For all the talk of protecting the peace process, the values underpinning it are in precariously short supply all roundby Katy Hayward / September 18, 2020 / Leave a comment
Never mind the alarm ringing from London, Dublin, Brussels and Washington DC—nationalists and unionists, Catholics and Protestants, Leavers and Remainers alike from within Northern Ireland are claiming that the 1998 Good Friday/Belfast Agreement is in peril.
Everyone feels the danger. And it isn’t about the articles of the 1998 Agreement so much as the conditions that the agreement created. These conditions are in jeopardy. How might calm be restored?
The 1998 Agreement was a carefully negotiated compromise. The Northern Ireland/Ireland Protocol in the EU withdrawal deal was a carefully negotiated compromise. Neither of them are perfect; both entail pain. But just as concessions were made in their drawing up, so their implementation requires the conditions in which they were forged—good faith, trust, mutual respect, partnership—to be upheld.
This is appropriate. Northern Ireland is a site of contention, but also a site of continual and necessary compromise.
And all that compromise comes on the grounds of recognition that, feck it, we have to live here. People have to try and make a living. Children have to have hope of it being worth staying and not getting out at the first opportunity. If this place is marked by acute insecurity, it is also characterised by a ready pragmatism.
For all the murals and flags and songs and marches, there is a steady—and growing—push against the danger of ideology and a repelling of fear. It’s an uneasy but essential act of accommodation.
Many countries define “belonging” in terms of who is outside their borders. This is true in Northern Ireland but in quite a distinct way: identity is defined literally in terms of which countries are at our borders. The “other” really is my neighbour.
This makes politics lively and sharp and dull and tedious at the same time. It makes cultural traditions vibrant and passionate and wearying and wretched. It makes history fascinating and vivid and crushing and inescapable.
It makes “what happens next?” a question that few ask very often. And the answer to that question has always depended, really, on what is happening on the other side of the Irish sea and Irish land border.
Northern Ireland exists under a constant cloud of uncertainty—so what is certain is precious. And for a…