The New IRA and Brexit


As England continues its slow-motion lurch towards a break from the EU, seemingly lacking the will to either leave or stay, new worries are arising about Ireland. Long a place of unsteady equilibrium, Ireland has existed in relative peace since the famous Good Friday Agreement of 1998. Since the UK voted to leave the EU in June of 2016 storm clouds have begun to gather as the ramifications of such a move have come into view. The Irish Republic (Southern Ireland) is an independent state and will remain part of the EU while Northern Ireland is part of the UK and a Brexit will force the reinstatement of a border between the two halves of the island. A wave of fresh violence over the past year – including the murdering of a journalist this year – has prompted uneasiness about what the future of Ireland will look like as the specter of a New IRA (Irish Republican Army) takes shape. The IRA is the paramilitary organization responsible for widespread political violence beginning first in the 1910’s and then later again in the 1970s, following in a long tradition of Irish resistance to British rule. The New IRA is a much smaller and less potent force, yet questions still arise as to what Brexit will mean to Ireland and how the controversial conservative Prime Minister of the UK, Boris Johnson, will handle the delicate issue – just as the New IRA steps up its threats of violence at border crossings in the event Brexit goes into effect.


The rise of the New IRA and other Republican groups is complex for both the right and the left. On one hand, liberals find support in Ireland for their attempts to turn sentiment away from Brexit and towards remaining in the EU – a majority of Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU. Alternatively, the nationalism of the IRA is no doubt a difficult element for the left to embrace. David Frum writes in the Atlantic about how the Nationalism in the UK that is behind the Brexit movement could ultimately lead to the dissolution of the UK as a whole, as Scotland will likely take the Irish posture. Earlier this year, Vice reported on the rise in republican and IRA violence in Northern Ireland and the Independent published an op-ed by Naomi Smith arguing that John’s Brexit deal could risk the destruction of the Irish peace.


In a piece published this past May in Foreign Policy, Dan Haverty put forward an alternative view of the situation in Northern Ireland. His piece entitled “Paramilitaries are surging again in Northern Ireland, and it’s not because of Brexit” argues that poverty, drug addiction, disillusionment, and the longstanding divide between Protestants and Catholics provide a much more coherent explanation for the rise in the New IRA. In fact, Republican paramilitary groups have been on the rise since 2007 in Northern Ireland. The New IRA started in 2011, committing acts of violence and murder dating back to 2012 – well before the idea of a Brexit was a popular reality.


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