It’s easier to get rid of a hard border

Vincent Boland has written a major piece for the FT magazine (£) entitled “Dividing Line: Brexit and the threat to the Irish Border“. The article is all more absorbing for being written for the casually interested globalised audience that is the FT’s typical readership. Boland doesn’t deal in economic statistics or confusing politics but on the intense, often harrowing experience that remains the living legacy of the Troubles on both sides of the physical border. And here he identifies the paradox hinted at in the title:   that the quickest way to get rid of a border is to make it hard.

Unlike in Seoul, South Korea, there is no ministry of unification in Dublin. Yet as any student of borders knows, when contested frontiers disappear, they do so remarkably quickly. The border between West and East Germany disappeared almost overnight. And Brexit could make the Irish border, once again, a contested frontier.

Hardline Irish nationalists, such as those in Sinn Féin, often take a contradictory stance on the border. On the one hand, they believe Brexit has brought forward the day of Irish reunification and, on the other, they insist that the border must not be touched, the quicker for it to disappear. Garrett Carr, who walked the length of the Irish border and wrote a book, The Rule of the Land, about his experience, says that the ­softening of the border over the past 20 years has, paradoxically, made it more durable.

“Flexibility makes things survive for longer. People along the border talk about it like they talk about the weather — it has become almost an environmental feature,” Carr says. “The quickest way to get rid of a border is to make it hard. Then it becomes a polarising issue and people start to develop some kind of front against it — it creates the sense of being an imposed entity. When a border stops rubbing people up the wrong way, when it stops challenging their identity, that’s what makes it endure.”

, , , , , , , ,

  • lizmcneill

    Nationalists are annoying for having nationalist aspirations?

  • Tochais Siorai

    Ah it did, james though maybe not sectarian as much as political. Protestant AP and GP voters along with the liberal UUP wing (and Sylvia) may have gone Remain (North Down etc) but most Unionist voters who turned out voted Leave.

    You’re correct about SFs new found indignance though, they barely lifted a finger and lots of Nat voters stayed at home.

  • Zorin001

    Broadly agree AG though I do think that C4 is a shell of itself compared to its output in the 80’s and 90’s. Used to videotape After Dark and watch it the next day, unmissable.

  • lizmcneill

    Even if it weakens the UK and doesn’t result in a UI?

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    After Dark?! What was that?

  • Croiteir

    That will do nicely

  • Zorin001

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/After_Dark_(TV_series)

    I think a lot of them are on Youtube, if so well worth checking out.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Ever hear of Turing Test?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Possibly, please jog my memory

  • MainlandUlsterman

    No, for insisting that N Ireland be disrupted until those aspirations are achieved.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    But it would have been a more accurate border, an improvement.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I didn’t say it was of a loyalist parade 🙂 The joint patrol phenomenon was a bad error but was very limited in time, geography and scope. It happened in the context of the early UDA being very different from what it later became. In the early days it was an amalgam of community defence groups, with a mass membership, was legal and the vast majority of members were not terrorists or anything of the kind. But the Army made lots of mistakes early on and that was certainly one of them. You have to remember though the security forces put proportionately way more Loyalists behind bars than Republicans, so the charge of bias isn’t generally borne out, as Da Silva found.

    The stat often used is the comparison of Loyalist numbers vs Republican numbers doing time for murder in the Maze. In The Red Hand, Prof Bruce points to the figures in the late 80s, when roughly equal numbers of Loyalists and Republicans were in jail for murder, despite there being double the number of Republican murders.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Or you could actually explain yourself instead of indulging in an elongated attempt to obfuscate over an nonsensical comment about unionists voting for the removal of the border – which you still haven’t explained or backed up. Sorry to be rude but I have given you plenty of opportunity.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I don’t think we were ever keen on Schengen.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    No, I made the argument you can’t refute – that seeking to decide NI’s future on the basis only of an all-island vote, instead of letting NI itself decide, is contrary to the core idea of self-determination. Indeed nationalism including SF accepted that logic in 1998 – it is enshrined in the GFA. Unionism has lost many important arguments, rightly so, but nationalism lost that one. It would be nice if we had something other than a Theresa May-esque u-turn denial about it. It’s OK to change your mind.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Not sure I understand your comment

  • MainlandUlsterman

    So according to Google it’s a test of artificial intelligence. What’s that got to do with the meaninglessness of claims that borders are “artificial”

  • Roger

    I presume the ‘we’ here is the UK and no doubt you are correct. Ditto European political integration generally I’d say.

  • Madra Uisce

    You are condoning the Armys disgraceful joint patrolling with UDA terrorists, and yes the UDA were terrorists no if ands or buts. The photo was not taken in the early part of the troubles but rather in July 1972 at the height of the killing. It was taken in the Castlereagh area of Belfast and was part of a strategy agreed by senior members of the Army.

  • Roger

    “seeking to decide [UKNI]’s future…”. Topic under discussion had nothing to do with UKNI’s future. It was a discussion of the arguments for and against the creation of UKNI back in 1921. Or ‘partition’ to put it another way. Nothing whatsoever to do with the rights of an entity that now exists. And has done for 96 years.

