Queen's Policy Engagement

There’s a reason why Northern Ireland has been without a government for more than 500 days – Brexit

Brexit has revived the ideologies of Irish nationalism and Ulster unionism, and reignited their most central dispute – continued union with Britain or unification with Ireland says Dr Peter McLoughlin.

There’s a reason why Northern Ireland has been without a government for more than 500 days – Brexit

After more than 500 days of stalemate, Northern Ireland has surpassed the record previously set by Belgium for the longest run in peacetime without a working government. The trigger for the collapse of Stormont’s power-sharing institutions concerned a relative anodyne issue – the implication of the DUP leader Arlene Foster in a seriously flawed renewable energy scheme. However, there were a range of other factors which created a breakdown in trust between Foster’s party and Sinn Féin. Among these were the DUP’s opposition to Sinn Féin’s proposal of an act to help preserve and promote the Irish language and its refusal to countenance gay marriage. On top of these, there were issues relating to Northern Ireland’s past conflict.

Arguably, though, the key factor that continues to prevent an agreement to restore power-sharing in Northern Ireland is the same issue that has destabilised politics right across the UK: Brexit. The day after the vote to leave the EU in 2016, Sinn Féin called for a vote on Irish unity. This was linked to the threat that Brexit could re-establish a hard border in Ireland, with serious economic implications for both parts of the island. Sinn Féin argues that this might change the attitudes even of many unionists in Northern Ireland, creating a momentum towards republicans’ long-standing goal of reunification.

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Article first appeared on The Conversation.

The featured image in this article is used courtesy of Getty Images under a Creative Commons licence.

Dr Peter McLoughlin
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Dr Peter McLoughlin is a lecturer in the School of History, Anthropology, Philosophy and Politics at Queen's University Belfast. His research interests include Irish history and politics, with particular emphasis on British-Irish relations and the Northern Ireland problem.

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