Brexit tangle raises prospect of Irish reunification

Above, Brexit posters are pictured at the border crossing at Muff in Co Donegal near Lough Foyle, on the border with Northern Ireland and Donegal in the Republic of Ireland in this April 2017 photo. (AFP)
Updated 29 May 2018

Brexit tangle raises prospect of Irish reunification

  • In the 2016 referendum, Northern Ireland voted 56 percent to remain in the EU but, like Scotland, was outvoted by England and Wales and the overall result was 52 percent for Brexit
  • Unlike pro-EU Scotland, Northern Ireland could technically stay in the European Union by voting to join the Republic of Ireland

LONDON: The wrangle over what will happen to the Irish border after Brexit has put the previously unthinkable possibility of reunification of the island of Ireland firmly on the political agenda.
Support for staying in the EU is increasing in Northern Ireland as the Brexit negotiations falter, according to a study released this month by Queen’s University Belfast.
The poll of more than 1,000 residents of Northern Ireland also found 47 percent supported holding a referendum, although only 21 percent said they would currently favor a united Ireland.
The study said the results showed a hard Brexit in which Britain left the EU single market and customs union, combined with an economic downturn could make the prospect of Irish unity “particularly attractive” for the province’s Catholic community.
In the 2016 referendum, Northern Ireland voted 56 percent to remain in the EU but, like Scotland, was outvoted by England and Wales and the overall result was 52 percent for Brexit.
The study found support for EU membership has now risen to 69 percent.
“What’s becoming increasingly clear is the rise and rise of the Remain vote in Northern Ireland,” Colin Harvey from Queen’s told a conference organized by the UK in a Changing Europe think tank.
“And I think there is extreme peril and danger in rendering that Remain vote politically and legally meaningless,” he said.
Unlike pro-EU Scotland, Northern Ireland could technically stay in the European Union by voting to join the Republic of Ireland.
The 1998 Good Friday peace agreements allow for the possibility of a referendum on Irish unity if the British government judges that the public mood has shifted significantly in favor of the idea.
So far only the nationalist Sinn Fein party, once the political voice of the Irish Republican Army, has called for a vote.
Opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, a supporter of Irish unity, played down the prospect on a visit to Belfast this month, but it is weighing on the British prime minister’s mind.
Theresa May reprimanded a leading euroskeptic in her Conservative party earlier this month for being naive about the possibility, according to a report in The Times newspaper.
After pro-Brexit hard-liner MP Jacob Rees-Mogg said Northern Ireland would vote to stay a part of the United Kingdom in the case of a referendum, she reportedly told him: “That’s not a risk I’m prepared to take. We cannot be confident on the politics of the situation, on how it plays out.”
May has vowed to avoid any new border checks after Britain leaves the EU next year amid fears of upsetting the fragile arrangements in a region once blighted by violence.
But her government has yet to find a practical way to do this, while also fulfilling a promise to leave the EU’s customs union and single market after Britain’s withdrawal.
Under a preliminary deal struck with Brussels in December, Britain as a whole would maintain “full alignment” with EU trade rules if no other arrangement has been found.
Brussels has since come up with a proposal that would effectively keep only Northern Ireland in the EU customs union — something that pro-British unionists fiercely oppose.
Some British euroskeptics have accused the Irish government of exaggerating the problem and using their leading role in Brexit negotiations in pursuit of a secret agenda to unite Ireland.
In Derry, a border town that was at the heart of three decades of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland known as “The Troubles,” Sinn Fein politician Elisha McCallion warned any new frontier checks would affect her life.
“My child goes to a nursery daily on the other side of the border. I would cross informally the jurisdiction between the north and the south six or eight times a day,” she said.
McCallion argued that reunification would be the only solution, adding: “Brexit has flown a new dynamic in the conversation. People are talking about unity regularly.”


Troops from Niger and France hunt for killers of aid workers in Niger nature reserve

The wreckage of the car where six French aid workers, their local guide and the driver were killed by unidentified gunmen riding motorcycles in an area of southwestern Niger. (AFP)
Updated 10 August 2020

Troops from Niger and France hunt for killers of aid workers in Niger nature reserve

  • Attackers on motorbikes ambushed the group of aid workers as they drove through the giraffe reserve
  • France has 5,100 troops deployed in the arid region south of the Sahara desert

NIAMEY: French and Nigerien soldiers searched through a giraffe reserve and the surrounding area in Niger on Monday for traces of the gunmen who killed six French aid workers, a French military source said.
France’s anti-terrorism prosecutor also opened an investigation into the incident, in which attackers on motorbikes ambushed the group as it drove through the reserve located 65 km (40 miles) from the capital Niamey — an area considered safe by the Niger government.
The French aid workers were employed by the charity ACTED. A local driver working for the relief group and a guide were also killed. ACTED called the murders “senseless and cowardly.”
“This heinous crime must not go unpunished, nor will it distract us from our commitment to support the people of Niger,” said ACTED, which has worked to help vulnerable populations in the country since 2010.
No one has claimed responsibility for the assault. But France and other countries have warned people against traveling to parts of Niger where militants including Boko Haram and an affiliate of Daesh operate.
“Military operations are ongoing today,” the military source said.
In the clearest sign yet that France believes a militant group was behind the attack, the office of France’s anti-terrorism prosecutor said it was launching an investigation on suspicion of the involvement of a terrorist group.
French President Emmanuel Macron said he shared their families’ grief. “Our determination to combat armed terrorist groups is resolute. The fight continues,” Macron tweeted.
The reserve southeast of Niamey is home to West Africa’s last sizeable population of giraffe in the wild. In the wet season, thick green acacia bushes dot the flat, sandy plains.
It is a popular attraction in Niger, a vast country that borders seven states in an unstable region including Libya, Mali, Chad, Algeria and Nigeria.
France, a former colonial power in the region, has 5,100 troops deployed in the arid region south of the Sahara desert since 2013. The United States also has soldiers based in Niger.
Nonetheless, militant violence has been on the rise.