John Downing: Let's just hope the 'dizzy pigs' don't return
Published 25/06/2016 | 02:30
Will Brexit mean we will see the return of the "dizzy pigs?"
Back in 1976 the word was that you could rent a truck and a load of pigs in Clones for IR£200. Then you could bring them north of the border, clerking them through on the way, and qualify for an EC subsidy.
The loophole was that the subsidy was payable every time those pigs went North. So, you could smuggle them back South, and repeat the process.
"Pigs were being wheeled round and round the border until they were dizzy," historian, Diarmaid Ferriter, wrote in his book 'Ambiguous Republic - Ireland in the 1970s.'
The world over, borders offer a living, sometimes questionable, to a minority, and the smugglers' tales rarely lose much in the telling. But, even taking out the political emotions, borders are more usually a costly nuisance.
Ireland's north-south border customs controls went with Jacques Delors's EU Single Market in January 1993. The identity checks were mercifully phased out in the ensuing years as the fragile peace became more tenable after the first IRA ceasefire in 1994.
The reality of Brexit means some form of identity checks and customs controls may have to be introduced. Loathe it all we may, the Republic's 300-mile border stretching from Dundalk to Derry becomes a de facto EU frontier with the UK.
Immigration issues, central to the Brexit campaign, raise the issue of passports. Trade tariffs or new health and hygiene controls pose questions about customs.
As late as Thursday, Jeffrey Donaldson of the DUP was echoing the view of First Minister Arlene Foster that both the North and the Republic could work out a practical arrangement.
The reality is that this is a matter of negotiation for the UK with the remaining EU 27, not a bilateral matter for London and Dublin.
Non-EU member Norway has a border with EU member Sweden which is three times the length of the Irish border.
Things are simplified by Norway and Sweden having a free movement of people deal which pre-dates Sweden joining the EU in 1995, and both countries are members of the Schengen Agreement which provides for free movement of people without systematic border controls.
It is also helped by Norway's associate EU deal via the European Economic Area. But there are still border delays, with long queues of trucks from time to time.
That prospect has distressed business people in border areas who endured 30 years of economic slump caused by the Troubles.
They also point out that new road and rail developments were done in the past decade and a half on the assumption that border controls were a thing of the past.
In Dublin, officials confirm that they are looking at state of the art technology to help facilitate any customs controls. It is part of the overall government contingency preparations.
The Leave campaigners have dismissed the prospect of border controls in Ireland as a result of Brexit. But British Prime Minister, David Cameron, was less sure and both Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan were equally frank that the matter would be one for negotiation with all 27 EU member states.
"The reality is that we just do not know how that one will pan out," Mr Flanagan said earlier this week.
For many reasons, the era of the "dizzy pigs" may be permanently consigned to history.
But for now, at least, the prospect of customs and identity controls on the new de fatco EU-UK frontier running from Dundalk to Derry remains a matter for Brexit negotiaitons.