Kids on Brexit

School­girls liv­ing on the Bor­der ex­plain the UK’s leav­ing of the EU.

The Irish Times - Weekend Review - - FRONT PAGE - Si­mon Car­swell in Cross­ma­glen, Co Ar­magh

The six lo­cal school­girls all know it as “Cross”. Most oth­ers know this vil­lage in south Ar­magh, just 3km across the Bor­der into North­ern Ire­land, as Cross­ma­glen.

The vil­lage was once fa­mous for its na­tion­al­ist de­fi­ance at Bri­tish rule and as the de facto cap­i­tal of what be­came known to UK se­cu­rity forces as Ban­dit Coun­try. It is now a quiet and bustling lit­tle town with nar­row, traf­fic- con­gested streets and a busy vil­lage square with plenty of com­ings and go­ings.

At St Pa­trick’s Catholic Pri­mary School on the edge of the vil­lage, prin­ci­pal Michael Ma­dine points out the bricks on the wall of the school fac­ing the Bri­tish army bar­racks in the vil­lage that had to be re­placed as a re­sult of bul­lets strik­ing the wall dur­ing gun­fights be­tween the IRA and the sol­diers. The school was right in the mid­dle of the cross­fire.

Now a tran­quil vil­lage, Cross­ma­glen is a changed place 20 years af­ter the Trou­bles ended. This could be any school, any­where on the is­land. It has all the nor­mal­ity that comes from two decades of peace.

This morn­ing, the school is abuzz with kid chat­ter and laughter as stu­dents, from aged f our up­wards make their way, mid- morn­ing, around the cor­ri­dors, high-fiv­ing the older chil­dren as they pass.

The old­est of the chil­dren walk­ing the cor­ri­dors was born nine years af­ter the Belfast Agree­ment that laid the ground­work for a peace process. They have no per­sonal mem­ory of the Trou­bles.

Cross­ma­glen finds it­self back on a front line, this time with Brexit given the un­cer­tainty around what will hap­pen to the Bor­der when it be­comes one of the vil­lages in North­ern Ire­land along the new fron­tier be­tween the United King­dom and Euro­pean Union from March 29th, 2019.

Ma­dine in­tro­duces six of his bright­est stu­dents – Cara Crum­mie (11), Aimee-Lee Cara­her (11), Caitlín Pat­ton (10), Mary Gal­lagher ( 10), Ciara McBride ( 10) and Kayleigh Shields (10) – who have agreed, with the per­mis­sion of their par­ents, to talk about Brexit.

They dis­cuss what they know about the UK’s depar­ture from the EU, what it might mean for them, their fam­i­lies and their friends, and what they know of the Trou­bles.

Four of the girls live in North­ern Ire­land. Ciara lives a mile away from the Bor­der but the fron­tier is so in­vis­i­ble to her she is not sure if her home is in North­ern Ire­land or the Re­pub­lic of Ire­land.

Aimee- Lee’s home strad­dles the Bor­der, one part of her house is in the north and the other half in the south. She starts a 50-minute con­ver­sa­tion with the six girls ex­plain­ing what life might be like for her af­ter Brexit Day when one part of her home will be in the UK and the other out­side it, in the EU. So how does it work liv­ing right on the Bor­der? Aimee- Lee: I sleep in North­ern Ire­land but my liv­in­groom would be in the Re­pub­lic of Ire­land. Where do you have your break­fast? Aimee-Lee: In the South.

Do you ever eat your break­fast in the North? Aimee-Lee: No.

