On that hard border between NI and I

We’ve the occasional military type around here. No doubt some have served in NI. A technical question.

The EU is thinking about that having to be a hard border. Properly dividing EU from non-EU. My own thought is that this has never been a hard border. I mean never. It’s just the 6 county boundaries and counties aren’t particularly defined by defendable geographic features. OK, we’re not talking military, obviously, but to have a hard border you do need one of two things.

1) Geographic features which produce the border. Nice wide rivers, high mountains, steep ravines, things which just make it easier to define and guard against crossings.

2) The Berlin Wall.

We’re not going to do 2, obviously. But my intuition, and this is the question, is that NI/I just doesn’t have 1 either. There’s this field, then that one, and that’s about it for some to much of it.

Which was rather the problem when there was that military stuff, wasn’t it?

The final bit being, OK, given some people who know the area, is there in fact any manner of making that a hard border without a wall/fence?

55 thoughts on “On that hard border between NI and I”

  1. Can we have a border that is the Irish Sea please?

    I ne we understood what we mainlanders got for keeping the Irish back garden British?

    Anyone tell me? I know state’s have duties to self defining people etc etc. I’m not confused as to why we did but confused as to what benefit?

  2. The simple answer is unifying with Ireland. They tried decades of trying Irish Kinder, Kirche, Kuche and became Thatcherites. They speak English apart from some ceremonial bollocks. They heavily trade with us, play the same sports, are related to many of us.

    What are the essential differences between Northern Ireland and the republic?

  3. Simple solution is to tell the EU to –once again–fuck off.

    Just say that the border is between us and the Irish and the EU can mind its own business.

    This cuts the Irish out of the EU herd leaving their gubmint with the choice of pleasing their own people or cravenly kissing EU arse.

  4. There are some physical borders, for example the River Foyle just south of (London)Derry, but I’d estimate that they account for less than 10% of the length of the border.

    Much of the rest of the border is very complex; take a look at the A3 / N54 just south of Clones.

  5. Once spent a sunny day sat on one of seven potential border crossing points in an intelligence led operation trying to interdict weapons movement. All the crossings were within 5 miles of each other. Mine was a small bridge on a farm track in the middle of nowhere that crossed a stream delineating the border at that point. Easily crossable in a land rover or transit van. One of the other crossing points was so ill defined that the patrol almost strayed into the Republic finding it.

    If there is to be a hard border I don’t know how you are going to police it when the British Army couldn’t.

  6. Other countries don’t seem to have a problem with ill defined frontiers. I spent a couple years living alongside the Belgian/French border in Flanders. Currently soft as a down pillow. But the plethora of pill-boxes still scattered along it indicate the Froggies once took that line on a map very seriously. But then the French managed to have customs posts at the entrances to their own cities, so they’ve always been a little odd.

  7. There’s degrees of hardness: after the mid-nineties a lot of roads and bridges that were blocked were re-opened. Since Ireland isn’t in Schengen, some of the security stuff isn’t a worry. I think more is in train anyway since one of the London Bridge attackers was denied entry to the UK but then got Irish asylum

  8. As Tim says, short of an East German or Israeli solution, most land borders are highly porous. Mountainous ones were notorious for their smugglers and rivers can be crossed almost anywhere by anyone with a small boat. Schengen is simply a recognition of this obvious truth; but most continentals haven’t really thought about the implications of having your borders defined by nature rather than politicians.

  9. Jeebus. What caused that? That is, I assume, the Monaghan border. So what caused that kink in a county border? Some bit that the Lord of Monaghan owned at some point?

  10. You cannot police a border between ROI and NI. Simply not possible, without a fucking big wall, watchtowers, razor wire, checkpoints etc. It would cost billions. (Maybe we should ask the EU to do it and pay for it, thinking about it?)
    You could put a stop to the PIRA actions by the simple expedient of rounding the fuckers up and shooting them (or interning them) because everyone knows exactly who the players are/were. Could literally be done in an afternoon, and when the next gen eration step up to take their places you do round two. There probably wouldn’t be a round three, certainly not a round four. But the legal and moral ramifications are huge, which is why it wasn’t done even at the height of the shit (and insofar as it was tried – internment – it was disastrous). But nnever mind the PIRA, the toothless simpletons – sorry people – of Armagh (for instance) are so insular and riddled with blood feuds, intrigue and smuggling that they would be more of a menace than the bombers.

