The seeming collapse of the power sharing talks in Belfast would be scary enough on their own. The ability for the Unionists and Nationalists to work together in the devolved Assembly is one of the pillars upon which the peace we’ve had for the last couple of decades in the region rests. Yet if that were all Northern Ireland had to contend with at present, I wouldn’t be quite so scared, even as both the UK and Irish governments get involved in a slanging match in regards to this themselves: Dublin has expressed concerns about rule from London being imposed on N Ireland; London has insisted that, if the talks break down, it’s the only solution.
What really scares me is that Brexit is happening in the middle of all of this, which if we’re not careful, could lead to a perfect, horrible storm taking place. While I think the most likely scenario is the UK remains in the Customs Union during the transition (and given Davis’ reticence to discuss this further yesterday in the House, this could become a permanent state of affairs), which will solve the immediate Irish border problem, there still needs to be a greater awareness than currently exists regarding the dangers of what is ahead. People unfortunately have a tendency to take the good parts of any status quo for granted, thinking that bad things that happened in the past must obviously be destined to remain there. Now, I am by no means saying that a re-ignition of the Troubles is around the corner or any such scaremongering – I’m simply saying that these things can spiral out of control faster than anyone thinks, and at present we are treading closer and closer to the line than almost everyone cares to discuss, at least in England, anyhow.
On social media, there are already some scary things being said by hardcore Unionists and Nationalists alike. This is the nutty fringe of both at present, but as we’ve seen across all of politics very recently, this is how these things have a tendency to work: start with the extremists and move inwards towards everyone else, normalising the extreme modes of thinking along the way. It could happen in Northern Ireland as easily as it has happened in any other number of places across the world of late; a terrifying prospect that is no less likely for being so awful to ponder.
I remain an optimist in regards to the region and feel like it is more likely than not that everything will work out in Northern Ireland, and that peace can be maintained indefinitely. However, I still worry that no one’s thinking about this quite enough.