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It's morally reprehensible for Brexiteers to ignore how their vote will affect Ireland

Declan McSweeney has strong words for Christians in England who voted for Brexit. This is one of many opinion pieces which Premier Christianity are publishing on the subject of Brexit. For other views please see the blog

At the core of the Christian moral code is the precept to "Love your neighbour as yourself". 

One would expect, therefore, that English Christians would consider the welfare of people in both parts of Ireland when it comes to Brexit, yet this consideration has been sorely absent from the entire debate.

I have heard many stories of preachers in 2016 urging Christians to support Brexit in the belief that somehow it will make Britain a Christian land again, as if the EU was somehow to blame for falling church attendances or for Sunday trading or the liberalization of laws on abortion or homosexuality. 

I have seen claims that the Brexit vote was the work of the Holy Spirit and an answer to prayer. One church leader went so far as to claim that Brexit was "God's view". Yet what is strikingly absent from English Christians' minds is the effect of their actions on the economies of both parts of Ireland as well as on the peace process.

When I've challenged people on this, I've heard a wide range of responses. Some dismiss it as being "over there" (an attitude hardly compatible with loving your neighbour). There seems to be no awareness of the over 3,000 lives lost in the Troubles in Northern Ireland. To the extent that there is, it is seen as something in the past, but English Christians do not grasp the scale of communal divisions still existing in Northern Ireland. Simple things such as mayors sending Christmas cards with greetings in Irish as well as English can arouse a storm of protest.

English Christians seem totally uninterested in the dangers posed by the re-emergence of any physical infrastructure on the border, which has the potential to be the target of bombing attacks by dissident republicans who reject the Good Friday Agreement, and thus potentially leading to loss of life. This is despite the fact that former Prime Ministers John Major and Tony Blair highlighted these very difficulties back in 2016, yet we still have people saying they never imagined the border would be such a key issue.

Insofar as Ireland was given any thought in 2016, it was assumed that the Republic would leave alongside the UK, without any evidence to back this up. On the contrary, most recent polls find over 90% of the Republic's population want to stay in the EU, valuing the very things which were seen as a problem in the Brexit vote. 

English Christians seem to forget that Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom - as Margaret Thatcher put it, "as British as Finchley" - yet it is also as Irish as Dublin or Cork. This is the paradox which formed the basis of the Good Friday Agreement.

English Christians do not grasp the scale of communal divisions still existing in Northern Ireland

Apart from the border issue, the impact of a no deal Brexit on the Republic of Ireland's economy, which thrives on being able to export without duties as far as the Poland/Ukraine border, is utterly ignored by English Christian Brexiteers. I really wonder why they want to put Irish people out of jobs - so much for "Love your neighbour as yourself."

Insofar as they pay any heed to Northern Ireland, it is to back the DUP, which has long had an anti-EU philosophy. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that much of this is because most EU states have Catholic or Orthodox majorities (among those who have a religious affiliation in the first place).

Until 2017, few in England were even aware of the DUP's existence, but now it is treated as if it was the only political party in Northern Ireland. Its apologists focus only on its stance on abortion and same-sex marriage, but ignore the party's long history of fostering sectarian hate against the Catholic population of Northern Ireland. If someone was to express sympathy for Hamas, they would be seen as anti-Semitic, or if they praised comments by someone from the BNP they would be seen as anti-black, so it is shocking to see the deafening silence of English evangelicals regarding the DUP's long history of anti-Catholicism. Yet these are the same people who are so quick to call on Muslim leaders to do more to condemn Islamic extremists.

The enormous progress made in the last 21 years in relations between Britain and Ireland, epitomised by the visit of Queen Elizabeth to the Republic in 2011 and that of President Michael D Higgins to Britain three years later (the first state visit by any Irish president) must not be put at risk just because some English Christians are unhappy at seeing Polish workers in their local supermarket.

There are exceptions to all this. The Justice and Peace Commission of the Liverpool Catholic archdiocese urged voters in 2016 to consider the effect on Ireland (Liverpool voted solidly Remain) but sadly, this was not reflected among English evangelicals to any great degree.

I would certainly support Bertie Ahern's call for the teaching of Irish history to be compulsory in British schools. It is shocking to see how so many British are unwilling to reciprocate the efforts made in Ireland down the years to move away from hard-line nationalism towards an accommodation of the unionist identity, as exemplified by the 1998 vote for the Good Friday Agreement, in which the Republic renounced its claim to Northern Ireland, while retaining the aspiration to unity.

Declan McSweeney is an Irishman who has lived in England for many years. He worked as a journalist in Ireland for over 18 years with the Offaly Express, one of many Irish newspapers which closed in the recession, and has also worked in London for Romford Recorder and as a subeditor with Associated Press. 

This is one of many opinion pieces which Premier Christianity are publishing on the subject of Brexit. For other views please see the blog

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