When is the use of violence legitimate, and how much violence can be used? Unless you’re an absolutist pacifist, it is likely that you believe violence can be legitimate. For instance, in cases of self-defence, criminal arrests or the protection of loved ones, you might think a measure of physical force is acceptable, even necessary. Indeed, society functions perfectly well with such exceptions to the prohibition on violence.
Now, what would you do if you had to show your passport in order to cross a border? Would violence be acceptable to prevent this? Never mind that we often show ID to rent a car, buy a drink or enter a club, let’s assume that this awful experience of showing your passport would be a unique event in your life, one caused solely by the politicians erecting a barrier where one had not been before.
In such a circumstance, would you think it a fair and reasonable response to engage in bombings, shootings, kidnappings and other acts of violence, directed against either the border officials, local police or civilians? I would like to say that only the true psychopath would answer “Yes,” yet it seems that the above scenario is not only expected to happen in Northern Ireland, it is also considered a legitimate response to border controls, and the government is intent on avoiding it through pure appeasement.
In 2021, Northern Ireland continues to be one of the battlegrounds of the post-Brexit bickering between Britain, the EU, and the Republic of Ireland. After several failed negotiations and government changes, it was decided that the effective border between the EU (which the Republic of Ireland is a part of) and the UK would be the Irish Sea, rather than along the historical Northern Ireland border with the Republic. This has had predictable consequences for trade between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK; however, the problems are not large enough for the UK to stop pretending that their border is in the sea, as opposed to its actual location in Ireland.
The reason is rather simple — it’s the terrorism, stupid. Two facts are currently being accepted as both immutable and reasonable in British public life today. First, if the EU border is placed in the Irish Sea, it will cause inconveniences but not a wave of terrorism. Second, if the EU border is placed where we would expect the border to be (on the UK-Ireland border), there will be a wave of terrorism. The Irish Sea border is nothing less than a capitulation to terrorism.
Never let anyone tell you that terrorism doesn’t work, and not just in Ireland. Terrorist campaigns often elicit concessions from governments, particularly when the terrorists can specify an injustice as a root cause, thereby attracting a measure of sympathy. By framing violence as an act of desperation, a final protest against some genuine oppression, many terrorist groups have won respectability as freedom fighters, then entered into a political process. The IRA and other related terrorist groups followed this path.
Here I concede that many Irishmen had a cause with which to justify at least some of their brutality, yet I cannot help but feel the latest border disputes have uncovered perhaps the greatest and most baffling victory in the history of Irish terrorism. Consider the following headline:
“Brexit has Threatened the Peace in Northern Ireland”
This headline makes the uncontested claim that Brexit will destabilise the peace, as opposed to the actual terrorists who will place bombs and shoot people rather than show ID. Large numbers of journalists, government officials and academics are operating on the assumption that mass murder is not only inevitable if passport control is introduced, but it is also perfectly natural. Consider the archetypical statement by Queens University’s Dr Katy Hayward, who says that introducing customs technology on the currently invisible Irish border is “dangerous on all sorts of terms.”
Dangerous, yes, but dangerous why? Why is this same danger not present on the border of Switzerland and Germany? Could it be that simple evils are being legitimised by lazy reasoning, political cowardice or complacency, and a distorted view of what the Northern Ireland insurgency was actually about? In 2017, when one of Britain’s top policemen told the UK government that there had been 58 shootings and 32 bombings related to Irish sectarianism that year, the figures were used as rhetorical ammunition to fight against an EU-Northern Ireland border, despite the fact that message was rather dark. “We think Britain should do what the terrorists say,” was the coded message.
Naturally, the EU has taken the moral high ground and presented its desire for an Irish Sea border as a quest for peace, rather than a concession to irrational murderers. For the EU, this is perfectly consistent, as its advocates have often claimed that Europe will descend into utter barbarism without its precious EU parliament. Five years ago, I wroteabout David Cameron using the spectre of war to argue against Brexit, as if the French are just waiting for Britain to leave the EU so they can cross the Channel in force and do what Napoleon could not. Likewise, I wrote about Angela Merkel’s hysterical claims that Greece could not be allowed to default on its creditors or leave the EU because this too would result in a war, even though Greek debt was around 0.3 per cent of the EU’s GDP. Fears of violence, it seems, drive a good deal of EU wrangling.
But just as I am sceptical that it is solely the EU preventing a civilisational collapse in Europe, so too am I sceptical that basing Northern Ireland peace on the existence or non-existence of passport control is a good idea. Does anyone believe that having almost an entire society’s school children segregated by their religion is a good thing? Does anyone think that a country that is rapidly enforcing COVID check-ins just to walk in and out of buildings cannot deal with a passport office? Does anyone actually believe that the people threatening to murder you at the border are people who should be appeased?
Irrespective of whether or not a so-called “hard border” in Ireland is a good idea, the politicians should at least be honest. They should admit their policy is one of fear and appeasement. The fuss over the Irish border is purely about satisfying terrorists, nothing more, and the British political class should be open about that. That way, the people can judge the wisdom of such compromises, and perhaps they will be less surprised when enemies of peace ask for more than they have received.