I am writing this on the Holyhead to Dublin ferry, coming home from Glastonbury, and one of the most emotional weekends of my life. When I woke up on Friday morning to the referendum result, chalked on a blackboard outside the campsite information tent, I wasn’t surprised; I’d never been sanguine about the return to the status quo consensus; but I was shocked and dismayed. The fact that Northern Ireland and Scotland both had Remain majorities, though personally consoling, didn’t make the news any better. As the shockwaves passed through the site, strangers and friends sharing stunned sadness, all I could think of was my neighbours back at home. Northern Ireland, I reflected, faces all the anguish and turmoil of England or Wales, intensified by our post-conflict vulnerability and dependence on ‘inward investment’, together with the potential opening of older and deeper wounds. The Scottish festival-goers could be proud and defiant, looking forward to a second, likely decisive independence referendum, but for us there are no easy answers.
I’m not ashamed to say that I spent much of Friday in tears, and what moments I could on Saturday and Sunday sitting in a sea of mud, scanning the pages of the Guardian for coverage of Northern Ireland’s situation. There was a little, but nothing that told me anything I didn’t already know. Amidst the excitement of new (I can’t say ‘fresh’) leadership battles in the two biggest parties, the only real interest in the other side of the Irish Sea is as a source of a potential EU passport.
Now, after the initial shock has passed, I’m more angry than tearful. I’m not angry with the people who voted Leave, not even those who within hours were regretting their protest. Except for a few in marginal constituencies, people aren’t used to seeing their vote count, and they were cruelly and cynically misled. I am angry, though, with those elected representatives who knew what they were doing, and went ahead regardless, for motives only they fully know. When we challenged them, during the campaign, to explain how they would achieve access to the single market without freedom of movement or compliance with European law, or how they would protect our environment, our rights and our economy outside it, they simply accused us of scaremongering. Within minutes of the result being announced, they began to resile on their promises, and the world to show the firm foundation of our fears.
I am especially angry with those who hold responsible posts in Northern Ireland: the Secretary of State, the First Minister, and MPs including my own, who blithely waved aside the concerns of the thoughtful majority. That majority was not convinced, but who knows how much damage they did by giving such cover to the Brexiteers. There are many good and compassionate people across the UK who would have thought again if appealed to do so by a broad consensus of politicians representing Northern Ireland.
But, as the Dublin shoreline appears through the grey sky, I will not be mastered by this anger. Now is not a time for bitterness or rage. There is work to be done; serious, difficult and hard work, salvaging what we can from the chaos around us, using the tools still at our disposal, and building a peaceful and stable future on the ruins of the past. Things will not be as we hoped and planned, but with goodwill, intelligence and compassion we can save ourselves, our neighbours and our children from the very worst. The Green Party has never shied away from acknowledging and preparing for the greatest challenges we face, from climate change to growing inequality. It is what has made us such an exasperating challenge to the establishment in times of complacency. But now, when all the old certainties seem to be crumbling, we at least have the context, the principles and the evidence-based policies to help find a way forward. Join us now to be a part of that journey.