Brexit uncertainty hangs over Irish border

Brexit uncertainty hangs like a dark cloud over many border communities in Ireland, local traders have warned.

As Storm Gareth rolled in off the Atlantic on Tuesday, people on living on busy roads between Co Cavan and Co Fermanagh expressed concern that the future of the frontier remains unclear.

Ballyconnell in Co Cavan sits cheek by jowl to the border with Northern Ireland.

One of the town’s petrol stations even sits on a narrow sliver of land between the sign posts welcoming drivers into the respective jurisdictions.

The frequently photographed sign notifying motorists that they are entering the UK is riddled with bullet marks – a stark reminder of some sinister elements still wedded to a more violent past.

A bullet riddled welcome to Northern Ireland sign (David Young/PA)

On the back of the same sign post an anti-Brexit poster demands “No EU frontier” on the island.

Present-day Ballyconnell appears to be thriving, with hardly an unoccupied shop on a main street dominated by local businesses.

The area’s economy has long been buoyed by the nearby factories that once compromised the empire of former billionaire Sean Quinn.

Five minutes would seldom pass without a Quinn branded lorry rumbling over the border between Ballyconnell and Derrylin in Co Fermanagh.

Butcher Gerard Crowe, who has been trading in Ballyconnell for 30 years, used to own a second shop in Derrylin during the Troubles. He closed it in 1993 having found a daily two-hour wait on either side of the border checkpoints unmanageable.

He said Brexit has already had an impact on northern trade, with the number of shoppers from across the border halving in the last year.

“The fluctuation in Sterling is having a knock-on effect on people’s salaries so there are less coming south because it is costing them more,” he said.

“We are all suffering to a degree. And certainly people are afraid – everyone is afraid. For the last six months business has been stagnant.”

Green grocer Ronnie Duke has also done business in the town for the last three decades.

He said northern trade has always been an important part of his livelihood.

“We would have a lot of people from the north coming over to Ballyconnell,” he said.

“Derrylin would consider Ballyconnell as one of the major towns in the area, so we would have a lot of footfall and a lot of business across the border. We would be dependent on the northern trade coming over.”

Mr Duke, who owns Ronnies Fruit and Veg on main street, said local people were worried about reports of requiring green card insurance documents to drive on both sides of the border.

“The concern with the border would be a lot of people talking about this green card and things like that – in case they may have to be stopped at the border and produce this green card,” he said.

“At the moment at the border you can just drive through, there’s no restriction there whatsoever.

“Putting up a hard border there would be a big problem for people who live in the area and it would affect the businesses in the area.”

Retired Cavan County Council worker Phelim O’Rourke remembers the days when the Army used to patrol the frontier.

“When the British soldiers were here and you were travelling north you were stopped and asked a lot of questions – where you were going, that kind of thing,” he said, standing beside a long unused customs station on the outskirts of town.

“Thank be to God that has all stopped and I wouldn’t like to see that coming back.”

“I hope this is not going to cause any trouble, with tourists or people going across doing their daily business.

“I wouldn’t like to see the Troubles come back to the way they were before.”

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