BREXIT TO BACKSTOP – Preserving the Status Quo


The Partition of Ireland  in 1921 created the invisible border which divides rivers, fields and houses, only the road signs written in English or Gaelic remind you that it separates one nation but two countries and two cultures. An estimated 30,000 people pass through 300 crossings daily. Current negotiations threaten much more than a return to border controls and Custom checks, the pending withdrawal of the UK from the EU threatens the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 which ensured power sharing by Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.  Brexit negotiators intent on securing binding agreements acceptable to all, are mindful of border sensitivities and the sectarian divisions which the Good Friday Agreement largely resolved.

The culture and ethnicity of a nation is carried in its DNA,  Ireland was ruled by England for 800 years but fiercely resisted all attempts at Anglicisation. Partition of any country is an acknowledgement of failure to reconcile irrevocable differences, the Partition of Ireland arose out of a policy of religious persecution, colonisation and land dispossession over centuries. The imposition of Protestant domination by British colonists upon a predominantly Roman Catholic population resulted in Irish resistance and eventual Civil War.  The Easter Rising of 1916 by Irish Nationalists seeking independence was violently suppressed by the British government, fomenting opposition and decades of fighting. Under Partition the island of Ireland became the Irish Free State. With 92.6% of the islands population Catholic, the mainly Protestant population of 6 northern counties chose to opt out of the Agreement as anticipated, remaining as part of the United Kingdom with England, Scotland and Wales.

The stated aim of the eventual reunification of Ireland was never achieved, leading to continued conflict. In 1948 under a new Constitution the Irish Free State was named Ireland (‘Eire’ meaning Homeland) and finally gained full independence as a sovereign State and was  accepted into the United Nations in 1955.  Under the  Belfast Agreement,the Irish and British governments agreed that the status of Northern Ireland will not change without the consent of a majority of its population. In the event of a hard Brexit polls have shown that support for Irish unity would dramatically rise creating a potential threat to the continued unity of the UK. 

In 1973, Ireland joined the European Economic Community, initially a trading forum, later to become the EU, requiring loss of sovereignty of its members. Major investment from the European Economic Community, led to the emergence of one of the world’s highest economic growth rates, the ‘ Celtic Tiger’, attracting mass immigration from Asia and Eastern Europe. The new found prosperity ended abruptly in 2008 with the collapse of the global banking system as Ireland entered a recession. Emigration soared and the unemployment rate rose from 4.2% in 2007 to 14.6% by 2012, leading to the largest banking bailout for any country in history

In Northern Island where the Protestant majority held power, catholics were disenfranchised, resulting in violent conflict from the 1970s to the 1990s.  The border region of Londonderry became the focus of ‘the Troubles’ between the Irish Republican Army (IRA) seeking unification of Ireland and the Unionists loyal to the British Crown, resulting in occupation by the  British army in an attempt to restore order.

THE BELFAST AGREEMENT signed on Good Friday of 1998 was a peace initiative which assured both Unionists and Nationalists control of limited areas of government. However breakdowns in trust involving outstanding issues, including “decommissioning” of paramilitary weapons, policing reform and the removal of British army bases continued. There has been no Northern Ireland government for the past 2 years, with policy decisions made in London.


