Do you like this Picture? Do you wanna ruin it? Vote Leave.
This is what you see when you drive from the polity known as The Republic of Ireland to the polity known as Northern Ireland. It’s the only marker. Right now.
It’s a not a big sign, and you might easily miss it and only realise that you’re in Fermanagh until you’re a few miles up the road when you start to notice that the speed limit signs seem to be in mph rather than kph.
But both British and Irish government representatives have conceded that if the polity known as the UK votes to leave Europe then some kind of actual border will have to be reinstated. The gentle country road leading north from Cavan towards Enniskillen will be cruelly interrupted again. This sign will be replaced by a physical barrier marking the border between the EU and the Outside World. Tariffs will be applied to business transactions between close friends and neighbours. The EU is an internal market and goods travelling back and forth into the EU will be subject to all the restrictions associated with the EU’s dealings with the wider world.
Farmers on both sides of the border will suffer. Employment will suffer. Many people will become unhappy. And then there’s the physical trauma of the restored border. The so-called “Peace Problem” did not solve the national question in Ireland. It did not offer any final resolution of governance. What it did was frame the ongoing dispute within political rather than military terms. The national question became a political problem not unlike other political problems and debated in similar terms. In the meantime, quite a lot of people have not been killed. Some have – and they should be mourned and not forgotten. But there were a deal of people who were killed between the 60s and the 90s who would not have been killed if something like the current political framework had been agreed earlier.
Driving breezily between Cavan and Fermanagh is a symbol and more than a symbol of normalisation. This discreet little sign represents the freedom of ordinary people to build cross border relationships without let or hindrance from heavy handed (or heavily armed) representatives of the state(s).
Now I’m not going to say that if the UK leaves the EU then the full 70s and 80s border will be restored, replete with checkpoints, observation towers and machine guns. But any kind of barrier will be a very sad thing. A hurtful thing – a thing that will look very very depressing and backward. A physical border will cause real emotional pain to go with the economic hardship they’ll be confronting.
Perhaps Leavers feel that there are larger issues that are more important than driving from Cavan to Fermanagh – that the hopes and fears of brave people who have sustained a fragile Peace in the North of Ireland are negligible in the “Big Picture” of things.
But Leavers have a responsibility to look at this photo. Think about the border that will replace this signage and recognise the hurt they’ll be helping to inflict by voting “Leave”. And take responsibility for it.