Northern Ireland and UK Conflict

Northern Ireland and UK Conflict

Northern Ireland and UK Conflict

Northern Ireland and UK Conflict Overview

The UK and European Union (EU) are holding talks on the Northern Ireland Protocol which has been a source of tension since it came into force at the start of 2021. Read below to know in detail about the Northern Ireland and UK Conflict.

Northern Ireland Conflict Overview

What is the Northern Ireland Protocol?

  • The Northern Ireland Protocol is a trading arrangement, negotiated during Brexit talks. It allows goods to be transported across the Irish land border without the need for checks. This protocol was reached under the Good Friday Agreement.
  • Before Brexit, it was easy to transport goods across this border because both sides followed the same EU rules. 
  • After the UK left, special trading arrangements were needed because Northern Ireland has a land border with the Republic of Ireland, which is part of the EU.

Historical Perspective of the Northern Ireland Conflict: 

  • Geographically, Northern Ireland is part of Ireland. Politically, it’s part of the United Kingdom.
  • Ireland, long dominated by its bigger neighbor, broke free about 100 years ago after centuries of colonization and an uneasy union. 
  • Twenty-six of its 32 counties became an independent, Roman Catholic-majority country. Six counties in the north, which have a Protestant majority, stayed British.
  • Northern Ireland’s Catholic minority experienced discrimination in jobs, housing, and other areas in the Protestant-run state. 
  • As a result, people on both the Catholic and Protestant sides formed armed groups that escalated the violence with bombings and shootings.
  • By the 1990s, after secret talks and with the help of diplomatic efforts by Ireland, Britain, and the United States, the combatants reached a peace deal. 
  • The 1998 Good Friday accord led to the cooling down of the armed struggle and established a Catholic-Protestant power-sharing government for Northern Ireland
  • The question of Northern Ireland’s ultimate status was postponed. It was decided that it would remain British as long as that was the majority’s wish. But, the scope of the referendum was not side-lined.

What is the Good Friday Agreement? 

  • The Good Friday Agreement, also known as the Belfast Agreement, was a political deal designed to bring an end to 30 years of violent conflict in Northern Ireland, known as the Troubles.
    • Northern Ireland was created in 1921 and remained part of the UK when the rest of Ireland became an independent state.
    • This created a split in the population between unionists, who wish to see Northern Ireland stay within the UK, and nationalists, who want it to become part of the Republic of Ireland.
  • The Good Friday Agreement is based on the idea of cooperation between communities.

Current status of this agreement? 

  • After Brexit, Northern Ireland became the only part of the UK to have a land border with an EU country – the Republic of Ireland.
  • Checks are required on goods transported between the UK and the EU’s markets.
  • But both sides agreed this should not happen on the Irish border, to protect the Good Friday Agreement, because it was feared the cross-border cooperation could be threatened if new checkpoints were set up.

What is agreed upon in this protocol? 

  • The EU has strict food rules and requires border checks when certain goods – such as milk and eggs – arrive from non-EU countries.
  • So, instead of checking goods at the Irish border, it was agreed in the protocol that any inspections and document checks would be conducted between Great Britain (England, Scotland, and Wales) and Northern Ireland.
  • These inspections should take place at Northern Ireland’s ports. It was also agreed that Northern Ireland would keep following EU rules on product standards.

Changes the UK wants in this protocol

  • The government in the UK wants to create two types of lanes under the protocol i.e. the Green Lane and the Red Lane.
    • The green lane would be for trusted traders transporting goods to Northern Ireland only. These would be exempt from checks and customs controls.
    • The red lane would be for products going on to the Republic of Ireland and the rest of the EU. These would undergo full checks and customs controls.
  • The UK also wants tax rules to be changed. Under the current regime, government payments to help firms in Northern Ireland, and tax breaks, must be within limits set by the EU.
  • The UK government also wants an independent body to settle disputes over the Northern Ireland Protocol, rather than the European Court of Justice. 

What does the European Union say? 

  • The European Commission took legal action against the UK for not keeping to the protocol and called on the government to return to negotiations.
  • The EU said it was not prepared to renegotiate the protocol but has offered the following alternatives:
    • reducing customs and checks on goods
    • reducing the amount of paperwork
    • relaxing rules so chilled meats can still be sent across the Irish Sea

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