Peace in Northern Ireland more than EU membership: Prof. Galligan
by Sophie AUMAILLEY for Northern Ireland Foundation
21 September 2016
Professor Yvonne Galligan from Queen’s University led a discussion, organised by the Women Information Northern Ireland, about the impact of the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union (“Brexit”), and particularly the impact for Northern Ireland.
A dozen participants debated the future of Northern Ireland outside the European Union and the challenges ahead.
Prof. Galligan raised three main issues caused by Brexit.
First, changes in trade seem inevitable.
The United Kingdom may need to negotiate with each of the European member states for trade agreements.
The problem is that such negotiations cannot begin until the UK has actually left the EU, as trade is a competence of the European institutions.
Moreover, Yvonne pointed out that the United Kingdom is not really experienced in negotiating free trade agreements as in the past; negotiations were led by the European bodies.
The second main issue concerns the freedom of the movement for people.
Border matters in Northern Ireland, with workers crossing the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland on a daily basis.
Here, there is a tension between its claim of the British government that it can maintain keep a soft border, with its opposition towards freedom of movement.
However, Yvonne remains confident that mechanisms using technology will allow for suitable arrangements.
The last main issue is about immigration.
Yvonne said that it is likely that borders will harden for everyone in the United Kingdom, with airports and ports probably serving as hard borders.
Overall, the implementation of Brexit and negotiations around leaving the European Union raised challenges for the United Kingdom.
Among the participants, some addressed worries about the status of Northern Ireland and the Northern Ireland citizenship.
Yvonne made clear here that the Good Friday Agreement is an international treaty.
Even if the European Union helped during the peace process, the agreement is not confined to a European dimension; it falls within the realm of international law.
Moreover, as the European Union invested a lot in the peace process, it is unlikely to weaken the agreement.
At the end, Yvonne remained confident that the European Union will not try to meddle with the Belfast agreement.
Concerning both British and Irish governments, their positions differ.
According to Yvonne, the British government is current not really thinking to the Good Friday Agreement and potential changes in it with Brexit.
On the other hand, the Irish government is really sensitive with the agreement, and wishes to see it remain intact.
Out of these two positions, Prof. Galligan said that it seems probable that nothing will be done with the current Northern Ireland’s status and peace framework.
Some other participants wondered if independence could come out of the Brexit process.
Independence movements seem on the rise in Europe with debates over Scotland and Catalonia.
However, Prof. Galligan found it unlikely that Northern Ireland and Scotland could make a “reversed Greenland” (when Greenland left the European Union but Denmark stayed).
Finally, Professor Galligan remarked that Brexit may be a hot topic, with complex negotiations and challenges ahead, but emphasised that peace in Northern Ireland is wider than the belonging to the European Union.