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Northern Ireland and the ‘Soft Border’ Option

by John Brian Shannon

Thanks to the dedication of thousands of people, the problems that plagued Northern Ireland for decades have all but disappeared. While we mourn those lost during ‘The Troubles’ we must move forward and provide the best possible future for the people of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

The best way to continue to move forward is for a ‘soft’ border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland so that the free movement of people and unimpeded trade may continue along the 310 mile border.

Many people on both sides of the border meet for tea, travel across the border to shop, or are employed on the other side of the border and it would be unfair to require these people to face a regular border crossing twice daily. And a hard border would definitely hinder trade, which trade is a vital part of the local economy along both sides of the divide.


A dedicated ‘Commonwealth and Ireland’ line at UK ports of entry

The smartest thing the Home Office UK Visas and Immigration department could do is to create a separate queue line at all UK ports of entry and mark it “Commonwealth and Ireland” so that people from Commonwealth countries or from the Republic of Ireland have a dedicated and streamlined entry into Britain.

In this way, goods and people can move much more efficiently between those jurisdictions.

If it sounds like I want to favour people from Commonwealth nations, you’re right. If it sounds like I want to favour people from Northern Ireland who may decide to fly to Britain, you’d be right. And if it sounds like I want Republic of Ireland citizens to easily travel to any part of the UK, you’d be right in that assumption.


Special Treatment at UK ports of entry: A ‘Nexus Card’ for frequent travelers between Ireland and any UK port of entry

Here in North America, citizens who cross the U.S. / Canada border can apply for a Nexus Card or an Enhanced Driver’s Licence — either of which dramatically speed border crossing times for holders of those cards — and not incidentally, also lowers wait times for the people in the non-Nexus lineups because fewer people (or vehicles) are traveling in that particular queue — it’s a bonus for frequent travelers in North America.

Such a streamlined customs experience should be extended to all Irish citizens as a courtesy — and for the Republic of Ireland in exchange for their help in patrolling and securing the soft border with Northern Ireland.


The UK Government (UK.gov) Paper on Northern Ireland and Ireland

Stormont is the seat of the Northern Ireland Assembly and is located in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
Stormont is the seat of the Northern Ireland Assembly and is located in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Image courtesy of visitbelfast.com

“The UK government pledges to protect the Belfast Agreement and Common Travel Area in new position paper published August 16, 2017.

The Government has today published a comprehensive paper which outlines the UK’s position on addressing the unique circumstances of Northern Ireland and the land border with Ireland.

The position paper — which has been published ahead of the August negotiating round — states that the Government will protect the Common Travel Area (CTA) and associated rights for UK and Irish citizens, and put upholding the Belfast (‘Good Friday’) Agreement at the heart of its Exit negotiations.

The paper also puts forward proposals on avoiding a hard border on the movement of goods — making clear the UK’s position that there should be no physical infrastructure at the border — and plans to preserve the wide range of institutional cooperation between Northern Ireland, Ireland and Great Britain including for the energy market.” — From the UK.gov website


Trade Between the UK and the Republic of Ireland

Billions of pounds sterling in trade crosses between the UK and the Republic of Ireland and a significant amount of it is spent in the small and medium-sized business (SME) trade. Keeping the border open, yet enhancing security will be a challenge for both the UK and the Republic of Ireland, but with good will and some visionary thinking it shouldn’t be too difficult to get an agreement that benefits the largest number of people.

Brexit - Ireland and UK trade
Brexit – Ireland and UK trade in numbers. Image courtesy of cso.ie

A Soft Border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland is in everyone’s interest

For as long as the Republic of Ireland remains a member of the European Union it’s in everyone’s best interests to keep the soft border arrangement and to work together to enhance security on both sides of that soft border by any reasonable means.

If that means having facial recognition technology and vehicle license plate readers at all government buildings and properties, ferry terminals and international airports in Northern Ireland and Britain, it’s a small price to pay to preserve and enhance security for the EU, for the Republic of Ireland, and the UK including Northern Ireland.

The soft border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland must work for citizens of each country, for small (and large) business, and it must ensure a high level of security for both the EU and the UK. This is one Brexit negotiation that must succeed for the benefit of all.

Brexit and Enhanced Commonwealth

by John Brian Shannon | June 25, 2016

When a thing isn’t working, it’s time to quit. Whether it’s a marriage or a political union there comes a time to say a respectful ‘goodbye’.

And it appears howevermuch joining the EU has propelled the UK economy, the social cost of millions of eastern European economic migrants and Levant refugees streaming into the UK is higher than British citizens are comfortable with.

The raison d’être for the creation of the EU is quite wonderful — inspired even. But there can be a difference between the theory of a thing and what has actually occurred.

