Chai Brady, Ruadhán Jones and Jason Osborne
With Britain stepping up preparation to crash out of the EU, priests who minister in border parishes have warned that the coronavirus should not distract attention from the long-term effects of a ‘no deal’ Brexit on communities.
Bishop Larry Duffy of Clogher, a diocese which straddles the border, and priests who minister in parishes along the frontier told The Irish Catholic of parishioners’ worries for their livelihoods and more.
Bishop Duffy said that border communities have dealt with very particular issues for 100 years since Ireland was divided in two and have adapted, but “when livelihoods are affected and freedom is affected, that’s a different thing”.
He said that the Good Friday Agreement brought “a lot of stability and a lot of hope to people throughout Ireland but particularly in the border area”. He added that “it’s vital for peace and tranquillity in Northern Ireland”.
Fr Oliver O’Reilly PP of Ballyconnell, Co. Cavan, said there are thousands of people in border parishes, including his, that work and live on either side of the border who are “hugely concerned and worried about the future and what a hard border could mean”.
“They would also be very worried because they remember the old border and the violence that was part of that and the criminality that was part of it as well, so all of those worries are on people’s minds,” he explained.
Covid-19 has “totally overshadowed” the Br-exit process, he said, adding: “One of the big worries I would have is Boris Johnson is playing politics with the border. I don’t know whether it’s playing politics or whether he’s serious about this or whether he’s using this as a ploy in negotiations but it’s wrong what he’s doing, it’s quite unethical. He’s playing with people’s lives and livelihoods and it’s playing into the hands of extremists on both sides of the border.”
Fr La Flynn, administrator of Pettigo with parishioners in both Donegal and Fermanagh said a lot of the concern in his community is the pandemic at the moment. “Part of the price we might be paying for the urgency of the Covid situation at this time is that we are not able at a national level or cross border level to give time or dedicated attention to the challenges in terms of cross border relationships.
“So many of our parishioners in Pettigo are working in the North or family members are working in the North, their marriage relationships – all of these things bind people together across the border,” Fr Flynn said.
He warned that “the failure of a robust and secure arrangement between Britain and the EU in terms of how we put the terms of the protocol into action will have a concrete effect on people’s lives.
“And God forbid, if it was to happen that there were to be some kind of customs checkpoints or whatever, that it was necessary to reimpose those at border crossings, that will threaten the whole Good Friday settlement because those will become flashpoints for strong emotions”.