As many people are still arguing that we need to leave the EU and control our borders, despite the last three years of failure to come up with a credible solution, today gives us an opportunity to celebrate the success and positive impact of breaking down the border between Northern Ireland and Eire. The Good Friday agreement took place 20 years ago today and thankfully it is still intact despite the risk of its collapse following the border demands set out by a number of campaigners in the debates around the proposal for us to leave the EU. Last night I was at a meeting which focused in part on homelessness in Sussex and it was clear that in some places there is a willingness to try to reduce the impact of border issues, but this willingness can get crushed by people campaigning to protect their own area from services and features they don’t wish to possess, even though there are people in their communities who need these services. Not all borders are geographical. A theme which emerged was how some charities and social enterprises which are very well meaning and one or two that wish to raise their own profile, are failing to carry out sufficient research before they begin to try to help people whose behaviour implies they need it. However in reality there is already help going on behind the scenes and the new types of help risk making things far worse in the long run. Often preventing the people that everyone is trying to assist, from taking the steps needed for them to find a long term solution to their circumstances. Tragically there are also politicians who are prepared to take these cases onboard as they seek to win votes or popularity and whose promotion of the superficial over the long term risks preventing us from ever solving the big challenges.
It seems vital that as we can celebrate 20 years of relative peace and a reduction in tension in Ireland on both sides of the border between two parts of one piece of land, that we also consider how we can improve matters between ourselves and our neighbouring nations. As the news reports emerge from 1999 today, there are also a few bits of news arising that alert us to the possible state visit of Trump on 6th June as we celebrate 75 years since D Day. In those days our collaboration between nations was equally immense even though Germany was one of the problems in those days and Russia appeared to be one of the solutions. Inevitably changes do take place over such a long time, but just as it is vital to prevent hard borders between two parts of Ireland, so we need to end the arguments about defending our borders or the risk is we will end up with conflict rather than peace. However such an approach does need politicians to step up from the easy superficial solutions and start focusing on the long terms ones, even though they take a lot longer and demand a great deal more investment of time and energy. Any trade deal with America will cost us some sovereignty and some border controls and no doubt a lot of other features. To argue we should be isolated from the USA is clearly nonsensical but then so to is the idea we should be isolated from the EU or that Ireland should be split in two. Let us hope that those who seek a deal with the USA are as willing to argue the strength of our EU deals as they are to challenge the USA’s approach to borders and indeed to fighting in other parts of the world!