Northern Ireland defied the UK majority in the Brexit referendum by electing to ‘remain’ in the European Union, immediately sparking questions about its constitutional future as a member of the United Kingdom. Republican politicians began whipping up the grassroots, and as the possibility of customs posts along the Irish border became increasingly realistic, officials feared events were slowly creating the conditions for a return to violence in Northern Ireland.
Since July 2018, a group of militant republicans calling themselves the New IRA (Irish Republican Army) have unleashed a string of high-profile terrorist attacks eerily reminiscent of Troubles-era violence. For officials and pundits outside of Northern Ireland, it appeared that Brexit had indeed initiated a chain of events spurring a new generation of militant republicans to use force of arms to achieve the elusive united Irish Republic.
But underneath the surface lies a far more complex reality. Working class communities suffer from a range of socioeconomic challenges. Across the United Kingdom, urban poverty is highest in Northern Ireland’s cities—especially among male youth—and drug suppliers feeding off of widespread post-conflict trauma have become entrenched mainstays. These are the issues that have given cause to this new generation of militant republicans.
Brexit has gifted them a political purpose, but the issues that have fueled their re-emergence are deeper, more pervasive, and ought to spark serious questions in London, Dublin, and beyond about life in Northern Ireland.