By Niall Murphy
Think about it. The north is being removed from the EU tonight against the wishes of its people and without its consent.
That must not be forgotten or glossed over. There will be sadness today for all those on this island who will feel this loss acutely.
And make no mistake about it: the battle to keep this region in the EU is over. In the end, Brexit could not be stopped and we are being dragged out.
What we have are hard-won special arrangements that aim to limit the damage by avoiding a hard border and protecting the Good Friday Agreement and North-South co-operation.
The challenge of operationalising these complex mechanisms will be considerable, and there is likely to be serious wrangling over implementation.
Vigilance will be required to ensure no roll-back on the guarantees that are there, and full use made of the available machinery of accountability and enforcement.
We have good reason, based on bitter experience, to distrust any British government; it would be foolish to believe that they will honour their international commitments. Be prepared for the backtracking to start soon.
In our view, it is time to begin mapping out our principal pathway back to the EU: Irish reunification. We call on all those who campaigned to keep the north in the EU to join us as we chart a course for return. The Good Friday Agreement is the starting point for this conversation. The right to self-determination/principle of consent that it contains provides the key. The status of the north rests on consent, and there is provision for referendums on this island to determine our constitutional future. This is all underpinned in the domestic law of both states and international law. The European Council confirmed in April 2017 that reunification would mean automatic return to the EU. This now becomes the main route to ‘full-fat’ EU membership for this society.
We believe that this alters the nature of the discussion fundamentally and that it requires proper preparation and planning. We need to move beyond notional and abstract future commitments (‘in my lifetime’) to the creation of concrete frameworks and timeframes. That is why we have called, among other things, for an all-island Citizens’ Assembly to sketch out the options. We look, in particular, to the next Irish government to assume its constitutional responsibilities and begin to put the building blocks in place.
We remain gravely concerned that the people of the north are being forced out of the EU. We share the understandable anger that this is being imposed on us all. But as a collective civic movement for change on this island we know that our energies must now be directed to the future.
We in Ireland’s Future urge all political parties and civil society to join the conversation on this island for constitutional change: The North must be given the opportunity to vote to return to the EU. Talk about it, organise for it, and together we will begin a managed transition on our shared island. Let no one tell you to be silent. Let no one tell us that we cannot achieve this.
The Good Friday Agreement affirms the legitimate aspiration to Irish re-unification. The time for that change has arrived.
* Niall Murphy is a lawyer and spokesman for nationalist campaign group Ireland’s Future