    What’s the border between Russia and Finland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania like? Or between Belarus and the Ukraine and Poland? Or between Ukraine and Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and Romania?

  11. Ah, yes:

    To find out how this oddity first arose, you might have to go back to the Middle Ages. The McMahon clan, whose family business later became Monaghan, could probably explain. Or failing that, the Maguires, whose farming and feuding interests were likewise rebranded as modern-day Fermanagh.
    The 1921 division inherited those lines.

  12. The EU can have a hard border if it wants one. And assuming that they can persuade* the Republic to implement it. Not really seeing any reason why we would need to do anything on our side of it.

    * How much was that Apple tax judgement again?

  13. What are the essential differences between Northern Ireland and the republic?

    Northern Ireland doesn’t want to be part of the Republic?
    And also the Republic doesn’t really want Northern Ireland?

  14. Having a ‘hard’ border (physical assets, etc) isn’t the issue – the issue is a country having the power to decide who can stay in the country once that border has been crossed.

  15. Surely the consequence of all this is going to be that NI becomes effectively (if not legally) part of the ROI and the EU. Ie there will be no border controls between ROI and NI, because both parties don’t want there to be, but the UK government will implement some sort of internal controls between NI and the mainland. So goods can be ‘smuggled’ into the UK in theory, but getting them to the mainland is going to be a bit harder, same for people. There will be nothing the EU can do, because it can’t force the UK to implement a hard border if we don’t want to, or from us implementing internal control between NI and the mainland. And the Irish will probably just have a few border posts on the main roads for show (manned between 12 noon and 2pm), and leave the rest entirely open, and tell the EU they’ve implemented the border.

  16. Rob,

    Yes, but why not? Like, I don’t want us to merge with France because of cultural, linguistic and legal differences. How much difference is there, really between life in North and South?

  17. FIn ¥O’Toole’s stupid, stupid article in the Irish Times & Guardian blows the lid on what’s really happening here. The UK HAS a negotiating postion, which might actually be Ecks’ “you can fuck cos we’re not having any border”. The It’s don’t have a negotiating postion, because they’re not allowed to take part in the negotiations.
    Leaving aside the complete absence of sovereignty on their own island implied by this, the Irish are faced with being required by the EU to erect a de facto border against the very people they claim as their own: too beautiful for words really. Hence O’Toole (would anyone mind if we called him Fucking Tool?) screamong about the British not protecting Ireland from international smugglers and -get this – TERRORISTS. Yes, Irishe nationalist wanker is demanding a hard border between Ulstereo and the Republic and citing terrorism for justification.

    Too beautiful for words.

  18. There are numerous farms (or conterminous and jointly farmed land even if they are legally separate properties) that straddle the border.

    One of them, iirc, was owned by somebody who was believed to be on the IRA Army Council.

  19. Back when there was military interest in who was sneaking across where, the border enforcement was a chain of watchtowers (twenty-odd?) plus patrols (foot and aircraft – you’d add RPAS/drone coverage, and aerostats with sensor packs as seen in TELIC/HERRICK today) Those mostly acted as deterrents on the easy routes but did occasionally catch the careless or stupid.

    You’d then have specific operations, led where J2 got a hint that something might be happening; that’s where you’d put covert observation points on the expected routes (a few guys trying, and succeeding surprisingly well, to be invisible for a few days while watching a route) with enforcement on hand to act on anything they saw – while trying to avoid either the COP or the reaction force getting spotted and the bad guys warned off.

    One issue was that when you were looking for terrorist scumbags, you might collect interesting data on livestock frauds and diesel smuggling, but you didn’t want to take the time out to prosecute and go to court, nor did you want to have to reveal your sources & agencies in court (we got a lot of co-operation and support from most of the Gardai, and the old-timers tell me there was at least a semi-deliberate policy of publicly whinging that they were turning blind eyes or actively colluding to protect them and their assistance)

    So, short of an Iron Curtain (and even that was breached by the brave and determined) it’s always going to be porous – the issue is how risky/expensive do you want to make any given level of cross-border naughtiness and how much are you prepared to spend to do so?

  20. I am reminded of Spike Milligan’s novel “Puckoon”, which dealt with a hard border running through a small village.

    One outcome was everyone crowded into a small corner of the pub because the beer tax was less there. Another was the local Catholic church exhuming bodies and smuggling them across the border to rebury them.

    Hilarious book.

