Donnybrook: Brexit, The Border and the 40th Anniversary of the Hunger Strikes

by John Myers

FINALLY, Brexit is here, after five years or so of debate, rancor, elections, multiple prime ministers and a whole lot of debate, Brexit took effect on New Year’s Day 2021.  While the UK had left the EU in January of 2020, there was a transition period where status quo EU regulations governed through December 31, 2020.  It took that entire transition period to formally negotiate the divorce deal, otherwise know as a new Free Trade Agreement.  This trade agreement came on Christmas Eve just in time to avoid a “Hard Exit.”  

The main result is that there will be no tariffs on most goods, significantly minimizing disruption.   How the service sector will be impacted is still being finalized.  Last year the UK border in Ireland was the major sticking point, but Fishing rights, state support of home industries and enforcement of the new Free Trade Agreement emerged as the major sticking points. 

The Border Issue in Ireland
With the landslide victory by Boris Johnson’s government in the last UK election, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) lost its privileged position.  Former UK PM Theresa May’s government had to rely on the dozen or so members of the DUP to hold a majority in the Parliament.   This gave outsized influence to the staunch Orange/Loyalists membership of the DUP, limiting the ability to find practical solutions to the “border” issue in Ireland. 

The Six Counties in the north of Ireland are still legally part of the UK ,and thus no longer part of the EU, thus a way to address customs and trade measures had to be created.  The fear was that it would require a hardening of the border between the Six Counties and the Republic of Ireland. 

Fortunately, with the loss of its privileged position, the DUP could not stop the UK Government from agreeing to making the Irish Sea as the new international customs and trade border.  The Six Counties are in a unique position by virtue of having direct access to the UK markets, but still part of the EU single market regulations. 

Hopefully this will be a great economic opportunity to the Six Counties which have one of the lowest economic ratings in the EU.  The UK government was left with little choice, as they are desperate for a new Free Trade Agreement with the US and Speaker Pelosi and President-elect Biden indicated there would be no FTA if border issues put the Good Friday Accord in jeopardy.   

Loyalists are furious that the Six Counties are being treated differently than Great Britain.  Irish nationalists are heartened that this will be the beginning of the end of partition as the 100th anniversary of the division of Ireland is observed this year.   

The Hunger Strikes: 40 years on
2021 marks the 40th Anniversary of the Hunger Strike in Maize Prison, where prisoners fought for political recognition.  Bobby Sands was the first of ten prisoners to die on hunger strike.  A previous hunger strike the year before (1980), lay the foundation for the momentous 1981 strike.  As part of the Ancient Order of Hibernians commemoration, a live, virtual event was held recently.  This meaningful discussion was recorded and is available online to review on your schedule:

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