How Ireland could solve Brexit

Bonnie Greer is a formidable black woman with a deceptively soft voice. She’s an American writer and has been living in the UK for several decades. She was on QUESTION TIME (BBC) last week and inevitably the topic of the border in Ireland came up. Using that signature drawl of hers, Bonnie told the panel and audience that Ireland owes Britain nothing, No-thing, and the very idea of Ireland being expected to go in and help out  Britain in the Brexit mess was absurd. The Good Friday Agreement was “a truce”, with the EU and the US  two key supporters of this “truce”. The US, she said, loves Ireland so much, Chicago colours its river green on St Patrick’s Day. And if the UK think they can get a deal with the US while shafting Ireland, they’d better think again.

I like many things about Bonnie but in particular I like her direct way of talking. Maybe we should take our cue from her.

Will the latest burst of optimism result in something bearable? I don’t say ‘successful’ because the words ‘Brexit’ and ‘success’ are mutually exclusive. There is no such thing as a good Brexit – only degrees of badness.

There’s been so much arguing and dissension over the border in Ireland since the Brexit referendum, we could easily forget that it comes down to something simple. Next time the TV news does a border item, check the signs local protesters have put up: “No hard border, no soft border, no border in Ireland.”

Why isn’t this no-border option put forward in discussion, rather than the convoluted plans of Boris and his cronies, with talk of a single market (good) but a customs union (bad)? Why not suggest the abolition of the border, full stop?

It’s not as if the north-eastern territory it marks has been a wild success. Every year, unionists will proudly tell you, it costs £10 billion to keep us afloat. The border has been the constant target of republicans during virtually every decade in the past 100 years. It has acted as a hand-brake, on the economy of the south as well as the north. And here we are, one hundred years later, with old enmities as bitter as ever.

To suggest the border’s removal will, in some quarters, elicit a gasp of horror. “You can’t say that! Be realistic!” they plead. If you talk about a border poll they tell you that even if a majority of those voting were in favour of a united Ireland, it would still have to be a majority of unionists feeling happy with its abolition too.

Let’s get some things straight: the desire to have the border removed is a totally legitimate aspiration, written into the Good Friday Agreement. “ Oh but you’ll create a loyalist backlash!” they tell us. Follow that logic and this state, born at the business end of a gun, will continue in existence by the threat of a gun. Democracy? Never heard of it.

The border’s invisibility at the moment shows you how artificial it is: travel south of the border and you won’t be able to tell when you’re in one jurisdiction or the other. It’s one island, one people. And any new Ireland should have a place of total equality for our fellow-countrymen and women who identify as unionist.

If the Irish government’s thinking is too partitionist to set up structures that allow us to articulate just what a borderless Ireland would look like, then civic nationalism throughout the island should take the initiative, get to work. Enough with the fine words. Let’s have productive forums, citizens’ assembles, a framework that brings people together to discuss and discover what can make a borderless Ireland so much better than the divided country we’ve had inflicted on us for 100 years.

The people who are horrified that the DUP should be in a position where they call the shots for the UK and Europe, should be equally horrified when they see that the DUP has cowed nationalism into not speaking about, much less acting to create the new Ireland. This country has been groaning to give birth for too, too long.

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