Brexit Effects on Northern Ireland

This summer, the second season of Derry Girls aired on Netflix after its successful premiere on British television.[1] The show follows five teenagers in Derry, Northern Ireland during the “Troubles,” a time of violent conflict between the Protestant Northern Ireland and the Catholic Republic of Ireland.[2] While the program shows that there was more to the time than the widely publicized paramilitary conflict, it brings the violent era in Irish history back into the spotlight.[3] Most importantly it shows that, while life goes on, the armed conflict of the “Troubles” is a lot closer in history than some think. The effects of the conflict can still be felt in areas in Northern Ireland and tensions between Protestants of Northern Irish and Catholics of the Republic of Ireland still bubble under the surface, especially with new concerns emerging from the impending Brexit.[4]

In 1919, the people of Ireland created the new independent Republic of Ireland on the lower two thirds of the island, and the upper third of the island remained in the United Kingdom as Northern Ireland.[5] In Northern Ireland, Pro-British Protestants quickly gained control of the government and implemented laws and regulations heavily discriminating against Catholics.[6] In the 1960s, Catholics in Northern Ireland held civil rights demonstrations, which the Protestant Northern Irish shut down through violent means.[7] These actions began the 33 yearlong “Troubles,” which, by its end, caused over 3,000 deaths in Ireland.[8] Hostilities ended in 1998 with the “Good Friday Agreement,” which created a government where both Catholics and Protestants shared power in Northern Ireland and required both sides to disarm their paramilitaries.[9]

            Since the beginning of Brexit, the Irish government has sounded the alarm over the potential effects of the United Kingdom (UK) leaving the European Union (EU) on the Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland relationship.[10] While there are serious concerns over economic effects, the threat of physical violence exists as well. If the UK, and Northern Ireland with it, leaves the EU, the Irish government would be forced to create checkpoints at the border, and potentially even close the border altogether.[11] The open border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland was a crucial element of the “Good Friday Agreement,” and the UK leaving would make the agreement even more difficult to uphold.[12] Along with concerns of the border, violence has reappeared. Earlier this year, the New IRA took credit for murdering journalist Lyra McKee.[13] Concerns over an increase in violence stems from several factors, such as economic issues and disparate treatment between Catholics and Protestants.[14] Should the UK leave the EU, these issues could only get worse, entrenching the support for organizations like the New IRA and violent actions.[15]

            The United Kingdom’s potential Brexit has far reaching and complicated consequences. Should the exit from the EU occur, the Trump Administration would then negotiate an individualized agreement with the UK. This agreement would then have to pass through Congress to become official. Because of the serious effects that Brexit can have on the Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland border, Congress should not sign off on an agreement without specifically addressing relations with Ireland. These assurances should reflect the assurances and expectations of the “Good Friday Agreement” in order to promote a healthy and safe relationship between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.


[1] Kakissis, J. (2019, September 10). In Northern Ireland, ‘Derry Girls’ Balances Teen Comedy and Sectarian Conflict. Retrieved from

https://www.npr.org/2019/09/10/757529881/in-northern-ireland-derry-girls-balance-teen-comedy-and-sectarian-conflict.

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] O’Carroll, L. (2019, September 9). No-deal Brexit will not be clean break, Irish PM warns Boris Johnson. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/sep/09/no-deal-brexit-not-clean-break-irish-pm-leo-varadkar-boris-johnson.

[5] Brown, J. M., & McCord, G. C. (2019, August 22). Northern Ireland’s Troubles began 50 years ago. Here’s why they were so violent. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2019/08/22/why-were-troubles-so-bloody-this-helps-explain/.

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] O’Carroll, L. (2019, September 9). No-deal Brexit will not be clean break, Irish PM warns Boris Johnson. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/sep/09/no-deal-brexit-not-clean-break-irish-pm-leo-varadkar-boris-johnson.

[11] Id.  

[12] Id.  

[13] Haverty, D. (2019, May 24). Paramilitaries Are Surging Again in Northern Ireland. Retrieved from https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/05/24/paramilitaries-are-surging-again-in-northern-ireland/.

[14] Id.

[15] Id.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.