The Border and Brexit

The current Border

The Irish Taoiseach, Enda Kenny’s plan for an all-island forum to work on issues following the decision of the UK to leave the EU, has been dismissed by the Northern Ireland 1st Minister, Arlene Foster. Ms Foster believes that: ‘there was no need for any formal all-Ireland talks’ as there were more than enough mechanisms in place to discuss the issues on a cross border basis.

However Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness however has suggested that such a forum would bring together business groups and other organisations on both sides of the border to discuss the implications of Brexit on the relationship between NI and the Republic.

SDLP Leader Colum Eastwood welcomed the plans for an all-island forum.

We believe that it is necessary to consider the issues and implications, not least in terms of helping to develop optimum coherence and consensus on how to minimise the adverse economic fallout and ensure growth on the island. (RTE 03/07)

Potentially one of the most fraught issues of the UK decision is what will happen to the open border between Northern Ireland (part of the UK) and the Republic of Ireland (part of the EU). One of the main issues of the Brexit campaign was the introduction of tighter border controls and doing away with the EU policy of unlimited migration from other EU countries. Ireland, as a member of the EU, allows such free access but this poses a problem for a non-EU Northern Ireland, as the present border between NI and the Republic is ‘is poorly marked and often crosses existing farms and properties’. In addition, the region is crisscrossed by small country roads and byways and many people live and work on both sides of the Border making it impossible to monitor and police. (Vox world 29/06/2016)

The Border is the result of The Treaty of 1921, which divided Ireland into the 26 counties of the Irish Free State and the six counties of Northern Ireland which remained in the UK. However:

(in) the decades thereafter, the regions shared a porous border, with no need for citizens to show a passport as they crossed

In the 1970s, as ‘The Troubles’ took hold ‘the British military set up checkpoints and guard towers along the border with Ireland’ in an effort to control the terrorist activities of the IRA.

After the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, Border checks became a thing of the past and people travel freely between the Republic and NI. For many in NI, the ‘open border’ is a tangible sign of the end of ‘The Troubles. But would a Brexit UK border control policy, involve the return of checkpoints, fences and other symbols of border security, which occur between the EU and non-EU countries? If the UK border with Ireland does get closed, there are big problems for Northern Ireland. If it doesn’t get closed, then there’s an easy path for migrants within the EU to get into the UK — something that Brexit proponents oppose. A third option would be to institute passport controls for anyone traveling from Northern Ireland to Great Britain, though this would mean UK citizens aren’t free to travel within their own country. (Vox world 28/06/2016)

The question of the Northern Ireland/Republic of Ireland Border hardly rated a mention in the Referendum campaign. It is yet another example of the many issues that were simply not thought through enough by the political parties in the Brexit campaign.

Sources: RTE; The Irish Times; Vox World.

Elizabeth McKenzie is a member of the editorial team of Tinteán.