N Ireland’s former ‘badlands’ brace for Britain’s EU vote
CROSSMAGLEN, Northern Ireland: For the Catholic residents of Northern Ireland village Crossmaglen, the prospect of Britain’s only land border with the European Union rising around them to obstruct access to the Irish Republic is unthinkable.
But barely two decades after a peace deal brought down the military checkpoints that divided the two parts of Ireland, opinion polls show growing support in Britain to leave the European Union in a referendum due by the end of 2017. It’s unclear if that would bring back the kind of border controls that Ireland’s deputy leader recently dismissed as abhorrent, but any changes would have profound effects in the former border“badlands”Britain long struggled to control.
The biggest fear for many in Northern Ireland is that new border restrictions could reenergise Catholic Irish nationalist demands for a united Ireland, which helped fuel three decades of violence with the British authorities and mainly Protestant unionists who wanted it to remain part of Britain. At least 3,600 people were killed in the“The Troubles”.
“You’d be bringing things back 30 years,” said Cathal Short, a businessman walking in the main square of Crossmaglen, a predominantly Catholic village where many shops accept euros alongside sterling and streets are strewn with bunting for Gaelic football, the Republic’s most popular sport.
“I think it would be an absolute disaster for here.” Many see the EU, with its guarantees of civil rights and free movement of goods, workers and capital as a significant factor in securing the peace in 1998. On many practical levels the EU has united Ireland.
A British exit would deprive Northern Ireland, one of Britain’s poorest regions, of 8.4 percent of its economic output in direct EU funding, according to an Open University report. An Irish think tank, meanwhile, said UK-Irish trade would fall 20 percent, with border towns hit hardest.
However opponents of EU membership have argued the EU is a drain on overall British resources and that Brussels bureaucracy hampers small and mediumsized businesses. An EU exit would also create a “significant psychological impact” in the border area, according to a report by a committee in the Irish parliament, which warned it would be“politically destabilising”.
Martina Anderson, a Member of the European Parliament for the largest Irish nationalist party Sinn Fein - and native of another border area to the west - has said Northern Ireland should consider refusing to accept a British EU exit. “Britain wants to pull out of Europe, the discussion we need to have is that Britain pull out of Ireland,” she said. “The decision that is going to be made in England should not be binding on the north.”
VOTERS COOL ON BREXIT
The only major recent opinion poll on attitudes to a British exit in Northern Ireland, commissioned by Danske Bank, showed that 58 percent of the 1.8 million population were against leaving, one of the highest levels in the United Kingdom.
Only 16 percent were in favor of a British exit, or Brexit. The population is roughly evenly split between traditional Catholic and Protestant communities. There have been no major studies to break down support for an exit along those lines, and major unionist parties have not announced official positions. — Reuters
GEVGELIJA: Migrants and refugees wait for crossing the Greek-Macedonian border near Gevgelija yesterday. The flow of refugees and other migrants from Turkey to Greece is expected to continue at a rate of 5,000 daily this winter, according to the UN refugee agency UNHCR. — AFP