Brexit already impacting communities on either side of Irish border according to Queen’s research
A major new research report published today (Friday, 15 June) by researchers from Queen’s, presents findings from a large scale study of views on Brexit from local communities in the Central Border Region of Ireland/Northern Ireland.
The new study, led by Dr Katy Hayward, Reader in Sociology from the School of Social Sciences, Education and Social Work at Queen’s, finds that residents in the Region now consider themselves generally well-informed – possibly reflecting the focus on Brexit and the Irish border in public debate. The report, which was commissioned by ICBAN (the Irish Central Border Area Network) also found an increased level of information appears to have deepened people’s fears about a ‘hard border’, with almost 6 out of 10 respondents saying they now believe that is it more likely than they previously thought.
This report is a follow-up to the Bordering on Brexit report which was published in November 2017 (https://go.qub.ac.uk/bordering), which found that people in the Central Border Region felt uninformed about Brexit, unrepresented in the process, and had deep fears about the consequences of it.
Dr Hayward commented: “The Brexit negotiators’ commitment to ‘avoiding a hard border’ is not just about minimising the risk of renewed paramilitary violence. The voices heard in this study point to a different aspect of the same concern: the need to protect peace. This involves defining and securing what has come to be accepted as ‘normal’ and ‘ordinary’.
“And the fact that it feels so ‘normal’ is both its strength and its susceptibility: we begin to take it for granted. The further away people are from the time and the place of the worst violence in this region, the easier it is for them to forget the devastation, the costs and the consequences of such violence,” Dr Hayward warned.
Cllr. Paddy O’Rourke, Chair of the ICBAN said: “While there is a tremendous focus on the Irish border in the current Brexit negotiations, the Board of ICBAN identified an absence of local community consultation on both sides of the border. The input of ICBAN has been to lead on an initiative to listen to and record the opinions of local people across the Central Border Region at this critical time.”
He added: “We respect the differing political opinions within our Board, our member Councils and communities on the subject of Brexit, and thus have been careful to ensure that this is a non-political and non-partisan initiative. What the report shows is how similar views are regarding Brexit across the Central Border Region, for people of various backgrounds, voting preference and localities. It is those common views that we are keen to highlight today.”
The additional key findings from the research include:
- The study examined the extent to which people rely on access to services on the other side of the border, and this was shown to be significant and multi-layered, with ease of access to transport, health, education and other services being valued by the majority of people on both sides of the border in this region.
- A detailed analysis of the views of Leave- and Remain- voting respondents to the survey in the Central Border Region reveals that they share a common priority for the border to remain as ‘seamless’ and ‘frictionless’ as it is today.
- The typical presentation of a Leave v. Remain divide in Northern Ireland as being one of British/unionist versus Irish/nationalist is overly simplistic; almost half the Leave voters in the survey sample self-identified as Irish citizens and over a quarter of the Remain voters self-identified as British citizen (including dual citizenship).
- 48 per cent of the respondents said they would not countenance technological solutions for border controls (although Leave voters’ tolerance for this is much greater than Remain voters’). 1 in 3 said their tolerance would depend on the type of technology proposed.
- A common concern raised is in relation to privacy and data protection; some mention the historical experience of surveillance during the Troubles as making this a particularly problematic issue in the border region.
- Survey respondents and focus group participants gave detailed examples of business and personal experiences of the consequences of the UK’s decision to leave the EU. Although these were predominantly negative (e.g. decisions to close or move business, decrease in land/property value near the border), there were some positive reports of economic gain since the referendum. These were largely in relation to the drop in the value of sterling and a growth in opportunities away from the border region itself.
- The report finds that the prospects for the Irish border are inseparable from the peace process. Previous experience in the border region means what happens to the border – i.e. whether there are checkpoints and controls - is intrinsically connected in most people’s minds with the stability of the peace process.
The intention of the study was to create a space to hear the voices of people in a region most directly affected by the outcome of the Brexit negotiations. The UK’s withdrawal from the EU inevitably means drawing greater distinctions between the UK and its closest neighbour. The report explains how this process already has material, tangible effects in the everyday experience of people in the Central Border Region.
The paper ‘Brexit at the Border: Voices from local communities in the Central Border Region of Ireland/Northern Ireland’ is available from the Irish Central Border Area Network http://icban.com and from the Queen’s University Belfast Brexit Resource Guide: www.qub.ac.uk/brexit