“Where does [Coveney] think the threat to peace comes from?”

Also for the weekend, with Brexit still hiding in as yet an amorphous form, Newton Emerson is concerned with the strange in-caution of the Republic’s new Minister for Foreign Affairs:

Speaking to RTÉ from negotiations in Brussels, he said: “What we do not want to pretend is that we can solve the problems of the Border on the island of Ireland through technical solutions like cameras and pre-registration and so on. That is not going to work.”

Emerson notes:

This comment verged on setting up a straw man argument.

Nobody is pretending the post-Brexit Border can be purely electronic – only that such technology can make it, in the words of the Northern Ireland Office, “as frictionless as possible”.

The UK will not have to install customs posts on its side of the frontier and has said it will not do so, but everyone accepts the Republic will have to perform some checks on behalf of the EU as a whole.

The Irish Government has made detailed work on this public. Last August the Revenue Commissioners revealed plans for a soft Brexit electronic system on the assumption of a UK-EU free trade arrangement.

This would allow most lorries to cross the Border non-stop, but there would still be physical clearance facilities for occasional customs checks, preferably at existing tax offices rather than at the frontier itself.

This February, Minister for Finance Michael Noonan confirmed contingency planning for a hard Brexit electronic system, involving fixed customs posts on main routes – again well away from the Border – with portable inspection facilities elsewhere.

In April, the Revenue Commissioners advised the Dáil that this would mean checking the paperwork of between 6 per cent and 8 per cent of freight movements, with a “small number” of physical inspections.


Having ignored all this work by his own Government, Coveney then toppled his straw man onto Stormont.

“Any barrier or border on the island of Ireland in my view risks undermining a very hard-won peace process,” he said, apparently unaware of the Border there already.

“All of the parties in Northern Ireland, whether they are unionist or nationalist, recognise we want to keep the free movement of people and goods and services and livelihoods.”

If Coveney realises all parties in Northern Ireland share roughly the same Brexit objectives, where does he think the threat to peace or even the political process comes from?

It may be the that having been parachuted into the post with little notice (and little sign of prior interest in the subject), he’s working on advice rather than experience.

But Charlie Flanagan (a regular at BIPA meetings for nearly 20 years), is unlikely to have risked such hostages to fortune.

  • mickfealty

    By barely concealed bias do you mean unionist and therefore not worth listening to (see: https://goo.gl/NHCUKR)? Since Newton was also pro Remain, if you meant something other than this, I’m not sure why you would wrap him up in the same old greasy chip paper as the DUP (please see the commenting rules?)

  • mickfealty

    Almost right. Unionism at some point has to get back to the departure of the 1880s and declare that they’re about something other than the constitutional issue and make the distinction between one and the other irrelevant.

    The DUP have gambled that although withdrawal from the EU will cause a major wound, but which when cauterised will make it much easier to play that game. The sheer ineffectiveness of political nationalism in this and other regards has made it too easy for them.

    I think Newton’s bugbear here is the sheer ineffectiveness of his various interventions, not that he made them. But in that regard it’s of a piece with the idiocy of letting Brexit go through with the barest of resistance.

  • Barneyt

    Oh you said “the north” 🙂

  • Barneyt

    Who knows how this will develop. Post brexit there may be factors that push and pull for the uk and the right ( ROI in this case). The customs issue is perhaps one for the ROI to sort as you suggest however migration issues in particular might force the U.K into action to protect their borders. That action might trigger a response as north Louth may find itself with their own Calais jungle. In time, the border will be harder than a stick of rock candy.

  • Barneyt

    Over the water there are many that are not fully aware of the differences between the historic British isles, gb and the uk. I imagine the notion of an Irish isle will not sit well. I’ve had many ask me, which bit do we own, the north or the south. 🙂 mistakes and ignorance flavoured with convenient colonial arrogance are sometimes joined at the hip

  • hollandia

    Yes. Just because the UK is out, doesn’t mean its doomed to failure. In fact, given the UK’s dragging of heels in Europe over the last 30 years or so, it’ll probably prosper more, now that the UK has left.

  • hollandia

    The threat to peace comes from several areas:

    1: The setting up of border facilities will require the presence of customs, and indeed police. Easy prey for any dissident organisation hoping to make a name for itself.
    2: The reversal of several important, but underplayed aspects of the GFA, such as free movement across the border, north south cooperation etc. It is no coincidence, that while these things worked well, support for nationalism plateaued in the form of people staying at home.
    3: Political vacuum. See 1 and 2. It may only take one incident, and security will have to be ramped up. Ramping up security would be seen as a reversal of “demilitarisation”. And stepping into the vacuum would be more hardline elements.
    4: The sense that this has all been imposed against the will of the people, given that the North voted against Brexit.
    5: Any restrictions on movement across the border will be problematic. Border dwellers, who once had 20 mile round trips to visit family members 2 miles away, have got used to nipping across the border to the shop or for diesel. Any re-impostion of road closures (which would be necessary, given the cost of policing some 200+ crossings) would further stoke any lingering tensions.

    It’s all very well, asking “where is the threat?”, when focusing entirely on the words of a Southern Politician. But the words of that politician indicate, and in fact underline, what we already know – namely the UK have not thought about Brexit, whilst everyone else has done their homework.

  • Georgie Best

    Talk of road closures is rather far fetched. In the days of customs no road was closed and in the troubles less than half were. Unfortunately the real dangers of a reversal of consensus politics in NI are being downplayed by those who hope to benefit from this and so more dramatic examples are being used.

