A heated disagreement over how to address the status of the Irish border was one of the major sticking points preventing British lawmakers from approving the Brexit deal presented to them earlier this year. With the United Kingdom granted an extension to pursue an exit plan that can pass muster both in the British Parliament and in the European Union, the border issue continues to bedevil.
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An Irish reporter died after being struck by a bullet fired during a riot in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, on the night of April 18, Reuters reported. The civil disturbance broke out in the Creggan area of Londonderry, also known as Derry, in response to a police operation to search for illegal weapons belonging to Irish dissidents. An angry crowd quickly gathered to throw rocks and Molotov cocktails at the police. Two civilian vehicles were also set on fire. An unidentified masked gunman fired a handgun in the direction of the police, with one shot fatally striking the journalist, who was standing nearby.
The Security Implications
While the death of 29-year-old journalist Lyra McKee is tragic, it doesn't reflect an increase in the capabilities of dissident militants in Northern Ireland. Civil disorder in heavily Catholic neighborhoods such as Creggan is not uncommon, especially leading up to and during important holidays. With Easter and the anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising drawing near, dissident republicans and those sympathetic to the republican cause are more likely to cause disturbances.
The incident illustrates how the persistent threat of political violence remains fairly well contained. Public disorder was restricted to the Creggan area, and other than McKee's death, damage was limited. Sectarian tensions in Northern Ireland continue to motivate low-level attacks and sporadic civil disorder. However, dissident republicans are extremely limited in terms of tradecraft, finance, logistics, and political support. Of the highly publicized incidents this year, the unrest in Creggan is the first to result in a fatality.
Sectarian tensions in Northern Ireland continue to motivate low-level attacks and sporadic civil disorder. However, political, financial, logistical support for dissident republicans is limited.
The Geopolitical Implications
The journalist's death comes at a time of debate over the future of Northern Ireland as the United Kingdom pursues its Brexit plan. A British departure from the European Union without an agreement on their future relationship could result in border controls between Northern Ireland, a constituent of the United Kingdom, and the Republic of Ireland, an EU member. In reaction to the death, the major Northern Irish political parties — from the nationalist and unionist sides alike — issued a joint statement of condemnation emphasizing the importance of continuing the peace process.
The imposition of a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland would disrupt the Good Friday Agreement that has for the most part brought decades of sectarian violence in the region to an end. That's why the imposition of Brexit without a plan for managing that border could directly threaten the peace. If anything, the McKee's death confirms the position taken by the Irish government and the European Union that keeping the Irish border open is an essential part of the Brexit process.