So it looks like one of the world’s most significant political and trade borders is going to be drawn across the leafy lanes and modern motorways that join the two parts of Ireland. At present you are able to move back and forth without noticing apart from being careful about speed limits, and having some “foreign money” in your pocket. (And no you can’t drive at 120 mph on our motorways! And ok they will not take your Sterling coins at the M1 toll-booth but try getting them to take Northern Ireland notes in a Turkish fruit shop in North London! I have – they don’t!)
But if the big powers have their way, instead of seamless transit we’re going to be looking at signs saying you are entering/leaving the European Union/United Kingdom. And no one yet knows what barriers, borders and checks will accompany those signs.
It is a situation most people on the island did not wish for. A majority in Northern Ireland voted against it and probably a much larger majority in the Republic of Ireland would have voted against it had they been given a chance. But larger institutions make the decisions and once again Ireland is an “anomaly,” a little problem on the edge of Europe, a difficulty those institutions probably don’t want reminding of as they face “bigger” challenges.
In business these days, which side of the border your suppliers are on matters not at all; “can they do the job well for a good price,” is what you ask. And in working with church bodies and voluntary organisations I find the current border is about as significant as it is on the roads. It matters less and less. And that’s not just my experience. There is a wealth of other spheres where increasing all-island collaboration is the norm.
These relationships are a powerful reminder that there are other realities than political ones. Businesses, sporting organisations, church bodies, trade unions, musicians, artists, community activists, tourism promoters have long downplayed or even ignored the political structures and got on with the important activities of doing business, playing games, worshipping, singing songs, telling stories, collaborating and journeying together. And this is a road we need to continue on.
I have long been amazed at how little attention Jesus paid to the political realities of his day. They were everywhere but he never spoke to them unless they spoke to him first. Even when his own life was at stake he refused to engage them. He had higher business to attend to. Whether people are Jesus followers or not there is something enormously attractive about that way of living.
Instead of fighting powers that appear stronger than you, you ignore them – you live as though they are unimportant compared to the greater realities that you recognise and serve. His example, not to mention his message, tells us we don’t have to wait for political permission to forge stronger links – to trade and play and sing and worship together, to do all the other things that make sense for people sharing this small piece of land on the edge of the Atlantic.
Whether it takes two years or ten to draw that line, our job is to collaborate so much that neither London nor Brussels will know how to separate us. Let’s go for such strong, deep, colourful, tuneful, wise collaborations that separating us with a global border becomes an anomaly that sends both sides back to the drawing board – preferably for a very long time.
Sean Mullan runs the Third Space not-for-profit coffee shops in Dublin
Please note that the statements and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Contemporary Christianity.
Tomorrow: Åsa McDowell shares her perspective as a European living in Northern Ireland.