  • The island of Ireland originally comprised many small kingdoms, territories (known as túatha) governed by chieftains.  In 1169 a mercenary army of the English King Henry ll landed in Ireland at the request of the ousted Irish King of Leinster….they never left. This marked the beginning of 800 years of English military and political involvement in Ireland. The first Lord of Ireland, King John, demanded that the many Irish kings swore fealty to him, granting lands to the English military invaders.
  • By 1492 the European colonisation of America meant that Ireland now occupied a position of strategic importance. Ireland became a battleground between the Catholic and Protestant nations of Europe for control of the north Atlantic sea routes to America. King Henry VIII of England decided to bring Ireland under Crown control, proclaiming  himself King of Ireland in 1541. Along with subsequent English monarchs he granted land, titles and property rights to wealthy English absentee landlords and to Gaelic chieftains loyal to the Crown. In the reign of Elizabeth1st, the Irish aristocracy were required to pledge allegiance to the Crown. The Anglo Irish landowners who had settled in Ireland were increasingly resentful of England’s domination becoming ‘more Irish than the Irish’ and identified as Irish nationalists.
  • From the mid 16th century to the early 17th century The Irish were displaced through a policy of land confiscation and colonisation by the English Crown, known as Plantation. This involved the arrival of thousands of English and Scottish Protestants who became the ruling class. Many were absentee landlords, residing in England, whose loyalty was basically to England. Power was held by a small group of Anglo-Irish families who owned most of the farmland, with the work done by Catholic peasants. The Irish Rebellion of 1641 attempted to seize control  to  force concessions for Catholics, thousands of Protestant colonists were killed or expelled from their homes. The Rebellion failed, resulting in  the collapse of Gaelic Ireland and its incorporation within the British Empire. As retribution for the rebellion most of the remaining lands owned by Irish Catholics were confiscated and given to British settlers.
  • In 1654 the British parliament gave Oliver Cromwell, the Protestant Lord Protector of England, a free hand to banish Irish “undesirables”. Cromwell led the most brutal phase of a war in which the Irish were dehumanised by the English,  More than a half of Ireland’s pre-war population was killed or exiled as  slaves.  Catholics throughout the Irish countryside were rounded up and placed   on ships bound for the Caribbean, mainly the island of Barbados, where many died  due to harsh conditions. By 1655,  50,000 political prisoners had been forcibly shipped to Barbados and into indentured servitude.

  The annual commemoration of the Battle of the Boyne of 1690, unfathomable to most onlookers, is marked by marching bands of the Orange Order.  It remains a border flash point for religious sectarianism  between Catholics and Protestants  today, with Catholics viewing the parades as provocative. The celebration marks a point in English history when a Protestant system of monarchy was deemed to be under threat.  King James ll was the last Catholic king of England, the birth of his son assured a Catholic ascendancy. James was supported by Irish catholics seeking to reverse the land confiscations of former monarchs, sparking a revolution. James fled the country and was deposed, the Dutch Prince, William of Orange acceding to the throne. In a last effort to regain his crown, the armies of James met William at the River Boyne in Northern Ireland, where James was outnumbered and defeated. The reign of King William lll secured a Protestant monarchy and the preservation of English power in Ireland.

By the 1780s the Irish Parliament became independent but remained under the supervision of the the king and his Privy Council. Land ownership remained a central issue, some 10,000 English families owned practically all the farmland in Ireland, with absentee landlords, permanent residents of England renting land out to Irish tenant farmers, who suffered violence and eviction when they were unable to pay their rents.  The Rebellion of 1798 followed. In 1800 the Irish and the British parliaments created the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, Catholics however were not granted full rights until 1829.

In 1845 the catastrophe of the Great Famine struck Ireland, over a million people died of starvation, as a direct result of the English Free Trade policy. Produce of Ireland including the thousands of tons of grain that could have saved them was instead shipped out of the country to England. In addition over a million refugees fled the country, mainly to America, to avoid disease and starvation. Starving Irish people were forced to work on public projects before they could receive food donated by the English government.

Attempts to break away from Britain continued, the Home Rule Act 1914 was won but suspended with the outbreak of WW1. In 1916 the Easter Rising carried out by members of the Irish Volunteers, the socialist Irish Citizen Army was violently suppressed, turning public opinion against the British establishment. By 1917 a series of Land Acts enabled Irish peasantry to buy back their land previously confiscated by the English, by means of agreed long term loans, providing small parcels of land to grow fruit and vegetables,  This strategy of ”killing Home Rule by kindness”  ended the era of the absentee landlord.





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