By Denzil McDaniel 

A chance conversation this week about the former Border dividing Germany reminded me of a trip I made to Berlin in 1990.

Aside from the fact that I was a little spooked to think it was all of 28 years ago, it also focused my mind on the aftermath of war in Europe and the way internal Borders can have devastating effects on people’s lives.

Berlin is a wonderful 24-hour city, and I was there at a fascinating time. While walls and Borders are often built to keep people out, the iconic Berlin Wall was built in 1961 so that the totalitarian Socialist East German regime could keep its citizens in. To stop them escaping to the west, and when I went to see the Wall there were heartbreaking makeshift memorials erected by families to people gunned down by State armed guards in towers along the “death strip” as they were spotted taking desperate measure to get to the then West Germany.

In 1989, political developments saw Eastern Berliners defy the authorities in numbers and, literally, claw down the wall, and the reunification of a poor East Germany and a prosperous West soon followed.

Bonkers Donald Trump talks about building a wall to keep the lowlife Mexicans out, and there are many examples across the world of how Borders and walls create human division.

It’s not like that in Ireland, of course. Er… no

Anyone under the age of 40 probably doesn’t remember much about what the Border between Northern Ireland and the Republic was like, or at least they don’t have the recollection that people of my generation have of a Border which was, to say the least, inconvenient. But more seriously they don’t remember, perhaps, creating a division between the people north and south.

I always get into bother when I say that partition in the early part of the last century created two sectarian states; a Protestant-dominated north and a Catholic-dominated south and decades of being isolated from each other created a mistrust and suspicion which continues to create problems. That is not to criticise anyone’s political stance on either side; I just think it’s a fact.

I recall such things as a man from Monaghan requiring a work permit to come to a job in the north, and my father having to “bond” the car for family trips to Bundoran in the summer when we had to stop at Customs posts to check in.

Minor inconveniences you may think and certainly not the serious problems of Berlin; except I also remember the dark days of many places along the 300 miles of Border in the “Troubles” being referred as bandit country or the killing fields.

So as much as I get irritated by talk of needing a separate driving licence to go into the Republic or stories of a possible time difference if the EU doesn’t change the clocks and we do, there are other more serious and pressing issues. Like the real problems to be faced by businesses if an economic hard Border becomes a reality.

And this week, the alarming interview with British Labour’s Shadow Minister for Northern Ireland, Stephen Pound upped the ante when he said the Border issue is “life and death to the people of Ireland.”

Referring to plans for a technology solution along the Border after Brexit, Mr Pound said it was inevitable that this would involve customs officers and uniformed troops. If that happens, he said, he peace process is finished. And if that happens, peace is under threat.


One would imagine that the Brexiteers in Britain would think so, and people like Jacob Rees-Mogg, David Davis and Boris Johnson tell us that it is not so. Of course, they tell us, they don’t want a hard Border and it won’t happen. Of course it won’t, chaps.

Look folks, amid all the Brexit stuff of single markets, customs unions, free movement, backstop, no deal and bad deal – plus the fact that the leave campaign (and remainers to be fair) lied through their teeth, can you blame people in this part of the world for wondering where on earth we’re heading in this mess.

The Irish Border is the single biggest obstacle to a deal between the UK and the EU, so hands up if you think Jacob and his little Englanders wouldn’t dump on us just to get themselves out of Europe.

People in glasshouses shouldn’t throw stones, I suppose, and the present embarrassing impasse at Stormont should prevent me from saying this; but British politics is a basket case at the moment.

The Prime Minister mumbles on about still trying to get a “good deal” but as she continues to rely on the DUP, and Boris waits in the wings, she’s in a weak position to say the least. (Was there not a delicious irony is Mrs. May’s attitude to other EU leaders by basically asking them how they would feel if someone tried to carve their country in two?)

There’s an ideological divide in Britain now. Corbyn, aided by Momentum, has lurched Labour left and the public is seriously disillusioned by May and her austerity-loving, non-caring Tories. But if the Corbynistas see an opportunity, they have to be careful what they wish for because it would seem that the party isn’t even sure how to handle a people’s vote. Is remain still on the table, or not?

The internal battle in Britain over Brexit is a real problem. Here in Northern Ireland, there are many questions being posed. Not least about the Border, of course. And not just the practical arrangements.

Where is all this heading? Who knows, but these are worrying times and nobody seems to be able to plot a way through it. The tangled web of a 300-mile Border with some 240 crossings, many in remote areas, is proving an obstacle for everyone.