  21. Anyone who crossed a European land border before the customs posts got abandoned knows how permeable they were. Sure there was a post on the main road but there was always a backroad that was patrolled once in a blue moon. The border between Estonia and Latvia at Valga/Valka was a case in point. It ran down streets, through gardens – one bit of garden in each country – through bus stops.

    Even though the Pyrenees separate Cerbère from Port Bou, I watched a bloke walk out of the station at Port Bou and set off along the track to France over the mountains. I daresay he didn’t have to show his passport. I reckon that the crossing at Somport was not often manned either.

  22. “What are the essential differences between Northern Ireland and the republic?”

    The power of the Papist church, largely, isn’t it?

  23. and how much are you prepared to spend to do so?

    Well, given that it is somebody else’s money and it is being spent to demonstrate the power and grandeur of the Brussels nomenklatura, very large amounts of money indeed.

    Me, I’d put a “donations to the EU” box at either side of every road crossing the border. We needn’t worry about toe-rags nicking the money because there wouldn’t be any in any of them. Ever.

  24. To echo people above, I would simply say that we don’t want a hard border, and won’t be building one. They are entirely free to build what they like on their side of the border.
    Whether the Irish agree to this would be between them and the EU. But we might offer them free trade and the continuance of the free travel area should they be able to square that with the EU, or of course leave.

  25. Well, Dearieme, the differences get smaller every year. The Irish tend not to believe every sperm is sacred anymore.

  26. The border is complex. As others have said, it will always be porous.

    Jason Lynch describes how things were in the past. There were also some roads that were blocked off.

    I think unification is unlikely at this stage. The Unionists in Northern Ireland don’t want it. In the Republic (where I live) people know that taking the North on board would be a huge drain on government finances. They don’t want to pay extra taxes to pay for welfare spending in NI.

    There are still quite a lot of cultural differences between the North and the Republic. The Republic is still very Catholic. Abortion is still illegal here. Condoms can only be bought by people who are over 18. The vast majority of schools are Catholic schools and you have to pretend to be Catholic if you want your children to attend them. The Catholic church still owe large sums to abuse victims that they haven’t paid and the government has not forced them to pay. Recently the government decided to build a new children’s hospital in Dublin. They were initially planning to give the hospital away to a Catholic religious order when it was completed. They only backed down on that when there was controversy about it. In NI the people are as divided as ever. Even more than before Nationalists and Unionists live in separate neighbourhoods.

    The debate over the border is about tariffs. As I understand it, it’s agreed that there should be free movement of people. (To get rid of free movement of people would be a contravention of the Good Friday agreement.) The EU want to be able to tariff goods from the UK on their way into Ireland. They don’t think that moving the border to the Irish sea is suitable. They probably take this view to cause as much trouble as possible.

    The UK could declare that there are no tariffs on goods passing through the Irish land border. This would be rather fun because that way the UK would have no need for checkpoints or customs. It would force the EU and the Republic to build the checkpoints.

  27. Bloke in Tejas in Normandy

    To repeat what others have said – if the EU needs a hard border somewhere, it has the persuasive means to encourage the appropriate EU member company to implement said hard border, and to provide a portion of the needed installation and running costs. Since we’d be Brexited, it’s none of our concern.

  28. Interested said:
    “What’s the border between Russia and Finland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania like? Or between Belarus and the Ukraine and Poland? Or between Ukraine and Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and Romania?”

    I saw Belarus – Poland about ten years ago; it was a fence; not very impressive (wooden posts and chicken wire, about ten foot high) with guard posts (basically platforms built onto a tree like deer shooters have). It was definitely manned, and in a fairly unpopulated area too, because when I walked too close to it (wondering what it was for – I didn’t realise I was so close to the border) an armed goon appeared from behind a tree.

  29. Robert Thorpe said:
    “There are still quite a lot of cultural differences between the North and the Republic. The Republic is still very Catholic. Abortion is still illegal here. ”

    Abortion is also illegal in Northern Ireland (except in very limited circumstances where the mother’s life is in seroius danger – I think there are about a dozen a year that qualify, against getting on for 200,000 in mainland UK).

    That’s because of the hard-line Protestants, who in some ways make Northern Ireland more like the Republic than it is like the rest of the UK.

    There was a bit of a mainland UK controversy kicking off about that the other week.

  30. The abortion rate in Northern Ireland is about 1 per 112,500 people. In England it’s about 1 per 300 people. Shows how restrictive the law is.

    (that’s my calculations from BBC data, so possibly complete garbage on both counts)

  31. This Tim, is one of those Questions To Which The Answer Is “NO”, and some very intelligent and clued-up people have just expended a lot of pixels giving you that answer.

