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Brexit could result in violence on NI streets, former top cop warns

By Brian Hutton

Published 21/10/2016

Peter Sheridan said any new barriers along the border could deliver a major set-back for the peace process.
Peter Sheridan said any new barriers along the border could deliver a major set-back for the peace process.

Brexit could spark renewed violence in Northern Ireland, a former assistant chief constable has warned.

Peter Sheridan, who left his role to head a peace-building charity, said any new barriers along the border could deliver a major set-back for the peace process.

"I don't want to overstate it, but there is a danger that, ultimately, this could lead to some civil unrest, particularly in relation to the border," he said.

Before a parliamentary hearing in Dublin, Mr Sheridan said border controls in particular could see gunfire erupting again on the streets.

"It is easy to dismiss it and say that will never happen again but it is still a fragile peace process," he said. "There are already protests along the border.

"The history of this place is that protests can become much more dangerous as this goes on."

The 310-mile border between both jurisdictions on the island of Ireland is set to become a frontier between the UK and the EU.

Prime Minister Theresa May has said there should not be a hard border after Brexit, but Dublin's Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan has voiced scepticism over the reassurances.

Mr Sheridan has headed Cooperation Ireland since his shock departure in 2008 from the PSNI, where he was the force's most senior Catholic, and led the fight against serious and organised crime.

Co-operation Ireland has worked to cement cross-border relations.

Mr Sheridan said any moves by the UK Government as it pulls out of the EU that threatens or compromises identities in Northern Ireland needs to be weighed very carefully.

"We have to be aware that it was not that long ago we were in conflict over these issues (of identity)," he said.

"I think the first shots that were fired, were fired at border checkpoints.

"We have to be careful that we don't put anything in place that creates that question of identity for people again."

Leaving the EU itself could raise issues of identity that have not yet been predicted, he said.

Mr Sheridan said nationalists in particular had become "settled" in Northern Ireland, within the context of Europe, after the Good Friday peace accord.

"That is not the same as within the context of the UK," Mr Sheridan added.

Sectarianism remains "alive and well" in the region and much work still needs to be done - and funding is still needed - to bed down the peace process.

"We don't see peace as the absence of violence, we see peace as a place where people can learn to live together as citizens," he said.

"Post-conflict that takes considerable time."

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