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WorldYoung Northern Irelanders Worry Bloody History Could Return After Brexit

15:10  24 august  2019
15:10  24 august  2019 Source:   online.wsj.com

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www.wsj.com/articles/ young - northern - irelanders - worry -revived-border-will-stoke-old-tensions NEWRY, Northern Ireland—When Patsy Doyle was in his 20 s , he and several friends set out from Those like Mr. Doyle who lived through the era known as the Troubles knew their daily lives could be

NEWRY, Northern Ireland—When Patsy Doyle was in his 20s, he and several friends set out from Belfast for a weekend away in Ireland. They never made it. They were stopped at a border checkpoint by British security forces, searched and detained for several hours before returning home.

Young Northern Irelanders Worry Bloody History Could Return After Brexit© Provided by Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

Those like Mr. Doyle who lived through the era known as the Troubles knew their daily lives could be interrupted at any moment. He remembers funerals for people killed in political violence. If he left the house with friends and didn’t return soon, he says his parents feared for his life.

A generation later, the now 63-year-old Mr. Doyle says he has never worried that way about his son, Brian Ó Dughaill, who is 25. “I would never want my son to go through that, or see his friends go through that,” he said.

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NEWRY, Northern Ireland—When Patsy Doyle was in his 20 s , he and several friends set out from Belfast for a weekend away in Ireland. They never made it. They were stopped at a border checkpoint by British security forces, searched and detained for several hours before returning home.

People who have come of age in Northern Ireland since a 1998 peace deal have avoided the violence that beset the region for three decades. Their generation has been freer to choose between British, Irish or Northern Irish identities than any since the island of Ireland was partitioned in 1922 and the north remained in British hands.

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But as the prospect of Britain abruptly leaving the European Union without a deal becomes more likely as the Oct. 31 deadline approaches, young people now face the possibility that a physical border might again divide Ireland in two, potentially reopening traditional animosities and risking a return to violence.

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The disappearance of the physical markers of partition underlies the main accomplishment of the 1998 peace deal, which was agreed on Good Friday that year.

It allowed the mainly Catholic nationalist population to forget they lived in what remains part of the U.K. In return, the mainly Protestant unionist population that wants Northern Ireland to remain a part of the U.K. was assured there would be no change in its status without a referendum.

Today it is difficult to know exactly when the border has been crossed, a far cry from the heavily fortified lines of defense that marked where Ireland ended and Northern Ireland began at the height of the Troubles.

Mr. Ó Dughaill, a mechanical engineer who lives and works near the small border city of Newry and often runs errands over the border, feels like London politicians don’t understand or care what’s at stake. He said it seems like there’s a “lack of empathy or understanding of what is a very real potential problem here.”

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The Young Irelander Rebellion was a failed Irish nationalist uprising led by the Young Ireland movement, part of the wider Revolutions of 1848 that affected most of Europe. It took place on 29 July 1848 in the village of Ballingarry, South Tipperary.

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Mr. Ó Dughaill and his 24-year-old girlfriend, Doire Finn, who both identify as Irish, like his father, frequently cross over to Ireland to eat out and hang out with friends.

“It’s really easy,” she said. “I don’t even think about it as crossing the border.”

“The Good Friday Agreement was the start of a process that has let me live a life that wasn’t like my parents’ or my sister’s,” said Ms. Finn. Her older sister, born 12 years earlier, can remember not being able to attend school because of bomb scares and soldiers patrolling near their home.

Under an agreement negotiated by former U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May, a “backstop” arrangement would have eliminated the need for border checks by keeping Northern Ireland in the EU’s customs union and single market for goods. A majority of voters in Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU during the 2016 Brexit referendum.

But Boris Johnson, Britain’s new prime minister, says he wants a new separation pact with the EU that would remove the backstop, or he will wrench the U.K. out of the bloc in less than three months without a deal. The EU says negotiations on that are closed.

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Standing on a peak near the border recently, overlooking cows and sheep on hilltops that used to host military outposts, Mr. Doyle said he feared that terrorists could target any border infrastructure, sparking a return to broader violence.

“A hard border can easily bring it back,” he said. “Twenty years ago, we thought it was over.”

The Police Service of Northern Ireland shares those concerns. It has warned that customs checkpoints could become a target for nationalist terrorists. While the main nationalist group that fought in the Troubles—the Irish Republican Army—has dispersed, a number of smaller dissident groups remain active.

The U.K.’s impending departure from the EU is now bringing Northern Ireland’s divisions back into focus. Opinion polls suggest there is growing support for Irish reunification among younger people from a nationalist background.

“The debate around Irish unity now becomes a debate around rejoining the European Union,” said Colin Harvey, a law professor at Queen’s University in Belfast. “I think that resonates with the younger generation who are potentially watching a lot of the benefits from European Union membership disappear in light of Brexit.”

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Bloody Sunday was one of the most controversial days in Northern Ireland' s history . The Legacy Investigation Branch replaced the Historical Enquiries Team (HET), shortly after an inspection report criticised the HET for treating state killings with "less rigour" than others.

After Brexit , this will be the only land boundary between Britain and the European Union. Theresa May’ s government is insisting that Britain must It could also upset Northern Ireland’ s peace process. Jonathan Powell, who was closely involved in negotiating the Good Friday Agreement as chief of staff

Ms. Finn, for instance, has a British passport, but is applying for an Irish one. Many of her peers are doing the same, often to maintain their right to live and work in the trade bloc once the U.K. leaves the EU. People living in Northern Ireland are generally eligible for both British and Irish citizenship.

Some of those who identify as British or Northern Irish and supported Brexit are worrying, too.

Adam Flanagan, 18, initially favored leaving the EU, saying it had too much influence over some domestic matters. Now, along with Ms. Finn, he is campaigning with a cross-community youth activist group for a second referendum. He says he’s alarmed that Brexit might break Northern Ireland’s ties to the mainland U.K.

“Brexit poses an existential threat to the actual union itself and Northern Ireland’s bond with the U.K.,” he said. “That would probably be one of the main reasons that I’m against Brexit.”

Many of those who benefited from the peace brought about by the Good Friday Agreement say they hope the spirit of the pact will remain in place.

“We have to be incredibly cautious,” said 22-year-old Conor McArdle, who is studying law and human rights in Belfast and says he makes no secret of his support for Irish reunification.

Standing by an abandoned border checkpoint on a recent afternoon, with half its roof missing and weeds poking through the crumbling stone floor, he recalled his father describing long waits at heavily-guarded crossings.

Dozens of cars sped across the border as he talked. An older man slowly pedaled over on a bicycle. There were no police officers in sight. “Imagine if all of them had to be stopped,” Mr. McArdle said.

Write to Paul Hannon at [email protected]

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