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How the Irish Border Keeps Derailing Brexit

The New Yorker Radio Hour

24:44 min | 11 months ago

How the Irish Border Keeps Derailing Brexit

"From One World Trade Center in Manhattan this is the New Yorker Radio hour a CO production of New Yorker and WNYC studios welcome to the New Yorker Radio Hour. I'm David Ramnik the deadline for the UK to leave. The European Union has once again been pushed Prime Minister Boris. Johnson failed to meet his October thirty first deadline. Now if you've been following brexit closely at all first of all give yourself a pat on the back because that's not easy easy second you've probably heard the term Irish backstop that refers to the border between the Republic of Ireland and the South and Northern Ireland. That border barely three hundred miles. Long has become the third rail of the brexit process. Such as it is my colleague. Patrick Reddin kief thankfully as is a much better grasp of the history here than I do and especially how the border has such profound implications for the future of the UK and Europe as well. Patrick is the author author of say nothing a brilliant book about the Irish troubles when we talk about Ireland the country of Ireland today. We don't actually mean the whole island of of Ireland. What that refers to his twenty six counties which is most of the island but not the six counties of Northern Ireland which actually are part of the United Kingdom and so these are two different countries divided by border and that border has a long and tense and tragic? Nick History Stir. Ben is a border town. The Irish Republic is five hundred yards away across the river. This is where the provisional visual. IRA have their base and this is where they retreat to across the border that is notoriously difficult to patrol during during a three decade conflict known. As the troubles there was basically a war fought over that border you had the IRA the Irish Republican Army. which is a paramilitary organization? Shen fighting to erase the border to kick the British out of Ireland once and for all and actually reunify as thirty two counties and then you had loyalist groups which are loyal to the British crown fighting to preserve the identity of Northern Ireland as part of the UK the British Army Eh. The police in Northern Ireland and it was a long and bloody conflict. In which thirty six hundred people died but the conflict ended in one thousand nine hundred eighty eight with the Good Friday Agreement Agreement. The two prime ministers emerged just before six this evening to inaugurate the historic agreement. They hope will usher in a new era for the island and what happened. was that reporter source of tension this place where there were gun turrets and guys with guns who would check your vehicle as you were passing through through and check your papers. It seemed to just melt away. An agreement that Unites Loyalist and Republican Unionist and nationalist leaders in a wide ranging historical record until two thousand sixteen. The British people have voted to leave the European Union. And the will. When's voters in? The United Kingdom voted for Brexit. The question of the border suddenly became very fraud because when the U. K. lease the EU in Ireland stays in the EU than that soft border between in Ireland and Northern Ireland could suddenly changed dramatically. It would have to have customs checkpoints immigration checkpoints. It becomes a hard border. Basically patrolled by authorities on both sides and that would immediately threaten the peace. That's mostly held on the island for twenty years now. It's a very complex border. It is Three hundred miles long the border weaves in and out of villages around villages in and out of farmland and an an in and out through locks to lakes two rivers and and it divides communities as well. Simon Carswell is public affairs editor at the Irish Times Times and the former. US correspondent for the Irish times and an old friend of mine he has been covering Brexit Like many journalists in England in an Ireland but doing so from interesting vantage point that my plan for reporting around Brexit was always going to be around the people it was all about. Who are the people affected exit by breakfast? And what's GONNA mean for them in their daily lives. What Simon has been doing is traveling around the border in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland and talking the regular people and trying to find out how the changes that may come with? Brexit will affect their lives when it comes to Brexit brexit. All about change Enj and the place that was going to be changed most is along the only land border with the United Kingdom and that's in Ireland. Let's go back to your your childhood. Where did you grow up? I grew up in a groping a number different places. We moved around quite a bit. I grew up Actually spent a first two years of my life in Dublin and before we moved to Virginia in County Cavan not far from the border If there till I was seven always in the Republic always in the republic but my parents were from from Belfast so we would have experienced of crossing the border several times a year to go see my grandmother in Northern Ireland and see my relatives and tell me about that. What was the border like back? Then and during the troubles Mirela memories of the border was we across at the main road From Dublin to Belfast. Near newry for a long period of time time was a customs border. Where your car might be stopped so my memory of crossing was late at night? Often we cross going up there for a long weekend and and It was dark really kind of quite eerie. When you would when