Weekly Geopolitical Report – The Irish Question: Part II (March 4, 2019)

by Bill O’Grady

Last week, we examined the geopolitics of Britain and offered an abbreviated history of Irish/British relations.  This week, we will begin by analyzing the Good Friday Agreement, followed by an analysis of Brexit regarding the Irish question.  As always, we will conclude with market ramifications.

The Good Friday Agreement
By the late 1990s, conditions that had led to British colonization of Ireland and the need to maintain some degree of control there had changed.  Britain was no longer a major imperial power and had become a member of the European Union and NATO.  In fact, like the rest of the EU, it was outsourcing its defense to the U.S.  U.K. access to sea lanes had little to do with the power of the Royal Navy; instead, it was dependent on global and regional trade agreements and the U.S. Navy.  Thus, securing its western coast was no longer an imperative.

The three-decade guerilla conflict in Northern Ireland had become a drain on resources.  No longer was Northern Ireland a major industrial center.  Instead, it was a place that required constant support.  At the same time, the long war had steadily undermined the idea among Irish Republicans that unification could occur by force.

Out of these two realizations came the Good Friday Agreement.  There are five key elements to the agreement:

  1. The Status of Northern Ireland was acknowledged. The agreement begins with the claim that the majority of people in Northern Ireland wished to remain part of the U.K.  It also acknowledged that a substantial minority in Northern Ireland and the majority of those in Ireland supported unification.
  2. The Irish Constitution was amended to accept that Northern Ireland was part of the U.K. K. laws were amended to support unification.
  3. Both sides agreed that, at some unspecified point in the future, a referendum on the border would be held. If the majority in Northern Ireland agree on unification then both sides would honor the results of that vote.
  4. Citizens of Northern Ireland could carry passports from both the U.K. and Ireland.
  5. Paramilitary groups on both sides would be disarmed and decommissioned.

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