Éamonn Ó Ciardha wonders if Brexit will bring back hard borders

Visiting lecturer Dr. Éamonn Ó Ciardha can recall the year 1973. He was 5 years old when the British and Irish national line was a hard border, and the British army started “blowing up the roads.”

He remembers his father coming home from filling the streets back in.

“They did this as farmers. You have a little road, like the one between here and Stop & Shop. You blow that up, you have to go around through Natick,” Ó Ciardha said.

In the present day, there are no checkpoints or skirmishes between the IRA and the British. “When I was a kid, it was a physical presence. Now you wouldn’t know it’s there,” he added.

In light of the United Kingdom’s vote to leave the European Union, Ó Ciardha said he worries about more than the “fragile” economies in the U.K.

The Nov. 29 “Brexit: England (and Wales) Pull Up the Drawbridge” talk was given as a follow-up to his lecture on The Troubles, an ethno-nationalist conflict that lasted in Northern Ireland between the 1960s and 1990s.

The move to exit the EU means a loss of neutral meeting grounds for countries with a long history of antagonism.

“Europe provided the example to Ireland of how you could get rid of borders, of how you could put aside your national differences in improving the life of people on both sides of the Irish border,” said Ó Ciardha. 

The vote to leave the EU was secured through political “lies,” such as €350 million of EU taxes would go directly to the National Health Service after Brexit, he said.

“They didn’t think it through,” said Ó Ciardha.

During his lecture, Ó Ciardha used YouTube clips and quoted “Monty Python’s Life of Brian.” He compared EU critics blaming the system’s bureaucracy to the “What have the Romans done for us?” scene in the movie.    

“They gave us the minimum wage and clean water,” he said.

Brexit was also devised without consideration for arrangements such as the U.N. or the Good Friday, or Belfast Agreement, an accord between the British and Irish factions on how Northern Ireland should be governed, said Ó Ciardha.

Ó Ciardha also emphasized the importance of the EU’s Human Rights Court, “particularly during The Troubles, when many Irish nationalists believed that ‘British justice’ was an oxymoron.”

He said, “European soft power is very important, too.”

Approximately 30 people attended the hour-long lecture on the history of European conflict behind the formation of the EU and the UK’s recent decision to leave “what is arguably the third largest economy in the world.”

Ó Ciardha took student questions for an additional half hour.

“The idea of a hard border is a nightmare for everyone,” said Ó Ciardha. “The British government has slashed funding to their own great universities, which they enjoy talking so much about. … They also derive enormous revenue from international students. The message from Brexit is, ‘Stay at home. We don’t want you.’”

Scotland may walk away from the U.K. and attempt to rejoin the EU as an independent nation, and the majority of Northern Ireland voted to remain, he added. There could be a soft Brexit, or a hard Brexit.

“If you came here for answers, then you leave sorely disappointed, because I don’t know. And I take some consolation from that because the British government doesn’t know. Europe doesn’t know,” said Ó Ciardha. “The British are behaving like a guy who has left an exclusive golf club but still wants all the perks of membership.”

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