Belfast Telegraph

In the bars and on the streets of Dublin, suddenly everyone has a view on Foster, May and Brexit

By Paul Hopkins

Just after lunchtime on Monday I was heading into my local supermarket in Skerries, north County Dublin, home once to a thriving fishing industry before the Republic joined what was then the European Economic Community (EEC) and fishing quotas put paid to a town's trade.

"It looks like we'll have a soft border," said a fellow shopper, a retired vet who once had a business a fraction inside the southern side of the border.

By 6pm I was back at the shops, having forgotten the foie gras and liverwurst.

"What that Theresa May one needs to do is call the bluff of that Arlene Foster," said the woman in front of me to no one in particular.

A week may well be a long time in politics, but so too can just a few hours. A deal is on, opined the talking heads on the lunchtime news.

Not yet, they said before heading home for their tea. And all it took was a single phone call from Foster.

"The border should not be so hard to resolve," said my friend of 40 years later over a pint - a retired paramedic with Armagh roots on his late mother's side and who once got done for his nixer of smuggling goods for the hospitality trade over the frontier.

"After all, all that was being looked for by Monday was sufficient progress, not a solution," he said before reminding me it was my round.

"That still won't be easy," said the barman, alluding to the Republic seeking guarantees.

We agreed. Some, in relation to support for the Belfast Agreement, safeguarding cross-border co-operation and the continuation of the Common Travel Area which allows Irish people and British to move and work freely across the two islands, should work out all right, at least in terms of my friend's "sufficient progress".

But the South is also looking for some clarity on the transition phase which will operate after Britain leaves the EU and that is more difficult given, we agreed, the Brits were all confused, like turkeys voting for Christmas.

"Theresa May my foot," said the man in the cloth cap. "And that other fellow, sure it's all just a game to him - all bluster and jostle for the best possible position to be able to launch a bid for No 10 when the time comes. Mark my words."

A whiskey drinker - Bushmills - joined in: "Sure most of May's, eh, subjects haven't an iota of what Brexit will do to their lives and their country. You can rest assured it will be far-reaching, costly, and long-lasting - perhaps permanent, eh lads?"

There was momentary silence while we supped, but all agreed that - 20/20 hindsight and all that - it was extraordinary that a decision of such importance for the future of the UK was taken by a single poll requiring only a simple majority of votes.

"Just 38% of them and they're throwing the baby out with the bathwater," said the barman as he topped off my two pints.

"They just know sweet FA about what to do next," said the Bushmills man.

"Look it here," said the man in the cloth cap. "Britain's, eh, commitment to find so-called 'creative solutions' to the border business... well, both them and that crowd in the Dail say there will have to be some sort of checks on or close to the border.

"It's inevitable if the Brits are leaving the single market and the customs union. And them DUP lads don't want a deal that's different to their lords and masters."

In short, that there will be a hard border between the Republic and Northern Ireland.

I interjected with my euro's worth: "The proposals for Ireland are credible only if you accept what are two mutually incompatible propositions, that the UK is creating the biggest political and economic revolution since 1973 and that, pretty much, everything will stay the same."

The man in the cloth cap chimed in: "In short, we're down to going back to a political and economic border and the reversal of much of the progress made since the Good Friday Agreement. Terrible - and unacceptable."

"But," I said, "if the EU gives the UK all the benefits of the customs union and the single market with none of the costs or restrictions..."

"And pigs might fly," said the barman.

Bushmills man was back: "The one thing they're only agreed on is the rejection of the - what would you call it? - technological utopianism of your more enthusiastic Brexiteer, especially in the DUP."

We agreed. The commitment to "avoid any physical border infrastructure" means that there can be no CCTV cameras or registration-plate recognition systems. No magic machines.

But we also agreed the assumption was that the EU would agree to something quite extraordinary - that a 500km external EU border with more than 200 crossing points would be effectively unpoliced.

"Open season for them Isis lads," said the man in the cloth cap. "Smugglers, and them human traffickers and terrorists will go on their merry little way unmolested, if you get my drift."

Our barman shouted time and quipped: "I hear that Titanic thing is well worth a visit."

Only if you fancy a tailback to Dundalk, with all that paper work, we said collectively.

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