Sunday 25 August 2019

'Acute anxiety' in Border communities over Brexit

Stock photo: PA
Stock photo: PA

Colm Kelpie Brexit Correspondent

Feelings of resentment and anxiety towards Brexit are particularly acute among those living in Border counties in the Republic, as they didn't have a vote in the referendum yet will be deeply affected by what occurs, according to a study by Queen's University.

As tensions mount between the EU and UK over whether "sufficient progress" can be made on the Border issue by December, Queen's has published a report looking at the impact of Brexit on what it describes as the central border region, and the views of those living there.

The area is made up of eight councils from Northern Ireland and the Republic, including Armagh city, Banbridge and Craigavon; Fermanagh and Omagh; Mid-Ulster and the counties of Cavan, Donegal, Leitrim, Monaghan and Sligo.

The area had a population in 2011 of 850,000 people, and accounts for about a fifth of the land area of the island.

Over 300 people in the area took part in the study.

The report notes that there are feelings of "acute anxiety" among those on the southern side of the Border, and that the psychological aspect of a potential re-emergence of a border is not simply felt by those in Northern Ireland.

"The fact that these respondents did not have a vote in the referendum and yet are deeply affected by its outcome means that the feelings of resentment, anxiety and voicelessness are particularly acute among respondents in the southern border counties," the report stated.

The report quoted an unnamed respondent who highlighted the integrated nature of the communities.

"The man that fixes my car lives in Newtownbutler, Co Fermanagh - to drive you'd go out the Cavan road into Co Fermanagh, then into Co Monaghan, then into Co Fermanagh - then you get to his house. I could do that journey in 10 or 15 minutes; what would that be like if crossing an international European border?"

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It said people from Donegal were particularly worried, given its geographic position and close links to the North.

Prepared by Dr Katy Hayward, Reader in Sociology at Queen's, the report concludes that Brexit is already having an impact on people on both sides of the border. It said the different political responses to Brexit are starting to have a "polarising" effect at a community level and that many respondents said that they would avoid crossing the Border, or would do so less, should there be any difficulty or obstacles in the future.

Dr Hayward concludes that the way that the Border is experienced today is seen primarily as an achievement of the peace process.

"It is thus extremely important that, throughout the Brexit process, the EU and UK government continue to maintain their shared principles of upholding the 1998 Agreement, protecting the peace process and avoiding a hard border. In seeking to realise these principles in their negotiations, they hold immense and direct responsibility for the future prospects of the border region as a place of stability, growth and peace."

Irish Independent

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