We didn’t need the Good Friday Agreement to tell us we were Irish or British. We already knew.
We needed it to set out the constitutional arrangements and ensure protections that had not been available to the Irish population living in the Six Counties since partition and to make a promise for a time of change.
So the Agreement says under “Constitutional Issues” 1.(vi) “recognise the birthright of all the people of Northern Ireland to identify themselves and be accepted as Irish or British, or both, as they may so choose, and accordingly confirm that their right to hold both British and Irish citizenship is accepted by both Governments and would not be affected by any future change in the status of Northern Ireland.”
“Would not be affected by any future change in the status of Northern Ireland”. In 1998 we all read that as meaning British citizens would be protected in the event of a majority voting for a reunified Ireland. None of us imagined the scenario weare now in. That Irish citizens would be re-annexed into a dystopian nightmare of living in their own country with their rights withdrawn, despite the majority in the north voting to keep things the way they are. The nightmare that has everyone saying they want to uphold the Agreement and yet it dangles in danger of dissolution like a co-codamol over a glass of water on a Monday morning.
Dublin is focusing on the Customs Union and the Single Market and the associated backstop but they are not focusing on the day to day rights of citizens. Unquestionably economicborder regulations are vitally important. But the promise of the Good Friday Agreement was never about EU regulatory alignment for import of livestock. It was about the bit in 1. (iv)
“full respect for, and equality of, civil, political, social and cultural rights, of freedom from discrimination for all citizens, and of parity of esteem and of just and equal treatment for the identity, ethos, and aspirations of both communities”. The end of the nationalist nightmare.
The erosion of the Good Friday Agreement began long before the Brexit vote. Irish citizenship in the North was being treated with contempt by the DUP with every promotion of “NI” while simultaneously denigrating Irishness. The fulfilment of civil, political, social and cultural rights wereand are now the subject of “negotiation” or “red lines” instead of straight forward delivery.
Brexit has just brought it all into sharp relief. Because now not only will we be potentially second class in this part of our own land, we may also have no rights in any of the 32 counties of our land. A situation that even on their worst day Collins and Griffith did not imagine as they betrayed Irish nationalism living in the North with the stroke of a Downing Street pen.
Our rights as EU citizens are subject to a deal between the Tory Party and the DUP. Our rights as Irish citizens should be subject to legislation in Leinster House. Who will ensure we are protected with Bills of Citizenship through those chambers? Wringing of hands in April will be no good to us.
The 21st anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement should mark its renewal and resilience. Much of that will depend on the actions of Dublin in the coming months.