‘Hardening of border not acceptable for us’

RUC and army checking cars at the border in the 1980s. (Pacemaker)
RUC and army checking cars at the border in the 1980s. (Pacemaker)

A hardening of the border and the erection of fresh barriers to the movement of people and goods would be completely unacceptable outcomes of Brexit, the Irish Ambassador to the United Kingdom, Dan Mulhall has warned.

He said the huge flow of cross-border trade needs to be protected and a new hard border cannot be allowed to disrupt the lives of border communities in Ireland.

He also warned Brexit must not be allowed to damage the peace process.

Briefing the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Mr. Mulhall said Dublin wanted to safeguard its mutually-beneficial trading ties with London and to develop cross-border trade links in Ireland.

“North-South trade amounted to more than 6 billion euros in 2014 when NI had a substantial surplus, of some 2.7 billion euros,” he said.

“Exports south of the border amount to 36 per cent of NI’s exports while sales to NI represent 2 per cent of our total exports.

“Because of the importance of our bilateral trade, we welcome PM May’s commitment to seek the closest possible trading relationship with the EU after it leaves the Union,” he added.

Mr. Mulhall said a new hard border can’t be allowed to disadvantage people in the North and along the frontier.

“It is, I think, universally acknowledged that the open and virtually invisible border that exists at present confers benefits on both parts of Ireland and on all communities in Northern Ireland,” he said.

“I am not aware of anyone who thinks that a hardening of that border would be an acceptable outcome,” he added.

The Irish Ambassador also revealed he was alive to how Brexit was having repercussions on the politics of the North.

“We are very conscious of the interplay between Brexit and political developments within Northern Ireland.

“The facts of the matter are that a majority of people in Northern Ireland voted Remain and that the two parties that comprised the former NI Executive adopted opposing views in the referendum,” he said.

He added: “Nevertheless, in the latter part of last year good progress had been made in developing a shared approach between the Irish Government and the Northern Ireland Executive in terms of how the challenges of Brexit for the island might be managed.

“It is very important that, following the current Assembly elections, a new power-sharing Executive will resume this vital engagement with a view to securing the best possible outcome for the island of Ireland.

“It is essential that Brexit does not affect the Good Friday Agreement, and that the people of Northern Ireland can have confidence that this will be the case.”