Northern Ireland Returning to Violence as a Result of a Hard Border due to Brexit or a Rushed Border Poll: Risks for Youth Research Report

Full Report UNESCO Professor’s Report on Return to Violence

Return to violence cover


In 2017 I was honoured to be appointed Rapporteur for the first report in the history of the state by a Dáil or Senate committee on achieving a united Ireland. The 1,232 page report ‘Brexit & the Future of Ireland: Uniting Ireland & its People in Peace & Prosperity’             was adopted unanimously by the All Party Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement

One of the key recommendations in this report is to:

Establish an international task force with experts in security so that plans to meet any risks may be devised and implemented.’

Following on from this recommendation I began working with global experts on the issue of counter terrorism and the prevention of radicalization. Those who helped carry out this study were initially asked to assist in carrying out research on maintaining the peace in Northern Ireland in advance of a border poll.

The remit of the research expanded due to the realisation that there could be a return of a hard border on the Island because of a no deal Brexit. The genuine fear is that as a consequence of a return to a hard border there will be a return to violence in Northern Ireland.

Those who helped me compile this report on a return to violence in the event of a hard border or preventing violence in advance of a premature border poll on a united Ireland are experts in the area of Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) and Counter Terrorism.

I am grateful to the experts who have contributed to this report including Michael Ortiz, Professor Pat Dolan and Professor Mark Brennan.

Michael Ortiz was appointed by Secretary of State John Kerry to serve as the first US diplomat focused on countering violent extremism (CVE) policy at the Department of State. As Deputy Counterterrorism Coordinator, Ortiz led diplomatic efforts to persuade foreign governments and the UN to implement CVE policies and programmes. Previously, he served as Senior Advisor to the National Security Advisor at the White House, was the Director for Legislative Affairs at the National Security Council, and worked in the White House Office of Legislative Affairs. Earlier in his career, he worked in the offices of Senators Obama and Reid.

Professor Pat Dolan is Director of the UNESCO Child and Family Research Centre at the National University of Ireland, Galway and holds the prestigious UNESCO Chair in Children, Youth and Civic Engagement, the first to be awarded in the Republic of Ireland. Professor Dolan and his team deliver a comprehensive research and education programme of work towards the objective of promoting civic engagement and leadership skills among children and youth, including resiliency building and empathy education. He has worked with and for families as a practitioner, service manager, and academic. Professor Dolan has completed an extensive body of research on family issues including Family Support and Prevention, a longitudinal research on adolescents, their perceived mental health, resilience and social support. He is joint founder of the ‘Youth as Researchers’ international programme and has published vastly in a wide range of academic publications. He has acted as child youth and family policy and practice advisor to national and international NGOs and Governments around the world.

Professor Mark Brennan is the UNESCO Chair for Community, Leadership, and Youth Development and Professor of Leadership and Community Development at the Pennsylvania State University. Professor Brennan’s teaching, research, writing, and program development concentrate on the role of civic engagement, leadership, agency, and empathy in peacebuilding, youth and community development process. His work has also increasingly focused on the role of youth as active contributors to peace building, social justice, and functioning societies. Professor Brennan has over 25 years of experience in designing, conducting, and analysing social science research related to community and youth development. This work has involved extensive comparative research throughout Ireland, the United States, Europe, Africa, Asia and Central/South America.

Professors Brennan and Dolan are co-founders of the Global Network of UNESCO Chairs on Children, Youth, and Community, which includes the UNESCO Chair programme at the University of Ulster, and UNESCO Chairs in Uganda, Brazil, Korea, USA, and Mexico. Through this network and their related work, they have been at the forefront of UNESCO research, programming, and policy in the area of Preventing Violent Extremism (PVE).

The UNESCO Chairs praise the great work that is being done and has been done in Northern Ireland that has helped transform many parts of the society. However they do point out that some in the ‘Agreement Generation’, particularly those youths living in the most deprived communities, are suffering from a ‘Loss of memory of harm’. They were born in the decade before and since the Good Friday Agreement. Thankfully they have no first-hand memory of the destruction and devastation of the troubles. However some have been given a distorted version of the troubles.

The challenge for us all is to make sure the peace process is not jeopardised by a return to a hard border due to Brexit or a premature border poll. The peace won by previous generations must not be jeopardised by the current generations and that peace must be passed on intact for generations to come.

Senator Mark Daly

Seanadóir Marcus O’Dalaigh






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