Border line: a journey through the Irish heart of the Brexit crisis


So, is this the border?
– This is the border. So, this is which … that’s the UK
and that’s Ireland? No, other way round. This is the UK …
– That’s Ireland. This is Ireland. I invite them to try imposing
passport checks here really, you know, let them try. This is border country, the dividing line
between the British province of Northern Ireland, and the Irish Republic. It was created in 1922
when Ireland became a free state and Ulster remained British. The border between the UK and the Republic of Ireland
has been divisive all its life. In Northern Ireland, more hotly loyal to the
British crown than England itself, are 800,000 Ulstermen of Protestant ancestry. This border is the fault line of a centuries-old conflict
between Catholic Republicans and Protestant Unionists. In 1968 it erupted in three decades of
armed violence known as The Troubles. Now it’s the dead end Brexit can’t get past, it’s triggered
the biggest constitutional crisis of most of our lifetimes, taken down governments and is why Britain faces its second general election in as many years. We all agree to go for a
general election on December 12. But how many British voters
actually understand why? We drove the length of this border to
meet the people who understand it better than anyone whose lives and futures are at the very heart
of the Brexit crisis. Our first stop was Omeath. The middle of the road now is the border so that side’s
in the Republic and this side’s in Northern Ireland, so you’re in the Republic,
I’m in Northern Ireland. Seamus Murphy is a local historian
and former journalist who is campaigning against Brexit. He gave us the Republican view of the border. I was reared, you know,
not to accept it. Simply, we don’t. It’s imposed, it’s not our border and we will
laugh at it at every opportunity. And we will cheat it and smuggle across it
and whatever because it’s not ours. The soldiers put in a set of iron spikes in
the road there and myself and my brother pulled them out. Were they hard work to get out?
– No, no, we just biggy-rocked them. 20 minutes and we had them all out. What kind of year was it that
you and your brother were …? Around 1971 …
– You were picking up posts. We pulled the spikes out. In 1970/71. Would you consider yourself
a criminal for doing that? Not at all! I consider the people who put the
posts there were criminals. This is my country, somebody else
can’t tell me, you know, what’s right and wrong. Well, there are two graveyards and the
fence that runs between them is the border. Divided even in death and all that. What is the border for you?
What does it mean for you? This Brexit has been imposed upon us just as the border
was once imposed upon our people in 1921, and once again that was done by force and
this has effectively being done in the same way. The worst possible outcome is one
which ruins the local economy, particularly in regard to farming products and food products that’s where we are most vulnerable. That will inevitably play into the hands of those
who wish to see some sort of resumption of violence. I hope personally that Boris Johnson’s
deal goes through because that’s the
best way of leaving us alone. As for what he wants to do in the Irish Sea, honestly that’s his problem. Farming is Northern Ireland’s biggest
industry and farmers in particular worry that any changes along to the border
brought about by Brexit could be devastating. As they’re about to leave,
the farmer finally appears. It isn’t long before he’s chatting and complaining
about some bomb damage to his farmhouse. In Belcoo, Unionist John Sheridan’s land is
surrounded on three sides by the Republic. He voted remain. … and just behind it is the South. If that border, that is just all around us now,
becomes the border with Europe, what difference is that going
to make to your life? Confinement, end of freedom. We’re confined from our markets also, 50%
of our lamb have to go south for processing. 37% of the milk that’s produced in Northern
Ireland goes south for processing. And how much of your business
is with Europe? 50%. Our markets will be gone. Do you think you’d be better off
as being in Europe but not in the UK or do you think it’d be better to be
in the UK but not in Europe? Oh, no, I’ve always been an advocate of Europe. One for the peace that it helped broker
and at the end of the day you know when you’re paying your mortgage
or paying your hire purchase bills on cars you need for your business, you know, you need to
be able to put bread and butter on the table and you can’t eat a flag, Phoebe,
you know. Do you think a lot of people
who live along the border who voted remain, just feel completely done over by
the rest of the UK? Of course they do, yes, of course they do. Because they weren’t thought about
and sure it’s quite obvious. What has been the problem with Brexit all along? Only that border on this island. We drove on to Pettigo a pretty town
divided by a river which currently marks the border between the Irish Republic and the UK. A long history of everyday smuggling
here will take in a whole new life if this river becomes
a border with the EU. This is a smuggler, she’s on
a return trip from Britain into Ireland with quantities of butter, bread and tinned
food all of which are cheaper in Ulster. Smuggling is an old tradition around
here and they start them kind of young. Irish police have warned it will mean
an increase in organised crime but a more immediate concern for local businesses
is what it will mean for cross-border trade. So, how many of your customers are from the north
and how many are from the Republic would you say? 35/40% of them are from the north. What kind of impact is that gonna have if, you know,
it’s gonna be illegal for people from the north essentially to come
and buy your milk? Are you worried about it? Probably a little but it seems you’ve got delayed again,
Brexit, and then as soon as that happens you forget about it, and then once Brexit is about to take
place, you start to worry again but this is going to go on and on for years. Years nearly now, yeah. You see people marching ‘they
don’t want borders’ and all that, so it doesn’t take too much sometimes to get people doing things that you wouldn’t like them
to be doing, you know? A few miles back into the UK, we reach
Castlederg in County Tyrone. This is Loyalist heartland but the upcoming general election is expected to be a tightly fought race between Republican