What’s it like liv­ing on the Bor­der? Aimee-Lee: Up to now it’s been okay but if Brexit hap­pens, if I look out my win­dow, there’s go­ing to be peo­ple there. Say if Dad gives me five pound [ster­ling] for my birthday, am I go­ing to have to change it into euro be­fore I put it into my money box? [Laughs] How might Brexit af­fect your house? Cara: It might split the house up. Aimee-Lee: Ev­ery time you cross the Bor­der I have to show my pass­port say­ing night-night to me mum. [Laughs again] Are you wor­ried that there might have to be a cus­toms man in your house if you’re on the Bor­der? Aimee-Lee: I hope not. There is no room for him to sleep. [All six girls laugh] Ciara: Aimee-Lee, what side will he sleep on, the North or the South? Mary: He would have to sleep on the stairs. The bot­tom step. Aimee- Lee: Yeah, he could sleep on the stairs. That’s the Bor­der. Can you tell me what Brexit is? Kayleigh: The UK is leav­ing the Euro­pean Union.

Cara: I’ll help you. The Euro­pean Union is 28 coun­tries and Bri­tain is one of those 28 coun­tries so once it leaves there will only be 27 coun­tries in the Euro­pean Union.

Is Brexit a good or a bad thing?

Kayleigh: It is a bad thing. If we get a bor­der, like po­lice checks or what­ever, then it could take an hour longer to get any­where if you are try­ing to cross the Bor­der.

Caitlín: I think it is a bad idea. Let’s say if you were sell­ing like cows or sheep . . . and the man who wanted them in Cork was try­ing to get them, he would have to get ex­tra money to take it across the Bor­der. That would be bad for his busi­ness.

Ciara: I don’t think it is a good thing be­cause it is just go­ing to make it harder for ev­ery­one. So if you just wanted to go to Dun­dalk to just do a bit of shop­ping, you’d have to pay ex­tra just to bring it back across the Bor­der and there would be lines in the cus­toms huts and you’re only al­lowed to take cer­tain things across so you’d have to be checked.

Cara: Brexit makes me sad. My dad was t el l i ng me when­ever it hap­pened [re­fer­ring to the last time there was a hard bor­der] that him and my aun­tie would have to lie on the ground and bul­lets would come over them and bombs would come over them. I don’t want that to hap­pen to me or if I have any chil­dren in the later years. The Trou­bles that were – I don’t want that here.

Do you think most peo­ple in Cross­ma­glen like the idea of Brexit? Aimee-Lee: I don’t think they do be­cause say if they were com­ing down to where I live, they would have to pass two check­points just to get to my house. Then I don’t think it would be a nice thing to have to show your pass­port just to go some­where. To peo­ple who don’t know, how would you de­scribe a bor­der?

Kayleigh: It is like a di­vid­ing line be­tween two parts of a coun­try and there could be an ac­tual wall, po­lice checks or CCTV cam­eras around.

Aimee-Lee: If Brexit hap­pens, there is go­ing to be guards or cus­toms or po­lice stand­ing at my gate and they will be say­ing, “where are you go­ing?” “can I have your pass­port?” or “what do you have?” Can the politi­cians stop a hard bor­der from hap­pen­ing? Aimee- Lee: It is hard to know be­cause they still can’t agree on whether it is hap­pen­ing or not. Do you know what this “back­stop” is that the politi­cians are try­ing to ne­go­ti­ate to stop it?

Cara: The back­stop is where there still is a Bor­der but there is not go­ing to be any po­lice there. There is not go­ing to be any­thing, no queues, so all you have to do is just pass the Bor­der. It’s like what it is now but if we don’t get that back thing – back­stop – there will be po­lice and mas­sive queues.

Aimee- Lee: If the cus­toms or the guards or po­lice rule and man the borders, the Ir­ish might protest against them and then the cus­toms will like call to the Bri­tish army and then it will just de­stroy our peace­ful coun­try we have had for the last 20 years.

What do your fam­i­lies re­mem­ber of the Trou­bles?

Kayleigh: One time my mother said she was at the youth club with her sis­ter, my aun­tie, and these bombs and bul­lets were com­ing and the roof fell in. One time she was at school and there were bul­lets com­ing and she had to hide un­der the ta­bles.

Cara: Ev­ery time they left their house, there’d be bombs go­ing off. There would be bul­lets go­ing past them. Loads of peo­ple have died and I don’t want to die now. Then North­ern Ire­land and the Re­pub­lic of Ire­land would be at peace no more.