you across the border and you'd see in the shadows at the edge of the road you'd see soldier? British army soldiers crouch down holding guns and making sure Dash all of the traffic coming through. There's no threat there. I'm really just Prime fraction reading in case. Something in happened so then nine hundred ninety eight you get the Good Friday Agreement. which is this landmark peace deal which ends this grinding three-decade the decade war? Really You know for for the sake of contrast. Tell me about crossing the border today. Crossing the border today you wouldn't even know no you've crossed the border with very clear when you go and visit these communities. They don't actually they don't think there's a border there at all because for the past twenty odd years. It's been invisible. So they go about their business Crossing this border over and over and back again over the course of the day many occasions when you talk to people. They don't know how many times they crossed the border in a day and they may not even thinking about it. No they're not even thinking about it. There are no signs. There's nobody stopping so really. It makes no difference at all because there is to all intents purposes this invisible border. Ah I WANNA play a clip. Actually some school kids that you visited with in a town called Crossmaglen is just off the border in Northern Ireland and had been a real flashpoint during the troubles so one half of my house is on the Republicans and the other side of my house zone Northern Ireland part of the island. He sleep on. I live in isolation in Northern Ireland but my lack Levin run would be in Republika. There can you just tell me a bit about the school school and that that conversation how you came to meet those kids and how they're thinking about all this. I went to Saint Patrick's Catholic Primary School Elementary School in Crossmaglen line which is about three kilometers across the border in South Armagh Northern Ireland. This was a school that was frequently in caught in the crossfire. Literally caught in the crossfire. Where in the IRA attack on the very famous British army barracks in Crossmaglen right in the town so the IRA an IRA unit would open fire on the barracks soldiers? British soldiers would fire back in the school. School was caught in the crossfire. The principal the school pointed out various bricks in the wall of the school. That face the barracks and he pointed out those the bricks that needed to be replaced as a result. A bullet strike striking the awards gunfights. So the kids all had these stories where they had answer ankles or their parents at that. They had crouched under tables when bullets blitzer coming across and hitting the school and they were very fearful that this is brexit might lead to like earth when she was younger she. He told me that when she was there she has begun to table. She saw Fly Across these are children who've grown up after the Good Friday Friday agreement their whole lives have have happened during peacetime but there. It sounds like they're very aware of the fragility of that piece. They're extremely me aware of us. they're aware while they didn't live through us through the stories of their that their families have told the this was a bad time And that they don't I want to return to it and you also went out and spoke With with truck drivers who actually do criss crossed the border every day bringing goods back and forth. This ties is going people going to and from work every day. You know crossing the border the hard boarder. Just just isn't going to work like you have to get to your work you know it's it's it's one small country. I don't even think the politicians know that much you know. Judging by what's being said Nobody really knows what's GonNa up and on until it happens. And that's the scariest thing at all. Not even the people in charge so the Houghton we I took for for example The busiest crossing over the border the Dublin Belfast road. The A one is the four lane highway that crosses the border and I I just as an exercise I I look at the traffic over the course of one twenty four hour period. And in that time you did about twenty five thousand vehicles crossing over that day. Eighteen thousand cars but but in crucially. You had six thousand six hundred goods vehicles now if you put up any kind of check that's gonNA mean. Your goods are not going to get to at supermarkets. As quickly they showed that will result in issues around availability. So you'd have certain products would have the same shelf life and so what that mean is ultimately people are going to have to pay more for their food dude because of these additional costs. I WANNA play another clip This is a woman named Mary. Casey who you spoke with and her father was actually killed old in a bombing of a customs point in one thousand nine hundred seventy two. He was doing more for somebody. That's going to a wedding on facebook stumped in the costumes and there were on the way out when the area coming in with the bomb while I was looking in particular nick at the operation of customs posts along the border and I thought well what was the worst attack the deadliest attack on Northern Irish border customs posts during the troubles and there were quite a few things about four hundred and eighty odd instance over the thirty year period of the troubles and I found came across this extraordinary story. The of this Bomb attack on the newry customs house and what happened was a team of three. Ira Men walked into the Customs House. Ordinarily Freddie they would go in they would show something shot a warning and they would leave the bomb and they would all leave and the bomb and