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You know these are strange times when DUP and dissidents are both left smiling

By Henry McDonald

As dawn was breaking inside the Titanic Exhibition Centre at the Belfast EU referendum count, there were jubilant scenes among the younger Democratic Unionist Party element who had gathered to witness the Brexit triumph.

As they whooped and hollered for joy, while sniggering at the sight of the crestfallen faces of politicians from the Remain camp on a large television screen beaming live BBC coverage of the vote, this writer's thoughts turned to another entirely different set of politicos who also probably shared the junior DUPers joy.

It was and still is one of the major paradoxes of this referendum campaign that aside from the DUP and the Eurosceptical wing of the Ulster Unionist Party, the only other political force celebrating the Brexit outcome this weekend will be the fractional ranks of Irish dissident republicanism.

This might seem incredible, given that the DUP regards the EU out vote as copper-fastening UK sovereignty and enhancing the strength of the British state.

In one sense, the Out unionists are correct in their analysis that this vote was an event of UK-wide import, and that no devolved region could override the result. This was in effect a very British outcome through and through.

So why then would the New IRA, Continuity IRA and Oglaigh na hEireann, alongside their political allies, also be happy about the UK pressing the ejector button from the EU craft? There are in fact political and strategic reasons why the dissidents will also be happy at the result.

Politically speaking, organisations such as the 1916 Societies can turn to northern nationalists and grassroots republicans and say, with conviction, "We told you so".

They will contend that regardless of the fact that Northern Ireland voted in favour of Remain, like Scotland, it was the English who ultimately called the shots. A combination of xenophobic feeling within the white English working class and the visceral dislike of the EU in the Tory shires overrode any concerns the Irish, including Enda Kenny, expressed about the impact of Brexit on the island of Ireland. The dissidents will point and say, "Well, the English just don't care about Ireland".

In addition Theresa Villiers' refusal to call a border poll (she is perfectly within her rights to do so under the terms of the Belfast Agreement) underlines the dissident view that, ultimately, it is London ministers, not regional ones, who hold the power to block moves towards constitutional change.

Of course, the anger in Scotland that their pro-EU stance has been made irrelevant by the millions of Brexit votes in England will allow Nicola Sturgeon to have another crack at Scottish independence. Here the dissident republicans are at a double advantage. If Scotland leaves the UK, then they will press for further Celtic exit from the union. And if Villiers, or whoever might succeed her at Hillsborough Castle, bends to the DUP position that no border poll is necessary, it will go to show again where the real power lies in this state.

If you add into this the prospect of some kind of border controls, either for commercial reasons or as a frontier fortification to hold back the tide of immigrants into the UK, there are opportunities for the dissident republican factions to exploit politically as well as militarily. A border post or a vehicle checkpoint won't just be a potential physical target, they will also come to symbolise, for the dissident republicans at least, the "British presence" continuing to maintain partition on the island.

At a time when the armed dissident republican groups are reeling from a series of blows and appear to be losing the intelligence war, Brexit has provided them with a chance to make some political gains. We are truly in strange uncharted waters when the anti-Good Friday Agreement republicans are as happy as the anti-EU wing of unionism when it comes to the European question.

Belfast Telegraph

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