Reinstating a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland following the referendum outcome, that is, the UK’s decision to leave not only the European Union but also the single market and the customs union, “would do great harm” to the delicate peace and reconciliation process and might fuel violence among communities. “A Hard Border would do Great Harm” is the title of the message that the 25 General Secretaries of the Justice and Peace (J&P) Commissions addressed to the EU at the end of their annual meeting in Northern Ireland (9-11 February). During the meeting, the General Secretaries had talks with peace activists, church leaders and politicians on the potential impact that Brexit might have on the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, which was one of the major developments in the peace process in Northern Ireland. The message, in particular, refers to the address by former Belfast Mayor and Member of the Northern Irish Assembly, Alban Maginness, who explained to the J&P General Secretaries the relevance of the milestone Good Friday Agreement of 1998 for the Northern Irish Peace process. The Agreement sets out provisions for the status of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom, relations between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland and relations between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. “Inspired in itself by the European integration process, it was conceived of on the basis of both the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom being members of the European Union. Thus, with Brexit – the General Secretaries wrote in their message -, it risks losing its foundations. The return of a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland would be especially damaging for the economy and for political stability in Northern Ireland. Such an outcome would in fact present a serious risk for peace and reconciliation and might again heighten the level of violence among communities. A precise, clear and unambiguous solution to avoid a hard border is therefore needed”. At the end of the meeting, J&P Secretaries agreed to convey this message to their national and European political leadership.
The “Justice and Peace Europe” network is composed of more than thirty national commissions. Archbishop Jean-Claude Hollerich from Luxembourg is currently president of the network. Its mission is to engage in public debate on matters relating to social justice, peace building and the protection of the environment.