Ireland after Brexit: Extremists can’t have the last word

Brexit will, unfortunately but inevitably, suck all the oxygen out of public debate on these islands again this week — and for many, many weeks to come. 

How else could it be? It is a deeply divisive, retrograde process with an imagined but utterly uncertain destination. 

The debate has done many things. In an Irish context it has created great uncertainty, but most significantly it has exposed unhealed wounds.

On this small island, it has stirred the embers of ancient animosity in a distressing, very unwelcome way. 

It has exposed fault lines that the vast majority of people of all traditions had hoped were consigned to history.

Extremists, uncompromising and indifferent to predictable consequences, have done the only thing extremists can do — they have hardened their position, irrespective of how different the majority view might be. 

Zealotry has replaced any rational understanding of the universal, eternal truth that we stand or fall by how we serve, even in the most general terms, a mutually-beneficial common purpose.

It has been a sadly revealing process too. Attitudes built on loathing and maybe fear have resurfaced. 

In one of the most startling DUP leader Arlene Foster, speaking last spring, said that in the event of a united Ireland she would consider emigration. 

This suggests she would imagine herself a political refugee. A refugee from what?

It would be comforting to imagine that Ms Foster was unaware of the deep offence that remark caused but, unfortunately, that convenient fiction is not plausible. 

Like many of her colleagues, Brexit, and the passing leverage it affords, has encouraged the DUP to revert to type. 

In victory veritas, as it were — no matter how temporary that victory.

Sinn Féin plays its unchanging part in this tragedy. 

By pretending it was elected to stymie democracy, rather than make it work, the party, if that is what it is, persists with abstentionism. 

This posturing underlines a core truth about Sinn Féin: Without contrived chaos it is irrelevant.

Once upon a time, this polarisation, this cyclical drum beating provoked legacy responses. 

One community lined up behind its banners, the other did the same. Righteous indignation left no room for compromise or progress.

Thankfully, the goalposts have been moved in a definitive way. This change was exemplified in Dublin on Saturday. 

Rory Best, a farmer from Craigavon, led the Irish team that beat the All Blacks. Jacob Stockdale, a clergyman’s son from Newtownstewart, scored the winning try.

The whole island, the whole moderate, reasonable and realistic island achieved something a divided, fractured

island could not.

As Brexit’s magical mystery tour trundles along it is important to remember that no matter the outcome, we, on this island, will still be neighbours, mostly trying to be good neighbours. 

That won’t happen by accident. 

It’s time the dog wagged the tail again and extremists of all hues were isolated. 

That, as the All Blacks will confirm, would create a great, all powerful sense of optimism and possibility. 

The extremists must not have the last word.


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