The end of the post-Brexit transition period could lead to a revival of paramilitary activity in Northern Ireland, an independent commission tasked with accompanying the end of such activity in the British province warned this week.
The Independent Reporting Commission (IRC), established jointly by the British and Irish governments, warns in its latest annual report that Brexit had the potential to strongly complicate the end of paramilitary activity in the province. It also noted increased tension with the approach of the end of the transition.
Brexit is a “highly emotive” issue that reawakens the “radioactive” questions of the “unrest” in Northern Ireland, the IRC said.
One of the issues at stake in the withdrawal of the UK from the EU on 31 January is the return to a physical border in Ireland, which could adversely affect a 1998 peace agreement, which ended three decades of violence between Catholic republicans, Protestant loyalists and the British army that claimed 3,500 lives.
According to the IRC, paramilitary groups are still a reality of Northern Irish life in 2020 and they still have thousands of members. In April 2019, journalist Lyra McKee was shot dead during clashes in Londonderry between the New IRA dissident group and security forces.
The Brexit agreement includes special arrangements to preserve peace on the island, but London recently introduced a controversial bill in parliament enabling it to bypass some of the agreement’s provisions.
The two sides are currently in the final stretch of negotiations aimed at achieving agreement on future trade ties.
In the meantime, Northern Ireland’s loyalists fear that future customs controls that will apply when goods arrive in the British province from the rest of the United Kingdom, might create a maritime border, thus favouring economic union with the Republic of Ireland and, eventually, unification of the island.
In October, a British parliamentary commission also warned that the least bit of infrastructure installed following Brexit at the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland would create a risk of violence and be a target for dissident republicans.