  • Zeno3

    They might not have to protect their borders if they make the UK a cold house for migrants, and that looks a strong possibility. Ireland will then become a bigger target for mass immigration.
    In the paper yesterday is a story about the Appeal Court in Dublin referring the case of a Romanian National to the EU Court of Justice. The Romanian is claiming that even though he/she has only worked for 5 months out of the 11 years he/she has been in Ireland they should be entitled to full Welfare Benefits in Ireland. If the EU Court decides in his favour a precedent is set and Ireland will have to pay full Welfare Benefits to anyone who arrives and works a few weeks.

  • hollandia

    I live near the border. I can assure you quite a lot of roads were closed.

  • Georgie Best

    Roads were closed in certain areas, often sparsely populated roads, but not in others, or not for long at least.
    It would be unsatisfactory for someone to be able to claim that no roads were closed, so there isn’t a problem.

  • Georgie Best

    Britain is not “reacting”, Britain is causing the problem. Take responsibility.

  • Zeno3

    “Causing the problem” by following the democratic will of the people and implementing brexit? What would you like them to do, cancel it, ignore the vote, keeping voting until you get the result you like?

  • Barneyt

    Whatever occurs the border will reform and take on historical characteristics. I know newton states that Coveney seems unaware of its existence however it’s not in place as it once was and we get the spirit of coveneys point. For me there are too many conflicting issues to have this go smoothly. The cta is surely going to collide with the dismantlement of free movement. The ROI is not going to vacate the eu any time soon so a brexit in its roughest form ( no such thing as a nice divorce) is going to create difficulties. We are do used to moving throughout the island and any impedance is going to bring back dark memories for us north of the border and perhaps force the euro out of Newry banbridge and other parts touched by unofficial dual currency

  • Zeno3

    On the other hand a solution that suits everyone may be found.

  • lizmcneill

    Penalties will be severe….if they can catch them. The problem with a “technology border” is the smugglers have technology too. It already happens with the fuel.

  • lizmcneill

    A hard EU border running through majority nationalist borderlands will be an open wound, not a cauterized one.

  • Zeno3

    What sort of Tech do Fuel Smugglers have?

  • Georgie Best

    I couldn’t care less if they vote to tow the whole place off to the south Atlantic, so long as they do not interfere with trade and travel within Ireland.

  • mickfealty

    It’s certainly a reversal for nationalism which should have been resisted more firmly than it was. But what is this hard border of which you speak?

  • Oriel27

    Excellent post sir. You summed it up exactly would know being close to the border.

    I think many people on this site are Belfast centered or are too far removed from life on the border to be qualified to talk on the border impact of brexit ( Gavbelfast you listening?)

    As a border resident all my life thru the terrible times of the 70’s and 80’s, this brexit thing has the potential to be literally explosive unless its handled correctly in Ireland.

    Firstly, clearly brexit is better solved geographically, afterall, the north voted to remain.
    Secondly, it clearly brings up the idiotic nature of the North, its reason to exist, its detriment to the prosperity of its people etc.

    During my youth, my own road was cratered for 25 years. When i was young we used to love going down to the border on Sundays and help close in the craters with local farmers – only for the road to be blown up again on the Monday.

    The local economy of back in my fathers and grandfathers days of the 1900-1940 were ruined with the advance of partition. Local economies & hinterlands were cut off.
    The railways were closed – big mistake.

    Whats more, 2 separate economies formed on the island. People became used to it. Children born then knew no different. Partition had achieved its aim – so much so we had neighbours across the fields that thought were we lived was a separate country.
    Thats the disastrous consequences of borders, it separates people & communities.

    Now, with the advance of peace etc, It has felt as if there is now an All-Ireland. No, check points, no waiting, harassment, no queuing etc.
    roads are freeflowing.
    A road near my own, the bridge was rebuilt in 2010, it was the last border bridge to be rebuilt.
    Now we have cross border events all the time.
    There doesn’t feel like there is a border anymore.
    I cross it several times a day. no issue.

    Why Brexit, why ruin all the above, why go backwards?
    Id say, let GB brexit, and build the border at the ports.

    There has been too much free flowing and freedom now to bring back a border.
    It would be like putting a wall through your kitchen.

    I know its hard for people who live far away from the border, but for people like me who criss-cross it everyday for the last 20 years since the border roads have been open – it would be a terrible shame if this was all ruined.

    Castle Leslie, near me, is full every day from weddings from the north, and definitely from weddings for people of the unionist persuasion.
    Imagine if that was all to stop?

    No, its not gong to be free-flowing if any sort of border, be it electronic or otherwise comes in. The old suspicions will come back, the feeling of being watched, the feeling of you have done something wrong etc, will come back.
    there will be a reluctance to go across the border, if there is a border there.

    What i can say is, year fro a few years, people will try to adjust to it.
    But, a border will just not be sustainable of any kind.

    A border in Ireland has never been natural, and it wont be sustainable again.
    not now in a modern age where everything is so inter-connectable.
    If anything, brexit was uncalled for, its a backward step.

  • lizmcneill

    Are there any workable proposals to keep the border as it is today? “Technology border” is like something Marketing promises and then it gets sprung on the poor engineers later.

  • lizmcneill

    Much better communication technology than was around during the Troubles, for a start.