Sunday 23 July 2017

If the border goes up, there's always a way around it - like the old days

Wondering what Brexit will bring to the border area: shoe shop owner Sarah Mulholland
Wondering what Brexit will bring to the border area: shoe shop owner Sarah Mulholland
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

'The smugglers will be back," warns Paddy Malone of Dundalk Chamber of Commerce.

These have been lean years for criminals, since the addition of a colourless diesel marker currently hampering the smuggling of fuel.

Gossip around the town has it that the IRA are offering 'a million' to the scientist who can come up with a way of getting rid of it.

But only criminals see the silver lining in the prospect of a hard border returning, with the shadowy opportunities it may usher forth.

It was a week which saw British Prime Minister Theresa May claim that she wishes to maintain the Common Travel Area between the North and the Republic and Enda Kenny firmly reiterating the Government's commitment to maintaining the freedom of movement of people and goods.

But amid all the discourse and discussion, communities along the border are weighing up their prospects and wondering how the future will look.

Big yellow signs on the roadsides read: "No EU frontier in Ireland. No hard border. Respect the remain vote. Border communities against Brexit."

Dundalk is mounting its own defences, fighting back against the weak sterling with a successful 'Shop Local' drive.

Wondering what Brexit will bring to the border area: Shane Fleville, a driver with Mone Haulage Photo: Damien Eagers
Wondering what Brexit will bring to the border area: Shane Fleville, a driver with Mone Haulage Photo: Damien Eagers

But Mr Malone sees the possibility of a hard border as a disaster which, amongst many things, would hamper the proper future marketing of the 'Ancient East' which should rightly take in both sides of the border.

"Carlingford Lough is the setting of the 'Chronicles of Narnia' - but it's not being sold on this basis," he says.

"You can't even find a tourist map that shows both North and South of the scenic lake - because the authorities on either side only market their own side."

At the Mother Fruckers truck stop at Killean, Co Louth, just at the border, I mount the five steep steps to talk to Newry man Dermot O'Connor in the comfortable cab of his truck.

His father was a lorry driver too and as a child, Dermot remembers the half day it might take to clear customs.

"It scared the life out of me with the soldiers and the guns," he recalls.

Dermot drives mostly household goods from both sides across the border, often clocking up 14 hours a day.

Add in customs and his day could start to look longer and much more tedious.

If the border goes back up, the North will be left behind, he believes, adding: "London don't care about us - we're second-class citizens."

The company he drives for is also concerned, with the price of diesel going up overnight due to Brexit, says Dermot.

It's a favourable situation for Jim Mone, who has an oil company in Castleblaney, Co Monaghan.

Wondering what Brexit will bring to the border area: fishmonger Owen Lynch Photo: Damien
Eagers
Wondering what Brexit will bring to the border area: fishmonger Owen Lynch Photo: Damien Eagers

Four cars, all with UK plates, sit on his forecourt being filled up.

The price difference for the fill of a large truck could be as much as €150, reveals Jim.

He is well aware the situation could change with the imposition of a hard border - but he is not overly concerned.

"There is far more uncertainty here than in Belfast or Dublin and always has been," he says.

A mug upended on the draining board of the portacabin that serves as his staffroom at Mone Oil proclaims: "I heart the queen."

Kitsch

It's a little piece of jokey kitsch that conveniently symbolises the contradictions rife in the border district.

Jim lives over the border in Carnadh, Co Armagh, and well remembers the realities of life with a hard border, with a 6pm curfew and border guards who would wait to catch them, innocently returning from dances, on the back roads.

A cranky customs officer at his old post - which is now the entrance to Mone Oil - often left people sitting in their vehicles for two hours.

And yet Jim voted 'Leave' in the EU referendum and believes the European Union is doomed. Jim gives it seven years at the most.

"I know a lot of people in hardship and Europe had every opportunity to make things better for them," he shrugs.

In the town of Castleblaney itself, things on the surface appear to be thriving thanks to its own 'Shop Local' drive.

But Sarah Mulholland of Mulholland Shoes - a shop which has been in the family for 60 years - says things have been quieter.

"Two shops in the town are closing," she says.

But there are also business owners who are showing courage in the teeth of the Brexit storm.

Fishmonger Owen Lynch of Sole & Sea explains that he has only taken over the business in the past two weeks and, though slightly nervous of what changes a hard border may bring, thinks ultimately that not much will change.

Life will go on, agrees Seamus Feeney, who fixes all things mechanical from his little shop up the road.

"And if the border goes up - there's always a way around it," he scoffs.

It is a canny, long-practised scepticism where authority is concerned, whether it be North or South.

Irish Independent

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