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Researchers find a harder border between the UK and Ireland is seen as a challenge to peace and prosperity in Northern Ireland and the border counties of Ireland

Researchers find that the revised Withdrawal Agreement negotiated by Prime Minister Boris Johnson appears not to have wholly reassured people in the Central Border Region of Ireland / Northern Ireland. People still expect disruption from Brexit, are still wary of the information they have received on the topic, and still feel uncertain about the future impact of Brexit on daily life in the border region.

The final report of a research project on the impact and consequences of Brexit for residents and workers in the Central Border Region of Ireland/Northern Ireland is published today (Wednesday, 18 December).

It presents results from the ‘The Border into Brexit’ project run by Queen’s University Belfast in conjunction with the Irish Central Border Area Network (ICBAN) of eight local authorities in the Central Border Region of Ireland/Northern Ireland.

The border which runs through our Region has been central to the debate about how Brexit might be implemented”, noted Councillor Pat Treanor, Chair of ICBAN, “What this report provides is a reference guide on the latest up to the minute research on key discussion topics, such as how the likes of a No Deal scenario and the new Protocol are impacting on communities here in the border region”.

The research project involved contributions from over 500 participants. It consisted of a large online survey, focus groups and individual interviews with stakeholders across the region, from both sides of the border. Among a wide range of topics covered, the report presents data on the effects of Brexit already felt, the views of Leave supporters in the border region, and opinions of the revised Withdrawal Agreement.

It reveals that Brexit-related uncertainty means individuals and businesses have been holding off decisions that would otherwise have brought investment, growth and deeper integration in the region. Moreover, respondents report having already experienced major changes in personal and work life (e.g. job losses, business disinvestment, problems in labour recruitment, insurance difficulties) as a consequence of Brexit.

Uncertainty is also seen as detrimental to the stability of the peace process, and the research underlines concerns felt by many respondents regarding a perceived potential resurgence of violence. 

The study was conducted and co-authored by Dr Katy Hayward, Reader from the School of Social Sciences, Education and Social Work, and Dr Milena Komarova, Research Fellow from the School of History, Anthropology, Philosophy and Politics at Queen’s University Belfast, in collaboration with ICBAN. Dr Komarova, explained:

"This research has demonstrated that there is both a practical and a symbolic impact of any hardening of borders around Northern Ireland.”

A participant in one focus group on the Cavan/Fermanagh border summarised the effect of Brexit in this way: “It’s the imposition of a border and it’s the challenge to identity that comes with that. It’s taking away freedoms and affecting how you live your normal life. It’s a wholesale change and irrespective of whether the border is here [on the land border] or a sea border – it’s going to have a huge impact on life here.”

Councillor Treanor explained the context of this project: “In 2017 the Management Board of ICBAN had identified an absence of local community consultation on the impacts of the Brexit process on both sides of the border. Together with Queen’s University Belfast, we have sought to give voice to the people from our Border Region, and to provide a means to record and report on these opinions. Through the three reports completed to date, c.1600 responses have been gathered in total. Dr Hayward remarked on the significance of this research in light of the results of the UK General Election last week:

"The Withdrawal Agreement – objected to by all 18 newly-elected MPs from Northern Ireland –  looks set to be ratified. And so Brexit appears likely to see change, to some degree, to borders all around Northern Ireland, as the new UK-EU relationship takes effect.”

In light of this, she concluded, trust-building and cooperation, north-south and British-Irish, will be more important than ever. The models and examples of such cooperation in the Central Border Region, as presented in this report, are ones that should be valued and built upon.

The report, ‘The Border into Brexit: Perspectives from local communities in the Central Border Region of Ireland/Northern Ireland’, is available from:

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Photo: Dr Katy Hayward Dr Katy Hayward
Katy Hayward is a Reader in Sociology at Queen’s University Belfast and a Senior Fellow of the ESRC-funded UK in a Changing Europe initiative, working full-time on the topic of Brexit and Northern Ireland/the Irish border.
Photo: Dr Milena Komarova Dr Milena Komarova
Milena Komarova is a Research Fellow from the School of History, Anthropology, Philosophy and Politics at Queen’s University.