Eire dynamics

Irish crossing: soft borders

Richard Lutz continues to scratch his head over a right Irish stew.

Less than a year ago, my wife and I crossed from Canada into the States. The route from Quebec to Maine was over a so-called ‘soft’ border. One that separates and is shared between two fast friends.

It is a border that the British Prime Minister recently alluded to when she hinted that there could be a similar type checkpoint when the vexed question of the Northern Ireland/Eire quandary is raised.The PM was quoted as saying: “There are many examples of different arrangements for customs around the rest of the world. And, indeed, we are looking at those, including, for example, the border between the United States and Canada.”

It’s a growing concern in Britain. Since Northern Ireland remains part of the UK after Brexit, shouldn’t there have to be a so-called ‘hard border’ between it and the EU state of the Republic of Ireland. If not …what? And what does Eire think of it all?

Well, if she is looking at the long line between Canada and the US as a type of soft border, look again. Armed border agents didn’t like the stamps in my wife’s UK passport and it was handed upstairs to other unseen agents while we waited, with no passport, standing and wondering. In back of the pistol packing agent, courteous but stern, was a plain clothes officer surveying the intrigue of some stamps legally put in a passport by nations not really that friendly to Trump’s electorate. Hardly a soft howdy-do. Our Canadian sojourn might have had to be summarily extended if they had turned us back from the US. In the end, the American agents asked for my wife’s Facebook account and password. She refused. They ultimately shrugged and let us in.

As for Ireland, the current open borders have been in place since the Good Friday agreement almost twenty years ago. But that may change. And the UK government’s offhand attitude toward alterations once again takes no notice of how a EU state such as Eire can be affected by all this. It’s as if a spouse walks out of the house, says goodbye and adds that the back door must remain open in case they want to return for a quick cup of tea, not caring what the remaining householder thinks.

May…or may not

There’s simply little mention of Ireland’s perspective in May’s comments. No mention that it takes two to tango. No mention of how a neighbouring independent nation feels about Brexit borders. The Irish question, which has been remarkably ignored by the political classes ever since the 2016 Brexit vote, is now bubbling over on the front burner.

Soon after May’s muddled comments, Ireland’s leader, Leo Varadkar, said in a statement: “I visited the U.S.-Canada border….and I saw a hard border with physical infrastructure, with customs posts, people in uniforms, with arms and dogs, and that is definitely not a solution that is one that we can possibly entertain.”

And slowly all kinds of politicians are having to deal with it. Recently, I talked to a Scots MP with a constituency overlooking Ireland. His patch could be faced with the outcome of any hard/soft border decision since there are strong transport links between Belfast and South West Scotland where he works. 

“God knows what to do,” he told me. “Maybe the island should become one Ireland.” That from a backbench Conservative.



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