For some the defining image, and in some ways crowning moment of the Northern Ireland peace process is that of Ian Paisley, the loyalist politician and Protestant religious leader laughing and smiling alongside former IRA leader Martin McGuiness after they became colleagues. Even we, back in 1998, as we signed the agreement, with Paisley baying “treachery and treason” at the gates, could not have dared imagine that a decade later Paisley would be first minister of Northern Ireland, and McGuinness deputy first minister.
At Martin’s funeral in 2017, Bill Clinton said about him that he had “expanded the definition of us and shrunk the definition of them”.
On Brexit, it is time to do the same; to elevate the discussion above individual interests to the collective, to expand the definition of us and shrink the definition of them. It is also time to be brutally honest about the real choices and their consequences. There is no variation of Brexit that can strengthen the relationship between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. There is no variation of Brexit that will grow the UK economy any time soon. Brexit, particularly a no-deal Brexit with the risk of a hard border, is both the most serious threat to the Good Friday agreement since it was created, and to the union in our lifetime. It is time to acknowledge the reality of these challenges and to work collectively to overcome them. It is our belief, or at least certainly our fervent hope, that the Good Friday agreement will survive Brexit. [Continue reading…]