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What Parliament Suspension Means For Ireland


British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's suspension of Parliament next month means less time for debate on exactly how the U.K. will sever relations with the European Union under Brexit. That raises the already intense pressure on the Republic of Ireland, which is a member of the EU, and its neighbor Northern Ireland, which is a province of the U.K. and thus under Brexit would not be part of Europe, got it? It's complicated, and all of this would make things more complicated for the border that separates the two. That border has become a sticking point in Brexit negotiations. So

to help us understand this moment from the Irish perspective we've called upon Hugh O'Connell, he's a political reporter at The Irish Independent, and he joins us from Dublin on Skype. Thanks so much for being with us.

HUGH O'CONNELL: Good morning.

MARTIN: What has just been the reaction in the Republic of Ireland to Boris Johnson's move to suspend Parliament?

O'CONNELL: Well, there's a feeling that this move heightens the likelihood of a no-deal Brexit on October the 31, and what that means - Britain leaving the European Union without a formal withdrawal deal - is chaos, potentially, or quite possibly, or more than likely, in fact - because there are a whole set of rules and regulations that exist in the European Union that allow for a porous, free, seamless border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

And the U.K. coming out of the European Union with Northern Ireland in tow - even though the majority of people in Northern Ireland actually voted to remain in the European Union three years ago - would create the sort of circumstances whereby there might be a return to what we call the border of the past; which was a border full of infrastructure, full of army checkpoints, full of delays for people travelling back-and-forth across that border, for nearly 30 years.

MARTIN: Right. This border represents the peace that was so hard-won after years of conflict.

O'CONNELL: A conflict that existed between the British rulers, I guess, in Northern Ireland, and nationalist Republicans, who wanted Northern Ireland to be part of the rest of Ireland, and wanted it to be free of British rule. That went on between 1969 and 1998. It was a very bloody conflict. Thousands of people died, and there was a very hard border between the North and the Republic. It was very difficult for people to get back-and-forth across it.

Now what exists is no border at all, really. People travel back-and-forth across the border every day to go to school, to go to work. And in terms of trade, there are millions of litres of milk that are moved across back-and-forth across the border every day. A cow that is milked in Northern Ireland, their milk will be processed in the Republic of Ireland. All that could change if the U.K. crashes out.

MARTIN: What's interesting - I just wanted to point out - you said that the voters in Northern Ireland actually did not vote as a whole to separate from the European Union.

O'CONNELL: That's correct. When you break down the regional vote of the U.K. to leave the European Union three years ago, you will see that the majority of voters in Northern Ireland actually voted to remain. And the majority of voters in Scotland, in fact, voted to remain, but...

MARTIN: Does that mean there is opposition to Boris Johnson in Northern Ireland?

O'CONNELL: Oh, absolutely, yes. But the important thing to note, is that Boris Johnson's government is underpinned by the Democratic Unionist Party, the only - or one of the only - parties in Northern Ireland that voted to - that actually campaigned for and voted for the U.K. to leave the European Union. But there is a lot of opposition to Boris Johnson from other parties, and in fact, the majority of the local representatives in Northern Ireland have voted or have called on the United Kingdom to sign up to a Brexit withdrawal bill.

MARTIN: Hugh O'Connell, political correspondent for The Irish Independent in Dublin. Thank you so much for your time, we appreciate it.

O'CONNELL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.