and Unionist candidates here … not for the first time. They say this is three elections in one. Firstly, it is a general election, then
it’s a test of the bitterly divided Unionist vote … 54% of people in Northern Ireland voted to remain and
many view this election as Brexit round two. The divided Unionist block is so anxious about winning here it’s only putting forward one unity candidate. But voters like Delma McConnell are still confused. Did you vote in the referendum? I did. I did vote and voted not to leave
because, it’s not that I know a lot about Brexit, I don’t. In mainland and England it’s quite simple, well, sort of simple, but like if in the election if
your pro-Brexit you probably vote Tory and if you’re anti-Brexit you’re
more likely to vote Lib Dem or Labour. What are the options in Northern Ireland?
Because it’s different, isn’t it? I really don’t know.
– Yeah … If somebody would come in, any member of the
political parties would come and say, OK Delma, you’re here 24 years
and this is what Brexit is going to do to you… that’s good, that’s bad.
I’ll go out, I’ll put in my vote. Do you think people are
bored of Brexit? Absolutely, yeah. Do people talk about it anymore? Nobody talks about it. I reckon that if people are already
bored of Brexit though, they may not bother going out to vote,
what do you think? I think people will go out to vote
because they’ve had enough of it and I think that they want it finished. Lovely. Oh, look at that. Ten times better. You wouldn’t think I was
on a mountain this morning. No, not at all. Are you finished?
Brilliant, thank God. Just over the road at the Castle Inn, pub landlord
Derek Hussey, a former Ulster Unionist Party politician, is firmly pro-Brexit. His concern, like thousands
of other Loyalists, is that Boris Johnson’s deal is a betrayal that
will force Northern Ireland closer towards Unification with the Republic. Are you surprised by how the British
government has treated Northern Ireland in this Brexit … ?
– Yes. It doesn’t surprise me
but more or less shocks me and I find it concerning but there is something which
would more closely align us in Northern Ireland to the Republic of Ireland as opposed
to the United Kingdom. A lot of the media coverage and political commentators, they talk about the conflict coming
back, security concerns … At this moment, I can’t see it
returning to that level but there is the situation where our
policing has been reduced dramatically and the military presence within
Northern Ireland is very, very far from what it was, in fact. Now, that’s to be welcomed but there’s also a fear in that because if trouble did materialise who would be there to defend
the ordinary people of Northern Ireland? The uncertainty to me has been the biggest issue that we have had to deal with in this area. It’s not the problem of Brexit,
it’s the problem of uncertainty. 30 minutes up the road, Strabane rivals Castlederg
as the most bombed town in Ireland. 200 bombs in five years have reduced
the town centre to rubble. Strabane is 90% Catholic. It has strong Republican traditions. During the Troubles, Strabane also had the highest
unemployment rate in the industrialised world. It’s still among the highest in Europe. Shop fast while shops last, is the word in Strabane. At the Strabane Chronicle, we met
staff photographer Davy Ralston. You know, Strabane historically has been
so far away from the seat of power, you know, that basically no one cares about it. What’s it like now? It’s got slightly better. People live and work on both sides of the border,
you know, their lives are both sides of the border, everything here is both sides of the border. To all intents and purposes there is no border. With Brexit coming along, it could change and that’s going to make a huge difference to us, like. People will start to feel fearful again on both communities by the way, not just one side or the other. You’ll find if you speak to Unionist Loyalist communities,
they’re going to find the exactly same thing. A search for an English identity has caused Brexit which having fall-out everywhere within the UK and its closest neighbourhood which is Ireland. Our last stop was Londonderry or Derry a
city so divided it’s got two names. It’s where the Troubles began with civil rights protests, then riots, and the Bloody Sunday massacre. It’s also where the conflict claimed
its most recent victim journalist Lyra McKee, who was killed in clashes between
police and protesters in April this year. In a gym in the city’s waterside area,
we met all Ireland bodybuilding champion, Danny Butterfield who tried to explain
the city’s sectarian tensions. So, you lived in Londonderry all your life?
Londonderry or Derry, which one? Derry.
– Derry. What’s the thing with Londonderry and Derry? Derry is usually considered to be Roman Catholic and Londonderry is considered to be Protestant. I would call it Derry, my brother-in-law calls it Londonderry, and that’s fine, it’s really a religion thing.
– OK. It is a legacy that will take more
than my lifetime to fizzle out. How do you think life in Derry would
change if that border, that’s only five miles away … Right. Wasn’t a border with the Republic
but it was a border with Europe? Again, it’s down to a religion thing. If the protestants get in
and they get a border, or sorry, they don’t want a border … oh, they do
want a a border, sorry, it’s confusing! It’s confusing even for you, isn’t it?
– It is! It is confusing. For people like yourselves from outside looking in,
it must be completely insane, completely insane. For both sides actually,
it will make things more difficult … How? I don’t know but only the
future can tell us that. What we have here is a confidential report by Johnson’s
own government marked “Official, sensitive”. Johnson has said definitively, and I quote, “There will be no checks between Northern
Ireland and Great Britain” under his deal. In private the government says
something very, very different. It says there will be customs
declarations and security checks between Northern Ireland and Great Britain –
it’s there in black and white. No-one we met could tell us how life
on the border will change after Brexit. But what they all said is
the uncertainty is dangerous. In this election, it feels like once again
the futures of people on this border are being gambled with by politicians
and voters who can have no idea how high the stakes here really are.

