For people familiar with the coded language of British unionism in Ireland there is no denying the subliminal threat behind Arlene Foster’s warning that the Democratic Unionist Party was laying down a “blood red line” beyond which it would not permit the United Kingdom to go in its Brexit negotiations with the European Union. The comment was no jokey off the cuff remark but a deliberate reference, a harking back to the era of the infamous Ulster Covenant and the spectacle of Ulstermen supposedly pledging their opposition in blood to any form of Irish autonomy within the UK (however tenuous or limited that may have been back in the second decade of the 20th century).
For a party which campaigned against the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, the peace accords which ended thirty years of war in Britain’s legacy colony on the island of Ireland, and which has long sought to return the disputed region to its segregationist antebellum state, the UK’s decision to withdrawal from the EU is a dream come true. Indeed, it’s a fools dream that the DUP and its backbench Conservative Party allies in London have laboured to make a reality since the 1980s.
This political manoeuvring leaves the Six Counties in the second decade of the 21st century in much the same state as it was one hundred years ago, once again on the cusp of a crisis which has the potential to become a catastrophe. The oft repeated claim by seasoned observers and reporters of the Irish-British Troubles of 1966-2005, that there can be no revival of the conflict of old, is beginning to sound rather hollow. Those commentators are strongly advised to reread the history of Britain’s misadventures in Ireland and the inevitable consequences of London playing the Ulster Card.
We might not return to the kind of troubles we suffered up to the early 2000s – but if Brexit imposes a hard border around the north-east of the country, or between this country and its truculent neighbour to the east, trouble we will know. One way or another.