Sir Winston Churchill information courtesy of Gov. UK

Scary statistics were trotted out in order to push UK citizens into voting to stay in the European Union, but when analyzed turned out to be speculative, at best.

It looks like the EU project is in trouble. I wish them well, and I hope they solve their problems.


In the meantime, the UK must do what is best for the UK

And in my opinion, that means inviting like-minded nations to join The Commonwealth with the goal of increasing economic and social integration with those sovereign northern European nations. (Norway never joined the EU, Switzerland recently left the EU, and the Scandinavian nations are gone as soon as the first opportunity appears that meets optics standards)

If the UK, the Scandinavian countries and Ireland form a loose economic and social cooperative union (or even better, become members of a re-energized Commonwealth) it will immediately boost economic and social metrics across those nations without the downsides of EU membership.

Without wishing any harm to the EU; The European Union can better concentrate on southern European issues with Germany and France leading the way, and without northern European concerns to complicate things.


The question is; Do we choose safe, or do we choose Carpe Diem?

The European Union is deep in it’s own problems for the foreseeable future and in that context I made the case for the UK to leave the EU. As there’s no precedent, it could now become anything the UK government wants it to become.

How about this?

  1. The UK adopts a similar relationship to the EU as Norway and Switzerland.
  2. The UK invites Scandinavian nations and Ireland to become part of The Commonwealth.
  3. The UK institutes a 1% Tobin Tax, keeping one-quarter of one percent for administrative purposes, and remits the remaining three-quarters of one percent to the IMF — to be held in a special account that only the UK government can spend on the UK and on other Commonwealth nations.
  4. Every Commonwealth nation should phase-in a 1% Tobin Tax over a 5-year period. And just as in the UK, one-quarter of one percent would be retained by each Commonwealth nation to cover collection and administration costs of the Tobin Tax.
  5. It’s obvious that a trillion pounds of Tobin Tax revenue would accrue rather quickly — and be available to each Commonwealth nation to spend in any other Commonwealth nation. (Need a new SASOL headquarters in London? Perhaps you need to double the export capacity in the port of Accra? Or with the proper funding you can finally build that 1 GigaWatt wind farm and export billions of dollars/pounds/rands worth of electricity to neighbouring countries. Now you have instant funding!)
  6. If you’re the UK there’s one thing you want, countries lining up to join The Commonwealth. And soon contributing their own Tobin Tax revenue to the special IMF account used (only) to strengthen trade links with other Commonwealth economies.
  7. The ultimate goal, would be for the entire Commonwealth to copy the Norwegian economic model (as much as is reasonably possible) in order to attain Norway’s enviable statistics — such as the world’s highest per capita income, among the world’s highest productivity, free university for all citizens and residents and (related to that) among the lowest crime rate in the world, and so much more. Keep in mind Norway’s very high ranking on the Social Progress Index and on the UN Happiness Index (free PDF downloads for both) And remember, all positive economic indicators flow from those statistics — not the other way around.

The question would then become;
“Which country wouldn’t want to join The Commonwealth?”

Commonwealth countries, plus Scandinavian countries 2016

In this, the 21st-century, it should never be a case of looking at a glass, half-full. It should always be about creating a massively better system. One that is a whole order of magnitude better than the presently sputtering economic model.

Previous generations of politicians rose to meet the challenges of their time, and likewise the UK government must also rise to the so-called challenges of our time.

But meeting the challenges of our time must be considered passé as the UK is sufficiently advanced that it should blow past the challenges of our time in the same way a Bentley Mulsanne Speed blows past an economy car on the M6 motorway.


Who Should Lead an Empowered Commonwealth?

Whomever is the most recently dismissed Prime Minister of any Commonwealth country should (within 180 days of losing office) be appointed to the top job — Secretary General of The Commonwealth.

In that way, a flow of different approaches from highly empowered and knowledgeable people will lead The Commonwealth of Nations and each former PM will undoubtedly leave their stamp on the broad policies of that organization.

A former Indian Prime Minister sitting as Secretary General might advance the cause of microgrid power generation across all developing Commonwealth nations, while the next SecGen (from the UK for example) might take up the cause of getting resources from all Commonwealth nations to China and other major markets. And during the time of an African Secretary General of The Commonwealth, the preferred cause might be improvement of all Commonwealth port facilities in order to dramatically expedite trade — getting Commonwealth goods to every market, faster, fresher, and better.

What matters to me, is that each Secretary General leaves a positive impact on The Commonwealth using his or her unique worldview, experience, contacts and ability.

It will be this synergy that will make The Commonwealth all that it can and should be.


The Commonwealth of Nations is a group of interdependent countries.

“The Commonwealth is a name for countries which were part of the British Empire before they became independent. This group of states works together on many important matters, like business, health and the fight against poverty.” — Wikipedia


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