The Atlantic

The ‘Messy and Angry’ Prospect of Ireland Reunifying

Changing demographics and sentiment signal that the possibility of a reunion is increasing. Yet few are prepared for what that means.
Source: Clodagh Kilcoyne / Reuters

DUBLIN—Few people were talking about Irish reunification in the spring of 2016: Most assumed that the Good Friday Agreement had put the issue on ice for the foreseeable future. Northern Ireland’s mainly Protestant pro-British majority and the Catholic minority, which traditionally favored reuniting with the Republic of Ireland, had been living in peace after decades of sectarian violence. Where was the urgent need for such a drastic change?

Then the unforeseen happened. The United Kingdom voted narrowly to leave the European Union. Suddenly, Northern Ireland—which, as part of the U.K., had voted to remain in the EU—was to be taken out of the bloc; the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, an EU member state, would once again be a tangible barrier to movement and trade after a protracted period of near-invisibility. Warnings proliferated of the consequences—economic, security, political—of separating the two sides of the island of Ireland. Chief among these was the risk that the border would again be a flashpoint for conflict, a resumption of the

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