establishing a border. Even if they do not admit it.”   

Our European Union membership also means that we cannot pursue a bilateral side-deal with the United Kingdom as it could potentially undermine our status within the union. We must conduct negotiations as part of the EU27 or run the risk of breeding frustration in Brussels and ultimately isolating ourselves from our allies.

Further to this, the Good Friday agreement in its current iteration does not explicitly state that there shouldn’t be a hard border; it merely committed to “as early a return as possible to normal security arrangements in Northern Ireland, consistent with the level of threat” and following on from this “the removal of security installations”.

The result of all this is the creation of a political clusterf*ck. In my most academic tone – let’s try to unf*ck it.

One pragmatic but refreshing approach would be a revision of the Good Friday Agreement, separate to the Brexit talks. One that is ratified by the EU, UK and the Republic of Ireland in a sort of trilateral agreement. A modern Belfast Agreement, not only for a modern Brussels and a modern Dublin but most importantly for a modern Belfast. This diplomatic exercise would spark the necessary impetus to restore the assembly in Stormont, to revitalise the Anglo-Irish relations which have become frayed throughout the Brexit process and, most importantly, to maintain peace. The Good Friday Agreement remains a landmark document and the purpose of this article is not to undermine what is still considered one of the most impressive documents for peace in recent history. However, we need an agreement that guarantees no return to the borders of the past because the cost of not doing so is a return to the violence of the past.

As much as Boris Johnson and his cabinet of bullied schoolchildren wish to urinate on the ashes of the Belfast Agreement in their callous pursuit of Conservative political survival, we must hold onto hope and fight with fresh impetus to maintain the peace process. The cost of inaction is likely to be blood. The price of peace is painstaking but palpable. All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for men of good will to stand by and do nothing.