explode and destroy the Customs House on that occasion the bomb detonated prematurely maturity and killed nine people killed three. IRA bombers it kills. Two lorry drivers who are getting their papers stamped as bringing goods across the border and it killed four customs officials officials and was horrendous attack. Well you feel as though I mean you can hear it when Mary Casey talks to you that there is this Tragedy that she's had to carry around around but that it's not just a tragedy right. It's it's a warning and she feels as though People aren't listening to what the consequences might be. I don't think any of the politicians have any idea what the borders of both really unless it happens at your doorstep nobody. Nobody knows nobody understands. You know what it's about somebody goes out to walk down more than under comeback. The plastic bag at a lot of the conservative politicians. They don't know how it exists currently certainly You would have what what locals in Northern Ireland along the border would call the one day wonders these trips by politicians from the UK. Hey where they take a visit to the border but they don't spend any real amount of time seeing how their lives work with this invisible border how it exists now and indeed. Boris Johnson the current British. Prime Minister has visited the border to see how it felt at all. Certainly not in his time I in recent times since the the BREXIT referendum so dot center frustration. That people along the border feel. Is that the British politicians. Just don't get it because they don't really understand how it exists now and what the Good Friday Agreement and being a member of the European Union has meant and how how much easier it has made life among the Irish border and tell me Simon I mean there's there's been a great deal of talk Over the last couple of years since it became clear that the Irish border would would potentially be such a sticking point for brexit about a return. Learn of violence You know either either. In the extreme case a return of something that looks like the troubles or at least something more marginal around the border. How justified those fears? I think they are justified in the sense that there is a concern that if you do put up any kind of physical infrastructure picture would be regarded as a target because of all of the political baggage that will come with having any kind of sign of partition on the island again I spoke to some former. IRA and these are veterans of the troubles in their view. was they think it's overplayed. Actually it was interesting to hear from them. Bush there are others who say well. It's it's not the the the old veterans assurance of the troubles that we need to worry about. It's the younger people. It's these new parliamentary groups. That are springing up the new. IRA various dissident republican groups along the border and how how they might react and there have been some very explicit warnings by those groups if there are any kind of checks or any kind of posts put up along the border then we will target them and we service Northern Ireland have issued a similar warning and have gone so far as to say well. We won't police them if they if they are put up so the police have actually said that in northern within Ireland. Yes they've made these installations did go up. They wouldn't they wouldn't police them de they have made that warning that if there are installations going up along the border then they would not police them they they would they they see them as a threat from from hoboken groups. Who would please them well? This is the challenge that would come from the practicalities of of enforcing customs border. And I think it's one of the reasons why Boris Johnson has decided to come up with his plan B. which has agreement from the European Union. This new plan on his to push the border both the customs border and the regulatory border into the Irish Sea and what that means is having checks asked the ports of northern Harland in the ports of England and Scotland. But if you do a Johnson's proposing and instead shift the border off the island. Isn't there a danger that loyalist groups people in Northern Ireland Roland who are loyal to the British crown will feel this is kind of a de facto reunification of Ireland which they would resist and this is exactly what's happening. There have been warnings from the P service Northern Ireland that there could be a unrest amongst lawless. Because this solution those people would think that well you're you're potentially undermining Northern Ireland's place in the Union in the United Kingdom. And what you've seen actually from a very kind of a practical point of view. Is that anyone born in northern hardened can apply for an Irish passport and you've seen a flood of applications from Northern Ireland From people who are looking to take out Irish citizenship citizenship because it gives them use as an citizenship. And what they're arguing is. Some pockets of loyalism are arguing that this is a precursor to United Ireland. Orland this would crease as you say defacto economic United Ireland. And they're unhappy about that. They see this as a slippery slope to United Ireland and when it comes to this notion of the reunification of Ireland potentially the Good Friday Agreement created a mechanism What they call the consent mechanism? Where eventually if there is at some point a referendum A majority of people vote to reunify. Then that will have to happen. It's it's a fear as you said of of unionist that this might happen but it also seems to be something that is that at least some Irish Republicans have regarded as an opportunity that brexit by by forcing people