Dangers of the border farce: The Brexit threat facing Northern Ireland's border towns

Posted on Feb 26 2018 - 6:06am by admin

Northern Ireland border

GETTYThe Northern Irish border has been open since the Good Friday agreement in 1998

The villages share a train station and all businesses take pounds and euros.

The only indication one is leaving the UK and entering the Republic of Ireland is that road signs change from miles to kilometres.

This border has been open since the 1998 Good Friday agreement.

However, few will be more affected by Brexit than the small villages and towns along the edge of Britain’s only land border with the EU.

“A border will be bad for this area,” says Eugene McCann, 50, who owns the Post Office in the Northern Irish Belcoo.


Eugene McCann, who owns the Post Office in Belcoo, believes the border will be bad for the area

The reality is we haven’t a clue what is going to happen and that is one of the worst things. People don’t feel like they have been listened to

Eugene McCann

“We used to have checks going over the bridge – now there will be customs no matter what they say. If they’re leaving the single market there will be customs.

“No one believes when they say there won’t be a hard border. They haven’t a clue. No one trusts them to be making these decisions.

“The reality is we haven’t a clue what is going to happen and that is one of the worst things. People don’t feel like they have been listened to.”

Westminster and the EU struck a deal in December confirming a hard border would not operate between the two countries.

But after it was confirmed the UK will be leaving the Single Market and the Customs Union, EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier said border checks are inevitable – making many in this part of the world remember darker times.


Hughie Nolan, antiques dealer in Blacklion, does not believe there will be a return to a hard border

“I was here when policemen were being shot in the street,” says Eugene.

“I’ve seen helicopters landing three or four times a day, the inconvenience of customs, guards. People don’t like authority, they don’t like that feeling. That will put people off crossing. Not to the extent there was, but the fear remains.”

Hughie Nolan, whose antiques shop is where the customs hut used to be in Blacklion over the border, is more positive.

“I don’t think there will ever be a hard border,” said the 60-year-old.

“I went to school in Northern Ireland and lived here and I remember how it was. It won’t go back to that.

Michel BarnierGETTY

Michel Barnier visited the Northern Irish border in May 2017

“This is a quiet place. Apart from the butcher’s shop and the restaurant no one comes here anyway so how bad can it get? I feel quite positive.”

Not everyone in Northern Ireland is unhappy. While a majority voted to remain in the EU, 44 per cent voted to leave.

Farmer and butcher Jonathan Trimble, who lives in Enniskillen, says leaving the EU will cut red tape.

He said: “I would like to think we will have a better export market afterwards. Northern Ireland beef and lamb is the top in the world. I think we will get better prices for our produce. There might be a couple of lean years until everything is sorted, then it will go back to normal.

“We had border checkpoints here for years, it never made a difference. To me, a law-abiding citizen, it won’t make any difference. It might take half an hour to get over the border but that happens in other countries so why is it a problem here?”

However, Ivor Ferguson, deputy leader of the Ulster Farmers Union, says that the views change depending on what each farmer produces.

“We would like a customs union with the EU,” said Ivor, whose County Armagh sheep farm is just 10 miles from the Republic.

“We were very disappointed to hear Theresa May say we won’t be in one. It has put us on the back foot, we don’t see how it will work.

“She says there won’t be a border, but the two don’t add up. We’ve been so used to an open border. Milk and other products cross the border several times either way to be processed. You can see the diffi culties.

“We are disappointed there is no decision yet. The uncertainty is the biggest problem, especially for farmers. Farming is a long-term business, we can’t turn the tap off.

Guy VerhofstadtGETTY

Guy Verhofstadt spoke to a Northern Irish farmer near the border in September 2017

“We have a lot of young folk coming out of university and colleges who need a plan going forward, a 20 or 25-year plan.

“If a young person wants to start a new enterprise it is a substantial financial burden to take on.

“Banks want a plan for a minimum of 10 years for investment. If we can’t give them that we are stuck.

“Farmers make decisions on buying land and that sort of thing. We’ll have to wait and see how it goes.”

A hard border would not be easy to police with 200 crossings between north and south.

During the Troubles roads were blown up to funnel visitors through checkpoints. Around 3,600 people were killed in 30 years of the conflict.

Pauric Lawne, 36, who runs a vintage shop in Londonderry, said: “We used to get pulled over in sheds and soldiers would be pointing their guns inside the car, even when there were children there. It was terrifying.

“I hope it wouldn’t ever go back to that. It could never be as bad as it was. People have changed in Ireland, young people just knock along with anyone. And with social media there is no way governments can get away with the stuff they did before.

“More people are politically aware. Teenagers who were not interested in politics are now talking about it.”

Away from Westminster, Brussels or Dublin, people are asking simple questions. How will this affect their commute to work? Will their bus pass still work south of the border? Can they still work in the south and bring money into the north?

The Good Friday Agreement brought peace but it was locals who put in the leg work to heal the wounds.

Picturesque Pettigo, in Co Fermanagh, is split in half by the border along the Termon River.

Where once you weren’t able to cross a tiny bridge to get groceries, the community has come together.

An example of this is the Termon Complex. Built with EU money it is a place where people can socialise and exercise.

“I have to cross the border twice on my way to work”, said Trish McBride, 39, a chef in the facility.

“A hard border would mean showing my passport four times a day. It just wouldn’t work.

“We are asking questions and no one is fit to answer them. They all have the chat but it is people like us who will have to fix this. We are the ones who will be affected, not those in Stormont or Dublin.

“Perhaps if they came to do what we do to earn a living things wouldn’t be so uncertain. Small towns like this show the strength the bigger cities can’t. If only people making the decisions could do the same.”

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