Derry or Londonderry?
Brexit and the Gordian knot of Northern Ireland. The risk of a new escalation in violence between catholic and protestant communities
Derry or Londonderry – depending on whether you are a nationalist catholic or a unionist protestant – symbolizes the potential for a return to the past in the turbulent history of Northern Ireland. The 1998 Good Friday Agreement that brought an end to political violence between unionists and nationalists enshrined the uniqueness of Northern Ireland’s national identity with the de facto abolition of the border between the two Irelands. To avoid that Brexit sees a return of this border, Great Britain and the European Union agreed the so-called Northern Ireland Protocol, which includes the alignment of Northern Ireland with EU regulations, with controls on goods arriving from the rest of Great Britain prior to entry into Northern Ireland. All of these complications have had a negative impact on the Northern Ireland economy, which was already struggling as a result of the pandemic. There have already been shortages of supermarket products, especially foodstuffs.
This situation seems to have reawakened the ire of the unionists, who accuse London of treating Northern Ireland as a poor relation. At the other end of the political spectrum, the more extremist wing of the old IRA, which had never fully accepted the end to hostilities, has been exploiting the situation to resume its propaganda. By the spring of last year numerous clashes had already taken place in which the protagonists were largely the generation of youngsters, who although they were born after the end of what are known as “The Troubles”, remain the heirs to the factions involved in what was almost a civil war. Young people from the poorest sections of society, where the historic divisions have never fully healed, risk taking Northern Ireland back to the climate of violence that for many years was the norm in political life.