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Northern Ireland turns 100 amid renewed worries tied to Brexit

Laura King, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

Northern Ireland was created 100 years ago Monday, but the day passed with little fanfare.

Part of the reason for low-key commemorations was the coronavirus, with disease precautions putting a damper on large gatherings. But part of the reason was that few were certain of what exactly to celebrate.

The six counties that make up the island’s northeast quadrant are certainly far more peaceful now than during “the Troubles,” some three decades of violent sectarian conflict that largely ended in the late 1990s. But now a big new question mark hangs over the future of Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom.

Brexit — Britain’s exit from the European Union, finalized in January — took Northern Ireland out of the bloc as well. However, it left behind a host of questions about how to demarcate where the EU leaves off and the U.K. begins, a highly charged question on both sides of the sectarian divide.

And the past is never far behind. A bout of street violence in Northern Ireland’s capital, Belfast, in late March and April, though brief, stirred memories of the bloody events of decades past, and illustrated the simmering tensions that remain today.

On Monday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Queen Elizabeth II both used the same phrase — “complex history” — to commemorate Northern Ireland’s creation. While Johnson is a political leader known for hyperbole and Elizabeth is a monarch famous for understatement, both were right about that: It’s complicated.

 

Johnson acknowledged it was not a particularly unifying occasion.

“People from all parts of Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, the United Kingdom and across the globe will approach this anniversary in different ways, with differing perspectives,” he said.

The queen, for her part, expressed hopes for “reconciliation, equality and mutual understanding.”

Here is some background about the province that the partition of Ireland brought into being, and what might lie ahead for it:

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