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Hard border, peace deal fears in Ireland as Brexit talks risk collapse

France 24, screen capture | The Irish Prime Minister warned last week that Brexit could threaten the fragile peace along the Northern Ireland-Ireland border.

Of all the roadblocks to a Brexit deal Northern Ireland is the biggest, and nobody feels more apprehension about the deadlock between the UK and European Union than the people who actually there.

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People across Northern Ireland voted by a significant majority to stay in the European Union during the Brexit referendum, and part of this was due to fears about a return to a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. The hard won peace deal brought about by the Good Friday Agreement exactly 20 years ago in 1998 brought down the contentious border and now people pass freely across the frontier with no checkpoints or soldiers.

The peace process, in which the European Union played an important role, also brought prosperity and a future to the people of Northern Ireland. The ongoing Brexit debate has served as a reminder that the border is not just about customs or economics, but about identity -- being Irish or being British -- and memories of the dark times known as, ‘The Troubles’.

At the EU summit last week, Irish Taoiseach (equivalent to prime minister) Leo Varadkar asked fellow leaders to really reflect on the possibility of Brexit risking the fragile 20-year peace.

‘Politicians have no idea’

Mary Casey, whose customs officer father was killed by an IRA bomb at a customs post in 1972, told FRANCE 24, “I don’t think any of the politicians have any idea what the border is about really. Somebody goes out to work in the morning and they come back in a coffin,” said Casey.

European Council President Donald Tusk said that a priority for any Brexit divorce deal was a solution to the Northern Ireland issue.

Furthermore, the EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, when asked could the talks with the UK be completely derailed if there was not a satisfactory solution to the Northern Ireland question, replied that "the answer is yes".

Talks have stalled over how to stop a border with the Republic of Ireland, an EU member, becoming a hard border again.

London believes customs and other checks can be avoided through a new trade agreement with Brussels, but accepts the need for a fallback plan until that deal is agreed.

Over 3,600 died in the violence

However, the two sides have so far been unable to settle the terms.

Before becoming largely invisible thanks the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, the 310-mile (500-kilometre) Irish border was a flashpoint for violence during three decades of what became known as "The Troubles" in which over 3,600 died.

Britain and the EU both say there should be no return to a manned border in any Brexit scenario, but the people of Northern Ireland have been let down so many times before they are not sure what to believe.

Surveys reveal a majority of people still want to stay in the EU or, failing that, a soft Brexit with the country remaining in the customs union and single market.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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