Allowing Brexit sever the mixed cross-border community that stretches North and West from Derry should be ‘unthinkable’ for policy makers as it could increase ‘polarisation’ and herald ‘a reversion to separatist outlooks’.
That was the clear message delivered by former top Derry police officer, Peter Sheridan, and Drumahoe-born journalist Susan McKay, when they recently briefed the Dáil Joint Committee on Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs Debate on development issues in the border area.
Mr. Sheridan, who is now the Chief Executive of Co-operation Ireland, which took a neutral stance prior to the Brexit referendum, warned: “It is unthinkable for inhabitants of Derry, Newry, Manorcunningham or Manorhamilton that they would be cut off again from their natural hinterland across the border.”
Mr. Sheridan told the committee there was serious concern along the border that community interests will fall well down the pecking order insofar as the Brexit negotiations are concerned.
“The fear among local communities is that they will be lost in the negotiations and that those will be about the higher level. It is a plea to ensure that local communities are welcomed during those negotiations and discussions,” he said.
Mrs. McKay, the well-known Derry journalist who has written several books chronicling the Troubles, including ‘Northern Protestants’ and ‘Bear in Mind These Dead’, and who now runs a border arts centre in Manorhamilton in County Leitrim, warned years of peace-building could be undone.
“We are facing a situation where there may be polarisation and a reversion to separatist outlooks, neither of which are helpful to the peace process,” she told the committee.
“We may be facing into a period which will lay waste carefully nurtured relationships as well as risking massive waste of the many EU, American, Irish and British funds that have gone into trying to nurture cross-Border relationships in a constructive way,” she said.
Mr. Sheridan urged the governments on both sides of the border need to take careful account of the border issue.
“The British and Irish Governments will have to think carefully of what the impact is on that Border. We certainly do not want to create a semi-detached status for people who see their allegiance being to the Republic of Ireland, nor do we want to create a semi-detached status for people who see their allegiance being to Westminster. Those are people’s concerns and worries.”