Tuesday 19 March 2019

Editorial: 'Wise words needed to avoid 'reopening gaping wound''

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar
Editorial

Editorial

The Taoiseach is right to insist that Ireland has been "very flexible and reasonable" in helping the UK to deal with problems "largely of their own creation" on Brexit.

Leo Varadkar is also correct to be "happy to offer further clarifications and assurances" to help the EU and UK negotiators get a deal done.

He would be very wrong, however, to assume all will be well should the British leave the EU at the end of this month.

Underestimating the scale of the problems of patrolling the Border would be a grave error. Mr Varadkar recognises the Brexit talks are entering the critical phase with a House of Commons vote and European Council summit looming.

And he is prepared to offer "further clarifications and assurances" to help them.

What he seems strangely unwilling to do is to openly discuss the very real risks and threats the new paradigm presents.

Today, we reveal armed support units will be deployed on a 24-hour basis in the Border region. This will happen within weeks under Brexit plans.

A third of the 200 Garda probationers graduating this week will be sent North.

It is vital we have sufficient gardaí and security back-up. We have had two hard-won decades of peace.

Concerns Britain's exit from the EU could see the return of security posts along the 500km Border are still real at this point.

No one wants to envisage a return to the grim cycle of violence that claimed more than 3,600 lives in 30 years and ended with the Good Friday Agreement of 1998.

It is to be hoped in a best-case scenario that the Border will have no visible manifestation.

But that is not to say dissidents are not looking on keenly to seize on any perceived opportunity to reignite violence. Smugglers will also be hoping to exploit any gaps.

So one way or another, security is going to be a massive issue presenting huge logistical, and personnel challenges for gardaí.

Last year, respected academic Dr Katy Hayward pointed out in Belfast: "Trying to create a frictionless Border really helped to heal that wound. It helped to normalise and depoliticise relations across that Border, and bring real, mutual benefit to people from all backgrounds."

Indeed, Dr Hayward went so far as to suggest the prospect of a hard Border would be like the "reopening of a gaping wound".

It must be avoided at all costs.

Stoking fears is easy with so much political uncertainty at Westminster. Wiser counsel must prevail.

The European Union's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier will meet Britain's negotiating team today.

It's to be hoped the spirit of Seamus Heaney will be in the air somewhere in Brussels.

The Co. Derry poet wrote: "If you have the words there's always a chance that you'll find the way."

Irish Independent

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