On the Border
That little Ireland can cause a hold up in the Brexit talks should put to bed the “too wee” arguments in Scotland argues Phil Mac Giolla Bhain. One of the problems the British government can’t get their heads around is how a small EU state like the Republic of Ireland has a voice at Brussels? As the Brexit negotiations come to a crisis, ignorance is no longer bliss.
I was introduced to the realities of the Border when the “cattle boat” from the Broomielaw to Dublin was taken off line.
Then the ten year old me learned about places like Stranraer and Larne.
The last time I recall that militarised demarcation line entering my consciousness was in the summer of 1994.
We crossed the Border from Fermanagh into Sligo and a very large member of An Garda Síochána looked at my green passport. When he saw my name as Gaeilge it prompted a question in the first language of the state:
“Cá bhfuil sibh ag dul?” he asked me.
“Táimid ag dul go Contae Mhaigh Eo.”
We were indeed going to my father’s county in the west for a family holiday. Such a linguistic interaction on the other side of the line would have been dangerously out of place, especially with the locally recruited security forces. As we drove towards the West we all felt a relief to be in our own place and not in the Six Counties.
While we were in Mayo Ireland beat Italy at soccer in New York and a pro-British death squad did their stuff at Loughinisland.
Two years later we had settled back home in Ireland.
For herself and me, both with an Irish born parent and Irish grandparents on the other side of the house this little island was always home.
We’ve reared our brood here in this Border County.
These days I think nothing of driving to Derry for NUJ meetings or to pillage the local shopping centres as post-Brexit Sterling tumbles against the Euro.
Over that twenty one years the Partition line has slowly dissolved and the European Union has played a positive role in minimising that geo-political disfigurement on the island.
Now we could be faced with some of it coming back again.
I last wrote for Bella on this subject in February 2016 before the Brexit vote.
It might warrant another read now.
A lot of my fears expressed in that piece appear worryingly prescient.
The Irish story over the centuries has been about events in Europe and Britain having unforeseen yet profoundly long lasting consequences here in Ireland.
Reformation, counter-reformation, French revolution and the First World War.
They all had a uniquely Irish impact on people here.
Now the UK has decided to do walking away from the European Union.
My green passport is no more, it was a beautiful document with a gold inlay.
Although my merlot coloured travel document today isn’t nearly as aesthetically pleasing I view the EU livery as an emblem of peaceful cooperation.
The Peace Process on this island probably couldn’t have occurred without the Maastricht Treaty.
In creating a more harmonised union across the continent of Europe the stage was set for two member states of the EU, assisted by the Clinton Administration, to explore a dénouement to the war situation on this island.
Back then I was privy to the thinking of some senior Republicans as they entered the talks that would produce the Good Friday Agreement.
They were calculating, prescient men.
Some of them had spent a large chunk of their youth in British prisons.
This had given them with the ability to sketch out a long game, but at no point did I hear anyone gaming out Britain leaving the European Union.
However, we are nearly at that juncture.
I have, in recent weeks, spoken to some old comrades from that time.
We shared a joke about how events can blindside all of us.
Some things, though, do not change.
The modern Irish revolutionary tradition, which emerged in the 19th century was based on the following rationale:
England will only attend to Ireland when the Irish become a problem for them.
When the people of Ireland were docile then they could literally starve to death and it didn’t really register with the Westminster tribe.
Now the Bullingdon boys are startled that the Micks could actually create a roadblock to Brexit on the Lifford to Stabane road.
We now have the situation where even a Taoiseach who recently wore a Poppy in Dáil Éireann cannot agree with the Grand Old Dame Britannia on what to do with her Irish frontier.
The son of an Indian immigrant and educated at an exclusive private school that has a Church of Ireland ethos, Varadkar isn’t exactly a Provo from central casting.
Indeed he might be the most pro-British Taoiseach in the history of the State.
When such a person can cause Border problems for the ruling elite on the Thames then we are truly in uncharted waters.
There appears to be a binary choice between a hard border or Northern Ireland remaining within the Single Market and the Customs Union.
The former subverts the Belfast Agreement and the latter compromises the integrity of the United Kingdom.
I think the fact that Leo Varadkar’s Chief Whip is Donegal TD Joe McHugh might be one of those small details that can ultimately have significant implications.
I’ve known Joe since he was an unfancied candidate for the County Council here.
His political career has spanned the Good Friday Agreement and he has been involved in several EU funded cross Border initiatives.
That little Ireland can cause a hold up in the Brexit talks should put to bed the “too wee” arguments in Scotland.
This current Border impasse demonstrates that a small EU state like the Republic of Ireland has a voice at Brussels and that it is one that is being heard.
If Brexit is portrayed as a fascinating parlour game for the chattering classes, here on the debatable land in the North West of Ireland it is prosaically real.
The European Union played a key role in bringing the Northern conflict to a close.
Brexit has the capacity to subvert the slow progress we have made in the last two decades.