Friday 18 August 2017

England just doesn't understand the consequences of Brexit for North, says family of man killed at Border

Brenda McAnespie with sister-in-law Margot Loughran, at Margo’s Hair Salon in Aughnacloy, Co Tyrone. Photo: Frank McGrath
Brenda McAnespie with sister-in-law Margot Loughran, at Margo’s Hair Salon in Aughnacloy, Co Tyrone. Photo: Frank McGrath
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

'We've had experience of the Border and it was not a good experience. It's not what we want for our kids," says Margot Loughran.

Taking a tea break in the small hair salon she runs in the Border town of Aughnacloy, Co Tyrone, Ms Loughran has more reason than most to vividly remember the dark days of the hard Border and to harbour deep concerns about the clock starting on the Brexit process, with the triggering of Article 50.

Her brother, Aidan McAnespie, was just 24 when he was shot dead by a British soldier who fired a single shot on February 21, 1988. He had been on his way to the local GAA club, Aghaloo O'Neill's, just south of the heavily fortified Emyvale/Aughnacloy checkpoint.

The British authorities later claimed the soldier's fingers had 'slipped' on a wet gun but the McAnespie family are adamant that he was murdered in cold blood.

Since the age of 17, he had been relentlessly harassed by the security forces as he crossed over the Border to get to his workplace at Monaghan Poultry Products. Guards would frequently take his car apart for a "routine search" and search through his lunch box with bare hands, saying: "You'll be late for work today Aidan."

Read More: March on Stormont over fears of return to hard Border

"It was very hard on the whole family," says Ms Loughran of her brother's harassment which culminated in his killing.

"My mother used to be petrified to come in because she would be pulled in and stopped. It would take us an hour-and-a-half to get to Emyvale," she recalls.

"My kids used to think the checkpoint was a garage," says Ms Loughran's sister-in-law Brenda McAnespie - whose son Ryan is a Monaghan senior footballer, while her daughters Aoife, Ciara and Eimear play for the Monaghan football team.

The two women recall Aughnacloy as a very different place before the Good Friday Agreement. The atmosphere was dead and nationalists and loyalists did not mix as much as they do now. There was a genuine fear of the checkpoint.

"If you could avoid crossing the Border you would because the hassle wasn't worth it," said Ms Loughran.

Read More: Podcast: Theresa May triggers Article 50 - 'Ireland must prepare for the decade of Brexit'

Life changed "overnight" once the Border disappeared. Many people in the area now travel to work in the food industries south of the Border and the communities are mixing more than ever. The old suspicions are dying.

Aughnacloy is now doing a steady trade, with several new businesses opening up in the area. But the funeral last week of Martin McGuinness has sparked a new interest in the not-so-distant history among the younger generation and Ms McAnespie is fearful the old ways could easily return if the Border goes back up.

"I was shocked when I woke up that morning and found out that Brexit had been voted in," she says. "England didn't know the consequences."

The night before, she attended an Ulster football meeting and members were asking if they will need their passports to go to Monaghan in the future.

A stiff breeze whips up the plastic awning on a market garden produce stall in the middle of the town. The trader will not give his name but describes himself as a "Protestant republican".

"You haven't heard of that one before," he hoots with laughter. Brought up in a loyalist stronghold, he says he knew no other way of life than the sectarian way until he went to work at a factory as a young man.

One day, broke before payday, he went to get a cigarette from his co-workers.

His loyalist friends all refused, saying they were down to their last five or six but a nationalist man said: "I have one left. Will we go outside and smoke it together?"

"That was it for me," he declares. "We are all in it together."

He believes a united Ireland will happen. "It should never have been divided. It's too wee a country in the first place."

But in the meantime, Brexit will not affect him greatly he says, adding that he believes farmers will be looked after in the UK because "most of them in parliament are all big landowners and they will look after their own".

At lunchtime, the Diamond Bakery and Tea Room is humming. Owner Vanessa Bertotti (left) - Irish-Italian with a London accent - is good-natured as she chats about the implications of Brexit. "I think it will affect us greatly for sure," she says, pointing out that many children travel from Monaghan to attend the school in Aughnacloy. If the checkpoint comes back, it will be "a disaster".

Cross-Border healthcare systems will be affected and shoppers from the south may not bother to come anymore if they have to wait to be processed at a Border.

But she laughs as she says: "Who'll take over in Stormont?

That's more the issue."

Irish Independent

Also in Business