Opinion

Paul McNamee: Ignore key issues and they'll bite us on the Brexit

Only by understanding, by reading, by asking questions, by listening and learning, can we hope to understand

have some sympathy with Karen Bradley, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. She admitted last week that she knew pretty much nothing about the place before she took the job.

The tribal nature of voting was just one of the things that was news to her. While surprising, at least she was honest.

The admission brought the standard level of opprobrium. How dare she take such a position! Why hadn’t she studied the mass of material that is out there, developing a key and learned understanding of this most complex puzzle?!

I am from Northern Ireland. I grew up in it, steeped in it, informed by the dark mood music of the Troubles and the ever-present tinnitus of hatred. And I struggle with some of the layers.

There is a new film drama coming soon about the potato famine. The famine started in 1845. To the Irish, it’s still a fresh, weeping sore.

The English refusal to help still grates. For others, the arrival of the Normans in 1169 still annoys.

Memories are centuries long. There is no easy way to learn this stuff.

That’s not to say Bradley should be totally let off the hook. But her appointment says more about the thin bench of available senior government ministers than anything else. It also says something of the way Northern Ireland is viewed.

It’s a mess. And the portfolio looking after that mess (elected Stormont ministers have refused to self-govern for 20 months, no capital projects can get the go-ahead, the wheels are at a halt) cannot be one that anybody really wants.

I write this knowing that most people reading aren’t from Northern Ireland and that the shabby, ongoing squabbles are, for the majority, best dealt with out of sight, out of mind.

But, you know, Brexit. BREXIT. The 310-mile long border between Northern Ireland the Republic of Ireland is the magic thread, the shadowline, the place of no and all resistance.

Of course it’s a bit of a bore, but there has to be some understanding of what is going on in Ireland, north and south, in order to understand the real problem that NOT dealing with
it presents.

The harder thing is to dig deep. But it’s the only way to go. Isn’t that right Karen?

Political bluster and a couple of phrases in Latin will not sort it. Trying to understand why free movement of people across that invisible line is hardwired into the consciousness must be understood. The future of the UK and EU is, incredibly, interlaced into that borderline.

This goes beyond Karen Bradley and it goes beyond Brexit too. Only by understanding, by reading, by asking questions, by listening and learning, can we hope to understand.

Following bluster that echoes our own point of view gets us nowhere. The harder thing is to dig deep. But it’s the only way to go. Isn’t that right Karen?

Image: Flickr/Department for Digital Culture Media and Sport

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