  32. My default position is “we don’t need any steeking tariffs”, so with no import tariffs, we have no need to check anything coming in, so we have no need to build any sort of border constructions.

    What the people on the other side decide to do about stuff entering *their* side is entirely up to them.

    When I mention my ‘no tariffs’ standpoint, most people respond with something like ‘but the government will have to raise taxes to replace the money’. I then point out that into-EU tariffs go to the EU not to the UK, so the UK wouldn’t be losing any money by abolishing tariffs, but the response (from remainers!) is: ‘but we want to have that money!’

  33. NI has the NHS except for abortions. Young healthy people might not care so much but if NI joined I everyone else would need to start paying 50 euros to see their GP.

    As for Russia and Estonia/Latvia, some of it is open but it is certainly patrolled by the Russians. If you accidentally walk over an unmarked line you will get arrested and brought to Pskov/Ostrov/Opochka and spend a few nights in jail, instead of getting a warning and being told to walk back a few metres.

  34. As for EU/Ukraine borders a lot of it is based on geographical features like rivers and mountain ridges. Some of it is fenced. But Ukraine doesn’t really care that much, since they are now rather relaxed about their citizens leaving. It is Russia and Belarus who want to keep tabs on everybody.

  35. As I see it, if we follow Tim’s advice of unilateral free trade then the border isn’t really our problem.

    For goods entering NI then they must have already been imported (or made) in Ireland and so should meet all regulatory/safety requirements (no worse than stuff does today anyway). If we aren’t imposing any tariffs then the stuff can just come in.

    For illegal immigrants coming in from the south then we are worrying about people who have already made it into Ireland. They aren’t known to have many illegal boatloads of people landing so the problem is mostly about preventing illegal work/claiming benefits. This is best done just be enforcement – if they haven’t got a legitimate entry record of arriving at a NI port or airport then don’t give then point at they must have arrived at Ireland first and to go back there for the benefits.

  36. If the EU want it to be a “hard border” let them (Ireland) police it. Be a nice turn around there wouldn’t it.

  37. If there is to be a ‘hard border’ it would be between RoI and UK, in which case there would be a ‘hard border’ between RoI and all points of entry into the UK not just NI.

    And why would the UK need to change its current arrangements? Both UK and RoI have passport control for EU and Non-EU citizens with freedom of movement within RoI + UK. Is a sudden flood of ‘illegal’ EU citizens anticipated post-Brexit? If we are to believe Remainers, EU citizens are fleeing the UK or putting off their plans to come.

    As for tariffs, non-tariffs… unless the British Government is so stupid (and of course we cannot rule that out) to impose import restrictions on EU goods in the event of ‘no deal’, then no action is needed by the UK.

    If Ireland wants Customs posts and a ‘hard border’ for that purpose, then it’s their problem.

    More likely would be the EU erecting a ‘hard border’ with RoI.

    But in any case not the UK’s prob.

    Yet another red-herring from the Remainders.

  38. Richard – thanks for that, though it was actually a rhetorical question. I know there are bits of the Polish border which are sort of defended, but believe me there are miles of it which are not, including bits of Belarus-Poland!

    Turning to the NI/ROI question, women used to walk across the border to buy milk (for instance) and the PIRA moved explosives and weapons and personnel, at the time when we were making a half-serious effort to keep it reasonably closed. It can’t be done, but the key point is that it doesn’t really matter.

    SE – you wouldn’t be on about Slab would ye?

  39. One thing I’ve wondered for a while: does the UK contribution to the EU figure bandied about include duties collected on imports to the UK or not?

  40. Yes, we send it all off to them, they say that’s part of our contribution, whatever the calculation of that is going to be.

  41. “the differences get smaller every year”: good, then we only have to wait fifty years and the two sharia states can merge.

  42. Italian enclave in Switzerland … Gibraltar etc., etc.

    No doubt if Brussels decides on a hard border – Irish construction companies will do nicely out of it…

    As an aside … didn’t the UK (and pretty much only the UK…) seriously bail out the Irish state with some of their biggest loans ever after the collapse of the “Celtic Tiger”? – or am I mis-remembering there?

  43. And there are Spanish enclaves within the French portion of the Pyrenees. You would think the eurocrats would know the problems by now

  44. My understanding of the general attitude in the republic to a merged Ireland is “A united Ireland! But dear God please not in my lifetime”.

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