I have read a lot about this and the answer to my question seems to be that one is afraid that a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland will lead to a restart of "The Troubles" and violence between both factions.

Is that really realistic? The peace treaty is more than 20 years old, a whole generation has grown up without violence and especially Ireland has prospered during this period.

Is there really a good "hotbed", i.e., social and political circumstances, for new outbursts of violence on the island of Ireland today? In comparison, I have a hard time imagine a hard border somewhere around Alsace-Lorraine would cause violence between the French and the Germans.

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    You mentioned Alsace-Lorraine. Look back at 1871, 1914, 1940. A generation or more between those wars.
    – o.m.
    Mar 20, 2019 at 5:22
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    @o.m. But they weren't triggered by that. And there was no violence in the periods inbetween the wars.
    – d-b
    Mar 20, 2019 at 6:41
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    A whole generation may have grown up since the Good Friday Agreement, but two whole generations who grew up during the troubles are still alive.
    – Jontia
    Mar 20, 2019 at 9:44
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    "What is the "average-Joe" Eire citizen's opinion about this?" - Note that "Politics Stack Exchange is ... not a place to advance opinions or debate" Mar 20, 2019 at 10:00
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    @RedGrittyBrick Please read again. I was asking for results from polls or similar.
    – d-b
    Mar 20, 2019 at 10:29

5 Answers 5


A whole generation has grown up since the Good Friday Agreement.

No, two separate generations have grown up: one Catholic, one Protestant. They go to different schools, live in different places and try to avoid mixing as much as possible. Talking to my friends in Northern Ireland, the divide is as wide as ever and they expect bloodshed if a hard border is imposed. There are still bombs going off in Northern Ireland though not on the same scale as in the past.

The opinion among residents (and UNESCO) is that the communities are still very far apart and that a hard border would lead to violence.

It's nice to think that time heals all wounds, but in many cases this is not true. The roots of the 'Troubles' go back hundreds of years, a twenty year hiatus is not the same as a permanent change.


Beyond the threat of violence, there is also a severe risk of the UK breaking up. The laws governing Northern Ireland require that if there appears to be enough support for reunification with Ireland a "border poll" should be held, i.e. a referendum on Northern Ireland leaving the UK and becoming part of the Republic of Ireland.

Given that Northern Ireland rejected Brexit by a wide margin in the 2016 referendum and there was already significant support for reunification, in the event of no-deal and/or a hard border a border poll becomes much more likely. The UK government, or more specifically the Tory Party and Theresa May, does not want to be responsible for breaking up the UK.

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    Given that Northern Ireland rejected brexit by a wide margin in the 2016 referendum actually according to coloured maps of the brexit vote, some regions of northern Ireland voted majority for brexit. So the northern ireland seems very split on this question.
    – Bregalad
    Mar 20, 2019 at 15:16
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    @Bregalad it makes sense to look at NI as a whole because the current law only allows for the whole of NI to rejoin Ireland or not. I suppose in theory the border could be moved but no-one is suggesting that as an option.
    – user
    Mar 20, 2019 at 15:26
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    The last attempt to partition Ireland to solve a disagreement is how it got into this mess in the first place.
    – pjc50
    Mar 20, 2019 at 16:53
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    @Bregalad you misunderstand. Since any border poll would consider the fate of the whole of NI, it makes sense to look at the overall vote for the whole of NI. The option to split NI differently is not currently on offer or possible by any legal instrument.
    – user
    Mar 20, 2019 at 17:07
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    @user @Bregalad wide margin is an unlucky term to use in this discussion. Yes, NI voted 44% leave 55% remain, which is a wide margin statistically. But it is "only" five remain voters for every four leave voters. You must not read anything else but a single democratic decision from that. Wide margin means you tend to derive other assessments from the result and it simply does not support that. Mar 20, 2019 at 20:46

It definitely is a reasonable fear for the UK and its people to hold.

Firstly it is still a tense situation with shops and houses being built to close to the "border" being shot at and parties like the Sinn Fein being entirely focused around that sovereignty as their purpose. The troubles were a major part of Irish history and violence like that doesn't fade fast, look at Israel-Palestine borders they are old but any interaction or policy to change them holds vast consequences.

