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Fears that Brexit could open old wounds in Northern Ireland

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There are fears that Brexit and arguments around the Irish border could open old wounds in Northern Ireland.

The boundary remains the sticking point in negotiations with cross-border trade entwined with deep-rooted issues of identity.

Richard Bell has been farming on the Fermanagh border all his life. In 1972, his brother’s life was brutally ended by the IRA.

“As we came along the road and just turned in at the end of the lane, three guns opened up on us,” he recalled.

Richard Bell
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Richard Bell fears any tampering with the border could raise tensions

He said the border gives him his British identity and fears any tampering with it could raise tensions.

“The IRA wants a united Ireland, British people don’t want a united Ireland and if there comes a hard border, it may give the IRA an excuse to start up again to get rid of the border,” he said.

DUP leader Arlene Foster
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DUP leader Arlene Foster’s own idyllic childhood on the border was abruptly ended in 1970

Arlene Foster describes the targeting of Protestants along the frontier as “ethnic cleansing”.

The DUP leader’s own idyllic childhood on the border was abruptly ended in 1970.

She said: “It’s part of who I am. When I was nine years of age, I was forced to leave my home on the border because my father was shot and we couldn’t live there any longer because he was a member of the police service.”

Some died defending the border – their Britishness; others attacking it in pursuit of Irish unity.

Michelle Gildernew
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SNP MP Michelle Gildernew has vowed there will not be a hard border

Michelle Gildernew, a Sinn Fein MP on the border, says Brexiteers don’t understand the depth of this.

“It’s deeply insulting and for a lot of people that are making those protestations, they’ve never been across the border.

“They’ve never had their social lives and every element of their lives disrupted because of checks on the border.

“And I will fight with every fibre of my being to ensure that a hard physical border does not come back into the island of Ireland,” she said.

The partition of Ireland is so entwined with identity, the border has outlasted the Iron Curtain and been there longer than the divide between North and South Korea.

Violence is not inevitable but the threat cannot be dismissed, according to a former assistant chief constable, who has gone from policing the border to spearheading reconciliation.

Peter Sheridan, chief executive of Co-Operation Ireland, said: “Some people see themselves as British, with an allegiance to Westminster. Other people see themselves as Irish, with an allegiance to Dublin.

“Wherever you create a border between either of those two, the potential is you create a semi-detached status for a group of people.

“And when you’ve never had your identity challenged or threatened, sometimes it’s hard to understand how important that issue of identity is.”

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