Frontier on land or in the sea? At the time of negotiations between Brussels and Westminster, those mainly affected by the new Brexit provisions no longer know which way to turn. In her second-hand clothes shop near the border, Kathleen Smith, 59, is relaying the general confusion.
“The negotiators say one thing, then the opposite… It’s hard to understand what’s going on, so we simply avoid the subject! “ Only one thing is certain: “If they put roadblocks back up, it’s going to be a nightmare for the people here. I remember the checkpoints and the bombs… Nobody wants to go back to this! “.
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The DUP, the majority Unionist party in Northern Ireland, was reluctant to implement port controls which risked undermining the integrity of the United Kingdom and the place of the British province. While they should be celebrating the turn of events, its representatives have been ridiculed by Westminster.
Northern Irishmen who feel instrumental
Party leader Arlene Foster had barely announced, reluctantly, that she was resigning herself to supporting these controls in the Irish Sea, when Boris Johnson changed his mind and proposed his reviving Internal Market law the threat of a land border and in the process undermines the credibility of Unionists, who are visibly uninformed of these new projects. Worn out by four years of broken promises, those who support the United Kingdom therefore remain cautious.
On the side of the Republicans, it is indignation that prevails. Mary Lou McDonald, head of Ireland’s opposition Sinn Féin, fears the situation will set a precedent. “If Boris Johnson is emboldened to leave the protocol on Ireland, and sees that he is getting away with it (…), he will feel free to do the same with the other agreements. “ In the line of sight: the Good Friday agreement which ended the thirty years of civil war in Northern Ireland.
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“The British are trying to use us as an excuse to carry out their well-established and funded project of a no-deal Brexit”, indignant Paul Murphy, resident of the Republican district of Ardoyne, in Belfast. “It is time to stop using Northern Ireland”, agrees Brian Walker, Professor Emeritus of Irish Studies at Queen’s University, Belfast. “All these negotiations could be settled more easily and with common sense if the European Union and the United Kingdom had not made our country a symbol polarizing their oppositions in a much larger debate. “
The return of the border
George Knight, a local historian living near Drummully on the Irish side, pauses for a moment in the work of his house. “Brexit is an insoluble problem. The European Union is going to have to control the goods that enter its internal market, one way or another! “
If he is concerned about a return of tensions in the region, an open and armed conflict seems unlikely to him. “The grievances that led to the Northern Irish Civil War have by and large been resolved. But it will be easy for protesters to attack ground control infrastructures, if they are restored. And if the army returns, who knows what can happen? “
Added to this is the fear of future logistical headaches. Catherine Donnelly lives in Northern Ireland but leaves every morning to work at the national school of Saint Comgall, in the Republic of Ireland. His students come from both countries. “Think of the parents who drop them off here, or the school bus buses… We thought our fate was fixed, and that’s far from the case. Do decision-makers have any idea of the reality of our situation? I’d be surprised… “
While waiting to see the situation evolve, the North Irish are ironic. “There is a funny parallel: In 1916 Ireland wanted to gain independence from the UK. From now on, it is the United Kingdom which wants to take its independence from the European Union ”, laughs George Knight. Still, it took decades and a civil war for the situation to calm down following the revolution.