Beyond the fear of violence, even politically it's dangerous. A nation gains its sovereignty from its borders. To mess with those is to mess with the countries independence which is the main cause of problems inside the UK and brexit itself.


20 years is nothing. People who where young adults then still have more the decade to go before hitting retirement age. The Troubles are very much still in living memory.

And while there is a peace agreement, it doesn't mean all is forgotten and forgiven. I've friends from Northern Ireland who are deeply concerned about the well being of their young nephew. The reason? His name could be seen as a name from "the other religion" and they fear that won't be acceptable by members of their own religion.

I wanted to say "come back in 200 years", but this is Europe, we tend to get upset about things which happened a long time ago. Try again in 2000 years.

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    @d-b The people of Ireland are no more unforgiving than anyone else, conflicts last for generations in many places. Also, this is Northern Ireland (not Eire). The two communities feel very threatened, the Protestant/unionist community feel threatend by the prospect of being subsumed into a mostly Catholic and republican Eire, the Catholic/republican community is in the minority in the north and was discriminated against for years and fear a return to this. The Troubles started when the minority Catholics started civil rights protests and the Unionist authorities reacted badly to it Mar 20, 2019 at 15:19
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    @EricNolan France hangs on to a significant part of Germany, Poland hangs on to a significant of Germany. Germany has accepted that. Eire lost/didn't defeat Britain, therefore Ulster is British. Why does some people in Eire not accept that fact, like the Germans have done (And Austrians and Finnish to name a few others who have lost territory during the 20th century but accept that. Finland is particulary interesting/comparable - Russia invaded them completely unprovoked, with the explicit purpose to steal land.)
    – d-b
    Mar 20, 2019 at 16:03
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    @d-b I refer the honorable gentleman to my previous answer politics.stackexchange.com/questions/34511/…
    – pjc50
    Mar 20, 2019 at 16:13
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    @d-b There was no war between Eire and the UK. The Troubles were a sectarian conflict within Northern Ireland. pjc50's linked answer explains the situation very well Mar 20, 2019 at 16:50
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    @DaveGremlin Don't you think this is a little over simplifying things? Yes, neither country ever declared war on the other but one may argue that this is merely because Ireland didn't have time to establish itself as a country 100 years ago, let alone be recognised by the UK as such. Also, it was the British that brought and virtually imposed their belief on the island. At that time it was already the church of ENGLAND, so there has always been quite the tie between belief, country, monarch and conqueror. Mar 20, 2019 at 21:11

The political situation in Northern Ireland has reached a low point this decade with the Stormont deadlock:

[Northern Ireland] has been without an executive since January 2017, when the governing parties - the DUP and Sinn Féin - split in a bitter row.

Northern Ireland's biggest political crisis for more than a decade has left Stormont in limbo. [...]

Take the big sticking point of Sinn Féin's demand for legislation to give official status to the Irish language in Northern Ireland.

It's true that other countries with deep divisions like Belgium have had similar deadlocks, one lasting 541 days, yet no violence broke out. But clearly the situation in Northern Ireland is not just a case of "up-and-up", and I would argue that the breakdown of the power-sharing scheme is a bad omen because it may entail return of more direct rule from Westminster, which was one of the rallying points of nationalists (to fight against). In the words of Sinn Fein vice-president, Michelle O'Neil (19 March 2019)

"The British Government and Michael Gove, a long-term opponent of the Good Friday Agreement, are playing to the unionist demand for unrestrained British direct rule.

"I cannot overstate the grave implications if the British Government follows through on these threats."

I can't think of party with [former] ties to paramilitary forces threatening "grave implications" not being taken as likelihood of a return to some kind of violence.

Sinn Féin still does not send MPs to Westminster because they don't want to swear the vote of allegiance to the Queen. (This is quite unlike what happens in Belgium, i.e. the political rift in Northern Ireland is deeper; at least in Belgium they're no longer arguing about the official status of their languages, as far as I can tell.)

Furthermore, the last border post between the Republic and Northern Ireland was dismantled only in 2006; that's not long ago.

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