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A message from the Editor: Introducing Common Ground

This new project will focus on the inter-connectedness between North and South, between Britain and Ireland, but also between the constituent parts of the UK and within Northern Ireland itself

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We’re living through the long 2016. At least it can sometimes feel that way. The forces unleashed in that critical year continue to shape our world. Donald Trump has been out of power for three years, but his grip on the red half of the United States is stronger than ever as he strolls, apparently unassailable, towards the Republican nomination for the presidency. The aftershocks from his time in the White House continue to reverberate far beyond America’s shores.

In this part of the world, the fallout from another of 2016′s shocks – the Brexit referendum – is still one of the dominant themes in public life. The United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union disrupted a fragile equilibrium in Northern Ireland, reopening wounds that had been salved by the Belfast Agreement. A breakthrough this week led to the rapid restoration of the Stormont Assembly and Executive, but those institutions now face a test – a test of their stability – that they have never yet passed. Even amid the relief and optimism of this week, a reportedly sharp exchange between Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and British prime minister Rishi Sunak over the UK’s legacy Bill was a reminder of how Brexit and wider convulsions in British politics have strained the bilateral relationship.

Brexit raised real and thorny questions of law and politics, regulation and trade. Eight years on, they are still being worked through. But they were also proxies for a debate that was fundamentally about identity. The genius of the Belfast Agreement is its recognition of multiple, hybrid identities, with an institutional system carefully designed to reflect that fluidity and, at least in theory, consign zero-sum politics to the past. That everyone held a burgundy EU passport was part of the grand bargain. Brexit made both nationalists and unionists more insecure, however. Would it dilute Northern Ireland’s place in the UK? Would it cause the Republic and the North to grow farther apart? Will it hasten a referendum on a united Ireland, however reductive that term may be? These are still open questions. The task of repairing the damage Brexit caused in Ireland is really only beginning.

The various relationships on these islands – between North and South, between Britain and Ireland, but also between the constituent parts of the UK and within Northern Ireland itself – have been an area of focus for The Irish Times for many years. With our staff correspondents in Belfast, London and Brussels, and from our base in Dublin, we seek to give readers the best and most comprehensive reportage. Our opinion section offers a forum for debate and discussion on the same themes.


Common Ground, a new project that begins today, will bring many elements of this coverage together under one umbrella, reflecting their inter-connectedness, while at the same time deepening the offering for subscribers in particular. Led by Mark Hennessy, our Ireland and Britain Editor, the project will function in parallel with initiatives such as our North & South research project, a collaboration between The Irish Times and Arins examining public views on constitutional futures. It will complement the work currently done by our journalists across Ireland and Britain.

At a time of sharp polarisation, when misinformation and disinformation pose real threats to democratic debate, our goal is to provide rigorous, fair and fact-based news and information, giving you a rounded and nuanced picture of these complex questions. It’s not a one-way conversation; we’re eager to hear your views as the project develops. I hope you find it helpful.