    An entity that doesn’t exist doesn’t have rights of self-determination. Through being created, it can certainly come to enjoy them. As UKNI has. That has nothing to do with whether the creation was right or justifiable nor is it evidence that it’s creation was “patently” preferable to no partition.

    Widespread acceptance, including by me, that the entity now enjoys rights doesn’t either.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Both are a matter of interpretation.

  • Kevin Breslin
  • Obelisk

    I don’t see much disruption beyond the calling for it.

    What you really want is the thing Nationalism denies Unionism, peace of mind that the Union is safe, that one day you won’t wake up and it’ll all be over.

    You act continually surprised that the north is such a contested entity, that the border dominates (and likely always will) our local politics. You wish for a Northern Ireland at peace with itself within the Union. That’s never going to happen. You should reconcile yourself to that fact, and Nationalism pressing for reunification at every single opportunity from now until we get it.

  • Reader

    Obelisk: Then if the numbers game is supreme, then the votes of the recognised jurisdiction (the island of ireland) should have won out and the island should not have been partitioned.
    No – putting 1,000,000 on the wrong side of an international border would have been wrong if any better border could have been drawn. And a better border was drawn. The extra votes you want to count (Limerick, Dublin) got their independence, after all. Why should they also determine the fate of Bangor?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    How about forming an executive – rather than treating every unachieved SF agenda item as if it’s a great injustice. Every other party wants to, it’s just SF.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Still not sure what the relevance of the comment was. I said the border was something we share, not the only thing. Sorry to be narky 🙂

  • MainlandUlsterman

    What of the 900,000 being more than 600,000? That’s the reason its creation – or the concept of carving part of Ulster from Irish secession, we can argue about exact boundaries – was right.

    The counter-argument was that the island of Ireland, combined population circa 5 million, was the smallest possible self-determinative unit. If you look around the world, you’ll see the absurdity of that proposition. Cyprus, Fiji, Estonia, Montenegro, Trinidad and Tobago, Bhutan, East Timor etc etc all have the right to self-determination with populations under 2 million. In terms of regions of Europe given the right to choose what country to be part of post-WW1, N Ireland was not the smallest area under dispute where local wishes were listened to: Northern Schleswig and Eupen/Malmedy spring to mind. All over central Europe there were border adjustments based on the national allegiances of people on the ground. Lots of countries argued like Irish nationalists that their lands were historically theirs; but of course in the modern age we try to base borders around the wishes of people living in these areas now, not on historic claims or assertions.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I think you’ll find I was criticising it.

  • Obelisk

    We aren’t going to agree on this. We are never going to agree on this. But that’s OK. The injustice is done. It’s rectification, and the reunification of our island is before us. That’s the important thing.

  • Obelisk

    No. We tried that. I know your hatred of Sinn Fein ensures you see everything they do as evil, but they tried to operate an executive. It may have been to improve their image down south, but they still tried. Once the DUP figured this out, they made sure to humiliate Sinn Fein and frustrate them at every opportunity.

    Sinn Fein’s voters had enough. I had enough. I was extremely angry the day Sinn Fein intervened on the no confidence motion. And I wasn’t alone. We let Sinn Fein know and they finally, after years of being walked over, responded.

    You think Sinn Fein pulled out of the executive? Sinn Fein pulled out because people like me forced them to pull out. And once they came out we let them know we wanted them to stay out until we got a good deal.

    So yes, you can mock every unachieved Sinn Fein goal as a great injustice for us. But remember, they wouldn’t be great injustices if the DUP hadn’t paraded them in front of Unionist voters as their great triumphs, what they denied Sinn Fein, how fantastic they were in keeping Nationalism at bay.

    I want an Executive back too, but I don’t want an Executive where the DUP think it’s a one party show and Unionism still thinks it has carte blanche. This time we do it right or we don’t do it at all.

  • Madra Uisce

    It happened in the context of the early UDA being very different from what it later became.

    This is what you claimed,which is untrue as I have already pointed out to you that it happened during the worst year of the troubles when the UDA was deeply involved in murdering catholic civilians and the british army made a conscious decision to conduct joint patrols with a terrorist group. That is just one of the reasons why I and many other owe them nothing

  • lizmcneill

    Well, that’s pretty useless. We do have to live in the place.

  • The Living End

    I had prepared a thorough response for you, but given the shocking, sickening events in Manchester I will refrain from commenting for a while. I’m sure all of our thoughts are with the victims and their families.

  • Tochais Siorai

    It would have been a bit of turd polishing.

  • Roger

    A centuries old jurisdiction should obviously be partitioned up because persons of a particular persuasion living on one sixth of its area outnumber persons of another persuasion in the same area by a number that is less than a whopping 7% of the jurisdiction’s population.

    It is a valid argument alright. There are many counter-arguments that we touched on and you certainly did not refute. Moreover, yours is also an argument that has been rejected in many places.

    I’ve never claimed there were no arguments for the 1921 creation. Indeed, I cited violence. A far more persuasive argument in my eyes than the one you cite. You made rather bolder claims than me, ones dismissing all other arguments.

    You may genuinely believe that such a bold claims are well founded. If indeed you do think so, I can only share with you my opinion that I think you may have a blinkered view on this topic.

  • zil

    Here’s a thought… if you are against nationalism then perhaps you should stop trying to ethnic engineer fake “Macedonians” in Skopje?