57 Replies to “Border line: a journey through the Irish heart of the Brexit crisis

  1. Europeans understand and follow British politics better than the British do. On average a Brit spends a minute a week thinking about politics.
    Most of the British don't follow British politics so why would they have any understanding for another country and its' politics ?

  2. Nicola Sturgeon says technological solutions can be used if there was ever a UK/EU(Scotland) border in order to not have border checks and prevent the flow of goods. So how can it be possible in GB but not Northern Ireland. Can't you see this is being used to scare people and how the irish arent being disgusted by this is beyond me.

  3. Pssst, Norn Iron Unionists – Your Tory British masters couldn't give two fucks for you. Let it sink in. They could not give two fucks for you or your family, for Northern Ireland, or indeed your "precious" Union.

  4. The BBC subsidises The Guardian by purchasing 45% of the entire Guardian circulation by spending £139,000 on 69,000 copies by using licence fee money. Even though the Guardian is 12th on the list of the most circulated newspapers in the UK.

  5. I would think that if a population was going to vote on policy,then government would ensure that they were fairly and fully informed..I don't recall seeing information kiosks or anything of the like, Just many emotionally invested opinions being shouted out.

  6. It's important to know that religious identity in Ulster politics is and was an effective signifier of what life you lived in a segregated province.

    Religious identity is only a signifier of who had power and representation, and who had not.

    Religious identity is what divides and conquers. Let's not forget how Imperialism is still alive in NI with those who nowcall Boris a betrayer, and why in 1920 was there two home rules given to Free state Ireland and the newly made NI (ie, the wealthiest farmers, land owners, landlords and industrialists in the north east of Ulstsr got into political support with the Tories after the 1919 GE).

  7. Really hoping if we get a United Ireland that all the Irish welcome Africans into Ireland cos as a former Colonised nation we need to show love to those who have been Colonised by the English and other European countries,if Africa was never Colonised it would not be having the terrible problems we see now..Everyone should know Nigeria as a country was invented by the British and they sold it to a company called UNILEVER who are a big Multinational company today…they carved up Africa and robbed and slaughtered and kidnapped the people and that is why Europe is rich today,the same type of people who did this are here today..Boris Johnson,Arlene Foster..The DUP..it's the same Mindset…they don't care if ordinary people suffer..they don't care about the Border..they only care about Power and making Money.

  8. White people hating other white people, see we are known for hate!! I've never seen this, unless of course wherever we invaded we ruined and not communities, continents!!!

  9. The Irish Border is the EU's problem & they're trying to put their problem onto the UK. It's the EU who want disunity in Ireland. Even Nigel Farage says there will NOT be a hard border under his BREXIT plan between the UK & Republic of Ireland. The 2 countries share a history & a heritage, which isn't worth disrupting.

  10. I still find it annoying that after all these years a documentary gets away with describing the six counties of Northern Ireland as “ulster” when that name belongs to nine counties

  11. I suspect the first chap in this video would have a better idea of how to sort out this mess than anyone on any side of Parliament.

  12. It's not an "Irish border" anymore……Its an Eu frontier. The irish republic is not a sovereign nation. It's an Eu state. After Brexit the "border" will be administered from Brussels by Frontex. The UK voted by majoity for independence. We are a democracy. The elected government is statutory bound to honour and implement the result of the vote.

  13. Leave means leave already… Leave Ireland while you are at it and you will have no worries. Ireland should leave the EU as well after being reunified.

  14. We are going through this nonsense based on less than 51.9% for Leave, based on lies, cheating and illegality, hot money, Russian interference and NO THRESHOLD FOR MAJOR CONSTITUTIONAL CHANGE. 70 out of 71 polls in the past year have found for Remain which was nothing like the polls veering both ways in June '16. The latest has a 10% lead for Remain. Parties asking for a second Ref. total around 55% of the vote, but we are still likely to see a Johnson majority able to push this damaging nonsense through. Proper PR as Electoral Reform would bring real democracy and would sink these damaging Vulture Capitalist governments largely forever

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