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In border communities, there is a real fear of a return to checkpoints


Span of history: Kathy Donaghy at the Peace Bridge spanning the River Foyle in Derry. Photo: Tevor McBride

Span of history: Kathy Donaghy at the Peace Bridge spanning the River Foyle in Derry. Photo: Tevor McBride

Span of history: Kathy Donaghy at the Peace Bridge spanning the River Foyle in Derry. Photo: Tevor McBride

Border areas are no strangers to fear. In the past, when violence was a daily threat, those fears were well founded. Today, that fear is of the unknown, with Brexit posing the very real prospect of border controls once again.

On the Derry-Donegal border, where I live with my family, the UK's decision to vote to leave the EU was greeted with complete incredulity. What does it mean, was all anyone could ask?

There is good reason why the people of Derry and its hinterland across the Border in Inishowen, Co Donegal are worried. The fortunes of the two areas are inextricably linked.

It's not just about geography and being beside one another on a map. While the Border dictates that Inishowen and Derry are still two separate states, the links between the two are so strong that they seem to belong to one another.

In the early 1920s, when the lines on the map were being laid down to decide where exactly the Border should be drawn, strong appeals were made - largely on economic grounds - for the incorporation of Derry city within the Free State. Of course, this didn't happen and the rest is history.

For people who haven't grown up on a border, they might think it's a black and white issue. The reality is that it's fluid, complex and ever-changing. The ties that bind Inishowen people and Derry people are marital, familial, social, recreational and, of course, economic.

When Derry people want to bring their kids for a day out, they head to the beaches of Inishowen.

When Inishowen people want to go to the movies, they head into the city.

Our surnames are the same, our accents sound similar. Donegal and Derry people have a relationship that's a bit like that of siblings. We give out about one another sometimes but deep down we care deeply for the other and would stand by the other through thick and thin, which we have always done.

Each day, the roads of Inishowen buzz with cars from early morning, with workers travelling across the Border to work. At the weekends, the traffic goes the other way, with Derry day trippers venturing out to the peninsula's Atlantic beaches right on their doorstep. Many Derry people move out to holiday caravans in Inishowen for the summer.

Every fabric of our lives is intertwined with one another and we do all these interactions using two currencies; sterling and the euro.

Some of us who grew up on the Border in the 1970s and 1980s remember all too well the checkpoints, both British army and Customs. That Brexit could throw up the spectre of border crossings once again is unthinkable. While they obviously would not be militaristic, like during the Troubles, anything that could jeopardise the freedom we have come to enjoy is unwelcome, to say the least.

There are days I still cross the Border where the old checkpoints used to be and I marvel at the freedom we now have. I remember plenty of Christmas Eves coming out of Derry after doing some Christmas shopping and sitting for ages at the Border, trying to get home.

Children growing up in Inishowen and Derry now have no idea what 'border' means. Their minds are not bound by it and that's a great thing as borders do that; they change how you see the world. They box you in and they define you as "them" and "us". Any return to a border - even a "soft" one - will feel like a symbolic step back into the past. It will feel like a giant leap backwards to a place we were glad to leave.

While borders tend to place psychological barriers, they also create economic ones. The reality of Brexit is that sterling has fallen like a stone.

For the Northern Ireland economy and a city like Derry, this is obviously bad news. Local hotels, shops and businesses in Inishowen are likely to be hit, with less Northerners spending their sterling across the Border. Inishowen people who work in Derry and are paid in sterling will find that their buying power at home in the eurozone is weakened.

More than anything, people are afraid that a landscape that we have got used to will change yet again. While negotiations between London and Brussels will take some time, only time will tell whether the dealmakers are listening to the voices of the people of Derry, who voted overwhelmingly to stay in the EU. The daily lives of Inishowen and Derry people will be greatly affected by the way this exit deal is hammered out.

For these peripheral areas on the periphery of Europe, Brexit just doesn't make sense.

Sunday Independent