Look both ways before crossing the line

Brexit raises numerous issues around the border between NI and the Republic. Credit: PA

In ancient Rome, citizens looked to the god Janus to protect doors, entries, and gates. Janus was depicted as a figure with two faces, one glancing backwards at the past and the other staring forward into the future.

As we ready ourselves for the re-emergence of the border in Ireland, I feel like a modern day Janus. Looking ruefully back at a time of seamless travel and frictionless trade, and simultaneously glimpsing an uncertain future.

Borders may be imaginary lines on maps, but they have real world consequences. Brexit has put our ports on the frontline. And that's without talking about how it has turned up the heat under the united Ireland debate.

Borders create differences that are economic, social, political, sporting, educational, and at times personal. But international frontiers must be respected and regulations must be enforced. For the past few decades it may have seemed as if the line between Northern Ireland and the Republic had been drawn in chalk. It was slowly disappearing, the dust blowing in the wind of change.

Now it seems that chalk line is being redrawn in permanent ink.

Protests have been held in border areas amid the protracted Brexit negotiations. Credit: PA

I live close to the border, and for those of us on the edge of the Union, it is a strange time. Border-dwellers share an existence that is very different to those in towns or cities located in the greater Belfast area, let alone the good folk of London, Edinburgh or Cardiff.

Border life is uncertain, unfixed, malleable, and at times downright weird. There's a man in Co Armagh whose house and driveway are divided by the border. On 31 January, his front door exits the European Union, but his back door will remain. His sitting room is in Northern Ireland, but his kitchen is in the South. Just getting milk from the fridge means exporting a dairy product across the border. He pays his rates in the North, but when he switches on the light in his living room the power comes from the Republic.

Near his home is an old church. The church building is in Northern Ireland, but its graveyard is in the Republic. In years gone by, funeral services would come down the steps and cross over an invisible border for burial.

In my own home, I get a UK mobile phone signal in the front of the house, and then my mobile roams to a Republic of Ireland provider when I go into the kitchen. I spend much of my weekends criss-crossing the frontier - shopping, socialising, or just pottering about.

That's border life. To us, it's normal. But have the governments given us any real thought when designing their grand plan?

So if you think you're confused about Brexit and you don't know what's going to happen next, spare a thought for those of us on the border.

Like the old Roman god, I'm looking both ways, trying to make sense of it all.

  • Paul Reilly has been to meet the man whose house is completely divided by the border: