Bomb in Northern Ireland Reminds Brexit Players What’s at Stake

(Bloomberg) -- For some, Saturday’s car bomb in Northern Ireland is a reminder of the region’s delicate peace -- and the stakes at play in the Brexit deadlock.

The explosion took place in a city so synonymous with conflict that even its name is divisive -- Irish nationalists, who tend to be Catholic, call it Derry, unionists, usually Protestants, refer to it as Londonderry.

““The past two years have been difficult in terms of the huge uncertainty posed by Brexit,” said Maeve Connolly, 50, a teacher. “The bomb on Saturday shows us that there are still dangers to our peace process out there.”

Such attacks were routine during the decades of Northern Irish violence that largely ended with the Good Friday agreement. About 35 miles (56 kilometers) away, in Omagh, a car bomb killed 29 people in 1998, the worst attack of the so-called Troubles. This time, no one was hurt. Yet, the bomb may stiffen the resolve of any of Ireland’s EU partners growing nervous that the backstop, designed to avoid the return of a hard border, could force the U.K. to crash out of the bloc.

Opponents of the backstop have yet to come up with “any other suggestions that would avoid a hard border and most importantly, given what we’ve seen over the weekend, protect a peace process that is so fragile,” Irish Europe Minister Helen McEntee said in an RTE interview on Monday.

Bomb in Northern Ireland Reminds Brexit Players What’s at Stake

The walled city has been inextricably linked with the conflict, since “Bloody Sunday” in 1972 when British troops shot dead 13 unarmed civilians. It’s also closely bound to the EU, with about 78 percent of voters backing “remain” in the 2016 referendum.

All over the city, European money is apparent, with the bloc mostly paying for a pedestrian bridge linking the mostly Protestant Waterside to the rest of the town, for example. Two weeks before the referendum, former U.K. prime ministers Tony Blair and John Major walked across it together as part of the doomed “Remain” campaign.

“No one wants to see a return to violence and it is a grim reminder that the peace process is still a fragile thing, ” said Brenda Stevenson, 51, a speech and language therapist. “Brexit has been very divisive politically but everyone here is resolute that we will not turn the clock back to the dark days of our past.”

No Surge

It’s probably too simplistic to draw easy conclusions about Brexit’s impact on the peace process so far. Despite ongoing tensions in Northern Ireland, there seems little prospect of the widespread conflict that claimed 3,500 lives erupting again.

“We shouldn’t try to explain away the actions of evil men,” said Jeffrey Donaldson, of the Democratic Unionist Party, adding there’s no “political justification” for such attacks.

In the year through April, two security related deaths were recorded, three fewer than occurred during the previous year, the region’s police service said. The past year saw shootings drop to 50, the second-lowest number of shootings in the past decade.

Those who planted the bomb “have no regard for human life, ” Connolly, the teacher, said.

“We can be certain however that they do not speak for the people of Derry, ” she said.

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