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What makes the border issue so much more inflammatory than it would otherwise be is that the British Government is no longer neutral: on the contrary, its very existence depends on being supported by the votes of the DUP in Parliament.It is extraordinary that Theresa May’s deal with the DUP after she lost her parliamentary majority in the general election in June should have gone through with so little protest or realisation of its destructive consequences for peace in Northern Ireland.

Those issuing these warnings point to the problems posed by a hard border to relations between nationalist and unionist communities, to power sharing between Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and to commerce within Ireland and between Britain and Ireland.

But the opposite of a peace process is a war process and this is not so far away as it might seem.

It became more decorous to use political epithets – unionists and nationalists – to refer to the two sides, but the sectarian divide has always been at the heart of the Troubles since the first civil rights marches in 1968, complicated though the conflict has always been by the broader claims of Irish nationalism.

So long as this was the British posture, the balance of power was always skewed against constitutional non-violent nationalist opposition to the status quo.

Their condemnation may have been sincere, but that did not mean that they did not benefit politically from the actions of the IRA.

One person on the nationalist side who was realistic about this was the SDLP leader Paddy Devlin, briefly a minister in a power-sharing government in 1974.Peace in Northern Ireland depends ultimately not so much on power sharing but on a complicated but stable balance of power between communities and it is this which is now being eroded by a Brexit-obsessed British Government.A central ingredient for violence in Ireland between 1968 and the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 was that for most of that period British governments were in effect supporting the predominance of Protestants over Roman Catholics.I was living in Belfast during the height of the troubles between 19 when unionist politicians complained that the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), the main political voice of the nationalist community, depended for their political clout on the actions of the IRA.The SDLP leaders brushed this criticism aside, saying that they absolutely condemned “the men of violence”.It was this failure of constitutional nationalism that gave legitimacy to physical force as an alternative option.

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