Belfast Telegraph

Soft border will harden by stealth, landowner says

A soft border between Northern Ireland and the Republic will harden by stealth, a landowner on the front line said.

John Sheridan, 56, a sheep and beef farmer in the UK's far west, said Brexit could put him out of business and claimed the British Government's suggestion the present invisible border could continue without customs posts after the EU divorce was "poppycock".

His fears were reflected in a local art installation of piles of multi-coloured soft toys on a narrow bridge taking traffic from villages north to south. Nearby a sign read simply: "Soften the border".

Mr Sheridan said: "Someone is going to have to get real here, namely Westminster, they have not thought it out.

"They don't care in truth, they never do."

Once the first sight greeting drivers across the bridge from the tiny village of Blacklion in the Republic to similarly-sized Belcoo in Fermanagh was a fortified watchtower.

But on Wednesday, legions of stuffed toys on the span marking the dividing line drew the eye.

They were made by local women's groups knitting dolls and cats in woolly jumpers.

Mr Sheridan lived through the violence during the Troubles.

He added: "W e have come a long way on this island, and they are not going to drive a wedge between the community that they are trying to drive now.

"It is history and they are going to have to grow up and live with that.

"We are not going back to the Dark Ages."

Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK that will share a land border with an EU state post-Brexit in March 2019.

Mr Sheridan's main business fear was the impact of mounting regulation on his trade.

His land goes right up to the border .

He added: "You cannot have a soft border, a soft border is a hard border, a soft border is a border by stealth, over the time, layer upon layer of legislation and regulation will be built on it."

Peter Gallagher, 37, o wns petrol stations in Belcoo and Blacklion, benefiting from differing tax regimes.

A carbon tax on coal in the Republic is not imposed in Northern Ireland, making it cheaper to bring it north to south in the winter time. Road diesel is cheaper in the Republic than Northern Ireland.

Mr Gallagher said: "If we end up with queues on the border, will people even give themselves the trouble of going to that hassle?

"If we get to a very extreme hard border situation where crossing for the average person is extremely difficult, neither business will survive because we cannot run a business reliant on just the locals.

"We need the movement of people to do that."

He said Britain will have next to no say in the design of the boundary and Europe would decide.

Belcoo's frontier town status is clear, the pub is called the Customs House.

A further crossing back into Fermanagh lies within a mile of neighbouring Blacklion.

Jean Harris, 57, and Billy McKellar, 56, from Barrhead near Glasgow, were on their third day of a cycling trip around the Lough Erne area, criss-crossing the divide multiple times.

Mr McKellar said: "We occasionally just see the road signs changing from miles to kilometres, but there has not been a huge apparent difference to it."

The first time they visited Northern Ireland there were soldiers and policemen on the borders.

Mr McKellar added: "It was not a very welcoming experience, so it makes things easier. It seems a more rational and pleasant way to live without having a hard border."

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