news·3 min read

Northern Ireland's Border History and Brexit

Oct 28, 2019

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The Story

Brexit negotiations have been going on for over two years. One major holdup: What to do about the Irish border.

What’s the problem there?

It was the site of decades of violence. First, some history. Ireland used to be one territory under British rule. But not everyone was into this arrangement, and in the early 1920s, Ireland was split in two. Southern Ireland, where the majority of people are Catholic, became the Republic of Ireland. Northern Ireland, where the majority of people are Protestant, remained part of the UK. 

I’m sensing this is a story about religious tension.

Correct. In Northern Ireland, the Catholic minority felt they were being undermined by the local governments and police. And in the late ‘60s, they started staging civil rights protests that led to clashes with police. This kicked off decades of violence known as the Troubles, with fighting between Catholic and Protestant paramilitary groups, and clashes with British troops deployed to the area. Border checkpoints were frequently attacked. More than 3,500 people were killed in bombings, shootings, and other incidents. Download theSkimm app for our Skimm Notes deep dive into what this period was like.

So how did things end?

Both sides signed a peace agreement in 1998. It’s known as the Good Friday Agreement because, we’ll let you guess why. Northern Ireland would remain part of the UK but set up its own assembly – made up of both unionists who wanted to remain part of the UK and nationalists who didn’t – to make certain decisions locally. And border checkpoints between Ireland and Northern Ireland, which were by then both part of the EU, went away. Except...

Except what?

The tension never really subsided. To this day, many Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods in Northern Ireland are separated by fencing or walls. More than 90% of kids attend predominantly segregated schools. And the history there has made Brexit negotiations very (very very) complicated. And it all has to do with that border between Ireland (part of the EU) and Northern Ireland (part of the UK). We get into why, the options on the table, and what could happen next in theSkimm app. Every week, the app goes deep on a different news topic to give you the context you need to understand what's going on in the world. Download the app now and you get the first week free.

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