in Northern Ireland to choose news between being part of the e U and the UK. might actually create circumstances in which you could see referendum at some point. So do you think there. Could it'd be a referendum at some point in the next decade. I think there will be huge pressure to avoid dash referendum because it's a very tricky. Ah Political Conundrum to put to the people and I also think that many people in the Republic of Ireland would be quite keen and see those. They have a hope that there will be united in their lifetime. I think it would bring forwards and very difficult conversations There are a million people on the island of our who are are Protestant in regard themselves as unionist and British want to retain dot link with union and in the United Kingdom. So I think everyone everyone feels would feel maybe exception fain would feel that this is the right time there in D. calling for a border poll. They'd want to see it happen. But I think those would probably feel well. This needs gets to be a bit more measure to connaught this debate. Kinda take place in the kind of frenetic friends each debate around breakfast. We need to have this conversation for another day and it shouldn't be forced through because of breakfast. I suppose if there's one thing we've learned from Brexit's that it's one thing to have a referendum. It's another thing to work out the details. It would actually look like well. This is it when the question was asked. You want to leave the European Union In Two thousand sixteen in the UK. I don't think people really knew what that meant like. What what is brexit? Brexit mean. That's what this whole three and a half year process of leaving the European Union for the UK has been so complex. They don't know what it means. They don't know what kind Abrek they want. They don't know whether they want to soft brexit a hard brexit brexit in name. Only and. That's why this process has been so tricky Simon. Thanks so much for talking to us on for your amazing amazing reporting. Thank you very much Simon cars well is the public affairs editor for the Irish Times. A daily paper based in Dublin and Petrograd and Kief is a staff Friday for the New Yorker and the author of say nothing and other books This is the New Yorker Radio Hour. David Ramnik the very first book by Carmen. Maria Machado was a finalist for the national book. Award it's a collection of short stories. That are not fantasy exactly but maybe kind of fantasy Jason. Her New Memoir in the Dream House was just published. And it's getting some rave reviews Machado lives in Philadelphia last year. She took us on a short trip back home to Allentown Pennsylvania to visit one of her favourite childhood haunts. We are at the allentown farmer's market which is on the Allentown fairgrounds grounds. That building over there at the end of the parking lot is where I was born. Not like the farmers market W amazing. I was born in that hospital Let's go inside Soga here. It looks exactly as I remember. The signs are so old. I just sort of distinctly. My mother bringing me the hair and trigger this lifelong love of markets like indoor markets. It's weird because it's like there's a highest ceiling but then like the individual. Little shops have only midi ceilings or like many rubes each little one has to own little sign. Chicken pies made fresh the Bryans. FRESH BREADS SALADS. I very particular dictator my great grandmother my grandmother Austrian and they're very just so very fussy. My Oh Mama God bless her. She would like refilled Napkins for use later and everything just had its place and everything was just so I am that way for better for worse dilly beans jeans okay. That's over there like pickled green beans and they're saying okay. Hi Can I please I have raspberry faircloth. He's pushing Cheese Dana. He's a beautiful anything. I wanted in five years like church. I've always taken pleasure and like the specific ecstatic experiences of places like this like I'm really interested in century details and I think that people who have read my work we've become familiar with my work are like yes. Like sentences and details are so specific and that's not like artificial go in and I'm like I must make this detail But rather the way that I perceive the world's very like these heightened eaten sort of aesthetic beats or pulses I don't know if it's like you can trace it back to here or just like this the first in my life that I can remember like having that really strong aesthetic reaction to a place my guess is if you were like strap like like sensors to me. I would react to a place like this the way I would react to dogs it's just flooded with Serotonin and I feel like when in here like offices so nice so this is like very weird combination of stimulation and relaxation. This is like my church. I'm not religious anymore but I do like maybe this is how church fell. I don't remember it's been a long time but there's something about the space that yeah it just makes me feel just content like I don't believe in heaven but if I did believe in heaven bet it'd be like a giant farmers market you have infinite money you're always always a little humby but not too hungry. There's lots picked stands carmen. Maria Machado at the allentown farmer's market. Her new memoir is called in the Dream House. You can find some of Machado's essays at New Yorker Dot Com. I'm David Ramnik and I want to thank you for joining me

Northern Ireland European Union United Kingdom Brexit Ireland Ireland IRA Republic of Ireland Boris Johnson Simon Carswell United Ireland David Ramnik British Army Northern Ireland Maria Machado Saint Patrick South Armagh Northern Ireland Prime Minister Dublin