On the Irish border, people give Brexit deal cautious welcome
Residents living in frontier towns along the Irish border say they are hoping for “clarity” going forward.
“Euro = Pound” say numerous signs for fireworks on the way into Newry in Co Down just five miles from the Irish border.
The shopping centre in Newry in Northern Ireland is popular with cross border shoppers taking advantage of the weaker pound. At one stage in 2008 when the pound was at its weakest, the Sainsbury’s there sold more alcohol than any other Sainsbury’s in the world.
On Thursday morning, a new Brexit deal was reached between EU and UK negotiators that would avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.
The Irish Premier Leo Varadkar has said the Brexit deal reached protects the wishes of the people of Northern Ireland and avoids a hard border. However, the DUP have said they could not support the proposals.
While Thursday’s deal has been hailed as a breakthrough, residents living in frontier towns along the border have greeted the news with a cautious welcome.
Shop assistant Johny Foster who works in the Costcutter on the Dublin road on the way into Newry says the decline of the pound amid ongoing Brexit uncertainty means business is brisk with shoppers from the south of Ireland calling into the shop on their way through.
Johny says he no longer pays much heed to the radio station in the shop playing headlines on the latest twists and turns in Brexit but his ears perked up again this morning.
“It sounds like there was some kind of breakthrough but I’m here all morning chatting with customers about it and we don’t have a clue what it will mean for us yet.
“It sounds pretty hopeful though and we hope this ties it up for once and for all so we can have clarity but given the fact you have the DUP saying they’re not happy with it so I don’t know what to make of if it yet,” he says.
“Brexit hasn’t really affected us much yet and we’re lucky to have a stream of southern customers and the usual surge coming up to Christmas time for the cheaper drink,” he said.
Asked if he fears talk of border checks returning he is emphatic. “Oh definitely. I was never old enough to remember the worst of the Troubles because I was a baby. When I lived in Moira, the police station was attacked but that would be my only strong memory of the violence,” he says.
In 1998, an explosive device cause extensive damage to Moira police station in Co Down and a number of civilians were injured in the incident.
“Me and my friends would feel lucky to not have lived through the worst of it so when we hear talk of a border and potential attacks or a return to violence – I just don’t want to contemplate it,” he says.
Down the road in nearby Supervalu, shop manager Michael Downey said he grew up right on the border between Co Down and Co Louth in the Republic of Ireland.
“I have shops on both sides of the border so I’m very interested in the events playing out with Brexit and we need a clear decision to be made either way,” he said.
“Certain political parties and ones saying no to everything are going to have to give everybody else a wee bit of space here because the rest of us have to live,” he says.
“Parties need to be thinking 20 years ahead not just the next election round the corner. Get the deal done,” he said.
“We lived through the Troubles and are delighted to see them over and definitely don’t want to see them back. All that craic of army checkpoints and having your car stopped… it was torture,” he said.
“People just want to get on with their lives but at the same time, I want to see lasting peace in Northern Ireland. There was a well supported protest up here last night where people stood on either side of the border and that tells you the level of feeling there is here against any kind of a hard border,” he said.
Michael says at this point, he and other people living in Northern Ireland have grown tired of political quarrels and tribal differences. “Let us all live together, who cares where you go on a Sunday. Get on with life,” he says.
Over the border in the Irish republic in Omeath, Co Louth residents are reluctant to give their names or comment.
A publican in one of the local bars says people living in the town have “Brexit fatigue.”
“I don’t really understand much of the detail of what was announced this morning but I’m crossing that border up to ten times a day so if there’s any talk of checks or customs I will leave this area,” he says.
“I’ve been here since the early 2000s and have made a life and business here but all people are sick of all the talk and we just want to know on a practical level what it will mean for us because we’re three years waiting on it,” he said.
A local woman who was walking her dogs along the scenic Carlingford Lough said she believed the news of a deal was good but if it is not supported by everyone then it is “too soon to celebrate.”
Local Fianna Fail councillor who represents people living in Omeath and north Louth Erin McGreehan said: “Today’s deal has of course been very welcome; however I haven’t been able to have a sigh of relief just yet.”
The leader of Fianna Fail, Ireland’s main opposition party Micheal Martin said on Thursday the proposed Brexit deal the “best of both worlds” for Northern Ireland but that some concerns remain for small businesses and exports.
“There is an incredible amount of work to do in Westminster. Remember we have been here before, where the EU leaders approved a Withdrawal Treaty, a British Prime Minister approved it, even the UK Cabinet approved it and we all know the rest of that story. I am cautiously optimistic, but it is a real test is yet to come,” she said.
She also warned of potential new costs and paperwork for businesses in the Republic of Ireland as a result of the proposed deal.
“Brexit of any sort is not good news for this border region. We may have escaped the worst case scenario but there will be difficulties for people,” she concluded.