Mary: See if Brexit hap­pened now and the war started again, a bomb might go off and we might have to go un­der the table again.

Cara: In Belfast they have a wall be­tween the Protes­tants and Catholics be­cause they used to al­ways fight. It just started off as barbed wire and then they had to build [it] into con­crete be­cause they were set­ting off guns and all through them.

Aimee-Lee: With the barbed wire, if that does hap­pen, am I go­ing to be sep­a­rated from my friends?

Caitlín: Mum said when she and her cousin were walk­ing home from school, they nearly got run over by one of them big army tanks and then they couldn’t get to sleep at night with all the bombs and the shoot­ing.

[Aimee-Lee’s fam­ily come from a repub­li­can back­ground and are strong sup­port­ers of North­ern Ire­land’s peace process. To show where she lives, Aimee- Lee has brought with her a Cara­her fam­ily pho­to­graph taken dur­ing the 1980s of her grand­fa­ther and her fa­ther’s sib­lings stand­ing in two sep­a­rate groups on ei­ther side of the Bor­der to show how it di­vides their land. Her home was built on this plot.]

Are you con­cerned that the Trou­bles could come back if the politi­cians can’t agree on Brexit?

Caitlín: That could hap­pen again. That is what they did years ago. They thought it wouldn’t hap­pen. Now they don’t think it is go­ing to hap­pen but it could hap­pen again. Do you think the grown-ups know what they are do­ing when it comes to Brexit?

Mary: No. They’re act­ing like chil­dren be­cause they can’t agree if they are go­ing to have a deal or no deal. I don’t like to see them fight.

Ciara: They just keep ar­gu­ing, they can’t do this and they can’t do that. Theresa May wants the best of both worlds. She wants a good deal but she doesn’t want all the rules. She wants to have it all but she re­ally can’t. She wants to have a deal like Canada but she wants to make it bet­ter than Canada and she’d call that Che­quers but they did say that Che­quers wouldn’t work.

Kayleigh: They know what they are talk­ing about more than we know what they are talk­ing about but we still know more what will hap­pen. Do you think peo­ple in Lon­don know what it’s like to live here next to the Bor­der?

Cara: They don’t know how the Bor­der works or they don’t know how it feels like to be with a Bor­der be­cause all their stuff is just one whole thing. But if they come and live here, they will see how dif­fer­ent it is and if Theresa May comes here dur­ing Brexit, then she will know how we felt.

If Theresa May came to Cross­ma­glen, what would you say to her?

Cara: Brexit shouldn’t go through. You are not re­spect­ing our vote. It is not very nice.

[The girls re­ferred dur­ing the con­ver­sa­tion to a ma­jor­ity of peo­ple in North­ern Ire­land vot­ing to re­main in the EU in the June 2016 ref­er­en­dum when the UK as a whole voted to leave.]

Mary: I would say: try harder. Look at Aimee- Lee, she has to cross the Bor­der twice, she has to get her ed­u­ca­tion. She might have to miss two hours of school. Do you think kids could ne­go­ti­ate a bet­ter deal? All six: Yes!

Aimee-Lee: Kids have a bet­ter way of say­ing it to peo­ple, be­cause we are not just ar­gu­ing and be­ing all ar­gu­men­ta­tive. We are just say­ing, “right, I am not here to ar­gue, I am just here to prove my point of view”. I live on the Bor­der and I don’t want this big hul­la­baloo out­side my gate. I just want a sim­ple lit­tle Brexit. I just want to go on, drive through the Bor­der, not have to be checked, not have to show my pass­port, not be asked: “Where are you go­ing? What have you got in the back?”

Cara: I think we do un­der­stand more than them what it would feel like be­cause they’re adults and they don’t have much left to live for but we have our whole lives ahead of us.

Kayleigh: They are not re­ally think­ing straight. They are just think­ing about what they want.

St Pa­tricks’s pri­mary school in Cross­ma­glen is sit­u­ated just 4km from the Bor­der. Stu­dents there talk about their con­cerns on Brexit

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