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The Return of the Irish Border

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Dublin.

What did Freud call it? The return of the repressed! Ireland tried hard though. It desperately wanted history to end. It repressed as much as it could. It hid from view every stain, failure and betrayal. It painted a smile on it’s face and danced a jig. It was so Panglossian it almost fooled the world. Then the banks hit. And Ireland’s junk status returned with a vengeance. Bourgeois bullshit attempted valiantly to cover up Ireland’s cracks. But at the end of the day shit is shit. And Ireland is Ireland.

Ireland is unfree. The border between the north and the south is the proof of this. And Brexit is bringing the meaning of all this back into the Irish mind. Since the 1990s the border has been buried in the Irish unconscious. Today, however, Brexit is forcing it to the fore once again. And it couldn’t be more unwelcome. Who likes being reminded not only of one’s physical handicap but also of one’s cowardice?

A hard Brexit means the return of a hard Irish border. It means the return of Irish schizophrenia. It means the end of Celtic craftiness. And the return of the Celtic conundrum: British rule in Ireland.

Europe was supposed to be the solution to the Irish problem. By joining Europe: Britain and Ireland were indirectly joining Dublin and Belfast. Europe therefore, for the Irish, was the convenient way out of the British trap. It was the lazy way out. It was the coward’s way out. Without thinking and without fighting, the Irish really believed they could casually walk their way to freedom.

As Europe’s free market unraveled so did Ireland’s fake freedom. Brexit is the final proof of this. By leaving Europe: Britain is again cutting Ireland in two. Once more the Brits are running away with Belfast and Derry. Following Berlin’s destruction of Dublin’s dignity there’s not much left in Ireland. Of course there is the odd vulture fund and hedge fund. But that kind of scum is nothing to be proud of.

Irish pride though, like Irish justice, has been a commodity for some time. It was sold a long time ago to corporate America and corporate Europe. Foreign investors walked away with it. The Irish civil servant who came up with this brilliant idea in the 1950s just died at the age of 100. His name was Thomas (TK) Whitaker. The likes of the Irish Times consider him to have been the greatest Irish man ever. At least he lived to see the complete failure of his “foreign direct investment” (FDI) obsession. Of course it’s only a failure if pride, justice, dignity and independence are important. Anyway Whitaker and the likes of the Irish Times never apologised.

The Celtic Tiger was supposed to have been the justification of the FDI doctrine. During the 1990s and early 2000s money poured into the tiny Irish economy. But the preconditions for this were firstly: peace in Ireland. And secondly: peace in the global economy. The end of the Irish war for freedom and “the end of history” enabled the Celtic Tiger. Then came the Financial Crisis of 2008. And the subsequent Celtic collapse. History was born again. And the money flowed out of Ireland like never before.

Ireland naively believed in the rhetoric of globalisation and the rhetoric of the European Union. It really believed that the great powers were willing to play by “the rules” of liberalism. It really believed that the great powers would not protect themselves and put their own interests first. Then along came Merkel, May and Trump. And now the Irish Wall is about to resurface. And the Irish still haven’t a clue. They dare not protect themselves.

One section of the Irish people however does see the writing on the wall. And not surprisingly it is Irish in Belfast and Derry. The ones who most recently have fought the war for  Irish freedom, have just woken up and see the dead end in front of them. In January Sinn Féin pulled out of the fairytale called “power sharing” in the north of Ireland. And by doing so it has seriously questioned the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 which is the basis of Ireland’s new found “peace”.

Peace in Ireland is premised on the pretence that the border doesn’t really exist. It’s based on the belief that the north of Ireland is not really a British colony. Instead it’s supposed to be an area with identity issues. In other words, Ireland – like the European Union – is delusional.

In contrast the British in Ireland (the Unionists) can’t afford to be delusional. Once a coloniser, always a coloniser. They know that their place in Ireland is founded on the act of keeping the Irish repressed. Their meaning in life is to obstruct Irish unity. And for them Brexit is a godsend. Once there was the orange card – now there’s the Brexit card. And it’s being played in a hard manner. So much so that the result can be the same as the orange manoeuvre before: war. The Irish neoconservative leader, Edna Kenny, admitted as much this week.

In March the north of Ireland (the colonisers and the colonised) votes once more in the game called “power sharing”. And like all games it’s getting a bit tiring. It’s about as meaningful as the vote for the European Parliament. In reality it means fuck all. Once Brexit bites hard however – the game is over.

Since when did Britain share anything? The fact is that it doesn’t share: it spoils. The Irish will learn this again when the border is rebuilt. The Irish will wake up again and fight again. And relearn the art of protectionism.

Aidan O’Brien is a hospital worker in Dublin, Ireland.

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