I know little about Irish history, so this question could be very naive.

Ongoing Brexit negotiations appear to be encountering a lot of problems concerning the Northern Ireland-Ireland border. Why? From my point of view things look pretty obvious:

  1. Northern Ireland decides whether it's part of the UK or part of Ireland. The obvious way would be to have a referendum similar to the Scotland independence referendum several years ago.
  2. If it decides it's part of the UK, then its border with Ireland would be like any other border in the world.
  3. If it decides it's part of Ireland then it should leave the union with Scotland/England/Wales and form a union with Ireland instead (and remain in the EU).
  4. Or it could declare independence I suppose, and then negotiate whatever it wants with Ireland.

However, #2 looks like something very hard to do and nobody is willing to accept, including both UK and EU negotiators. Why? It sounds so simple: if Northern Ireland is part of the UK, then it ought to act in solidarity with the rest of its country and have a border. If Northern Ireland is part of Ireland, then it ought to act in solidarity with the rest of its country and remain in the EU. It seems to me the problem is coming because Northern Ireland wants to be part of both countries, but that sounds like wanting to have the cake and eat it to, which surprisingly both EU and UK leaders aren't viewing as childish.

Generally the sources I've seen have mentioned the "Good Friday Agreement" and how having a hard border would lead to violence, and I don't see why that would happen either. Scotland had a leave/remain referendum and it didn't lead to violence; why can't Northern Ireland do the same?

I'm asking this here because although this question is deeply tied to politics, I suspect the answer has more to do with history, in particular what exactly is causing the rest of the UK to treat Northern Ireland separately, and why Northern Ireland doesn't view following the rest of the UK as a given thing.

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    See NI Unionism for why it's not as simple as it sounds, and The Troubles for the history of violence in North Ireland and why there are fears that it might flare up again. – Semaphore Oct 12 '18 at 5:52
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    You certainly have a point that it has a lot to do with history but I think you're nonetheless likely to get a better answer on SE Politics as this is very much in the news and there are probably people there who know a lot about the politics of Northern Ireland and its history, particularly in relation to the border. – Lars Bosteen Oct 12 '18 at 7:05
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    If you can solve the Ulster problem you get a Nobel prize. – RedSonja Oct 12 '18 at 7:31
  • Compare what happened in Catalonia not so long ago, or the Israeli settlements in the West Bank... Even the decision whether or not to have a referendum can ruffle feathers quite a bit, and Northern Ireland is... let's say, among the more touchy subjects as far as "whom does it 'belong' to" is concerned. Opinions are... divided. What then? Hold a referendum for each individual municipality? – DevSolar Oct 12 '18 at 7:57
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The basic issue is that a central part of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement that ended the seemingly endemic ethno-religious-political violence in Northern Ireland was that both Northern Ireland and Ireland were part of the EU.

This meant they effectively had no border controls, so Irish Nationalists in Northern Ireland could consider their political separation a mere administrative matter, maintain Irish citizenship in many cases, and still picture themselves as part of a political unit with the rest of Ireland.

This is why the more Irish sections of Northern Ireland voted the most strongly against Brexit in the first place. enter image description here

Both countries being in a borderless EU was essentially an inherent condition of the peace agreement. So the UK leaving the EU and taking Northern Ireland with them threatens to destroy the entire agreement.

Brexit essentially represents the British side unilaterally breaking the peace agreement.

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