A return to the dark days of the Troubles in the North, with military checkpoints and a permanent divide, has been firmly ruled out by Irish and British leaders, writes Juno McEnroe.

But the “practical solutions” with regards to the North which will be put in place when Britain pulls the trigger and leaves the EU have yet to be revealed.

Both Enda Kenny and Theresa May yesterday hinted at what may become part of the arrangements, and the possibility of beefed-up security between the two islands.

The Taoiseach, while blatantly avoiding any questions about Irish unity yesterday, managed to win more support for the island of Ireland to be given a “special” status when Brexit talks begin.

It was his first face-to-face meeting with Theresa May since she became UK prime minister on July 13.

This was always going to be a cordial affair, a get-to-know you meeting.

Mr Kenny came to 10 Downing St armed with support from François Hollande, after the French president last week said Ireland should be considered a special case in the Brexit talks, especially given the history of the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement.

This was exactly what Mr Kenny managed to extract during the hour-long meeting with Ms May.

It seems both Mr Kenny and Ms May have agreed, no matter what the outcome of the protracted Brexit negotiations, that there will be no hard border between the Republic and the North.

Ireland could be a special case within the whole EU.

There will be no return to customs posts along the 499km stretch from Dundalk to Derry.

“A hard border in normal circumstances means customs posts and customs checks on a very regular basis,” said Mr Kenny outside 10 Downing St.

“There will be no return to the hard border of the past. The hard border between the Republic and Northern Ireland in the past included towers, obviously military equipment for many reasons.”

But how can the border actually be as porous as it is today once it becomes what an “external frontier” when Britain leaves the European Union?

No return to dark days of the Troubles

Mr Kenny was not too specific. “There are other ways of dealing with modern technology in terms of checking trade,” he said.

It is thought this could include some kind of monitoring of vehicle licence plates, as happens between the US and Canada, especially when it comes to replacing the EU customs agreement that Britain would leave.

This is one of the larger concerns around Brexit, that the border will become an even bigger area for smuggling and a backdoor for people wanting to get into Britain or the EU.

Furthermore, Ms May, in her own statement, signalled that a strengthening of the borders around Ireland and Britain, around the islands as part of the common travel area, is also being examined.

“We should continue our efforts to strengthen the external borders of the common travel area, for example through a common approach to the use of passenger data,” she said.

Irish Government sources say there is already agreement on the sharing of air passenger data and that Ms May was indicating it could be beefed up.

It could, in effect, amount to a harder border around the two islands, where there may be a greater screening of passengers arriving.

No return to dark days of the Troubles

This is unlikely to be a substitute for ending the free movement of people, as proposed by Britain under Brexit.

However, such strengthened passenger screening would become part of some temporary curbing of immigration by Britain, as has been flagged in recent days, which would only last a few years.

The question still remains, though: Would having no border controls still leave open the option of having some kind of manned checkpoints, even if it was based around technology?

Ms May said earlier this week, during a visit to the North, that some kind of border was inevitable.

The wording of “checks” evokes memories, in the minds of those living along the border, of army checkpoints, barbed wire, and backroad lanes being sealed off. This, for now, has been ruled out.


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