Crisscrossing Irish border, locals crave status quo after Brexit

COSHQUIN, Northern Ireland, March 23 (Reuters) - Gordon Crockett does not wish to suffer the same fate as his great-great grandfather, who began farming near the northernmost tip of Ireland before a border was ever erected on the island.

The Crockett family farm was cut in two when Ireland won independence from Britain in 1921 and the island was partitioned.

"Before partition he used to milk cows but as soon as the partition came the custom men were standing across the field and told him 'That's the last time you bring cows across the border'," said Gordon, the fifth generation of farmer in the family.

Like many along the 310 mile frontier that remains one of the most intractable issues in Britain's negotiations to leave the European Union, the Crockett's farm lies in both the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland, straddling the counties of Donegal and Londonderry.

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Crisscrossing Irish border, locals crave status quo after Brexit
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Crisscrossing Irish border, locals crave status quo after Brexit
Farmer James Martin who lives in Northern Ireland but sells his milk in the Republic of Ireland, cleans the milking shed after tending to his cattle on his dairy farm near the border village of Forkhill, Northern Ireland, December 7, 2017. "We're less than a mile from the border, surrounded by the Republic on three sides," said Martin. "This is where you'd feel the brunt of it (a hard border)." REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne SEARCH "KILCOYNE BORDER" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
The change in road surface which denotes the exact border with County Armagh in Northern Ireland on the left and County Monaghan in the Republic of Ireland on the right on the border village of Middletown, Northern Ireland, December 9, 2017. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne SEARCH "KILCOYNE BORDER" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Grass reflected in Lattone Lough which is split by the border seen from near Ballinacor, Northern Ireland, February 20, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne SEARCH "KILCOYNE BORDER" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY.
A old Irish phone box stands alongside a bus stop in the border town of Glaslough, Ireland, March 16, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne SEARCH "KILCOYNE BORDER" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Billboards are viewed from inside a disused customs hut on the border in Carrickcarnon, Northern Ireland, December 7, 2017. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne SEARCH "KILCOYNE BORDER" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Farmer Gordon Crockett, whose farm straddles both Northern Ireland and Ireland holds a lamb, in Coshquin, Northern Ireland, February 21, 2018. "At the minute there is no real problem, you can cross the border as free as you want. We could cross it six or eight times a day," said Crockett. "If there was any sort of obstruction it would slow down our work every day." REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne SEARCH "KILCOYNE BORDER" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Potter Brenda McGinn stands outside her studio, the former Jas Boylan shoe factory which was the main employer in the area until it shut down due to The Troubles, in Mullan, Ireland, March 16, 2018. "When I came back, this would have been somewhere you would have driven through and have been quite sad. It was a decrepit looking village," said McGinn, whose Busy Bee Ceramics is one of a handful of enterprises restoring life to the community. "Now this is a revitalised, old hidden village." REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne SEARCH "KILCOYNE BORDER" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Seamus McQuaid takes packages that locals on the Irish side of the border have delivered to his business, McQuaid Auto-Parts, to save money on postal fees, near the County Fermanagh village of Newtownbutler, Northern Ireland, December 20, 2017. "I live in the south but the business is in the North," said McQaid. "I wholesale into the Republic of Ireland so if there's duty, I'll have to set up a company 200 yards up the road to sell to my customers. I'll have to bring the same product in through Dublin instead of Belfast." REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne SEARCH "KILCOYNE BORDER" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A bus-stop and red post box stand in the border town of Jonesborough, Northern Ireland, November 29, 2017. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne SEARCH "KILCOYNE BORDER" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
The sun is reflected in Lough Foyle which is part of the Northern Ireland border near Londonderry, Northern Ireland, February 21, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne SEARCH "KILCOYNE BORDER" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A defaced 'Welcome to Northern Ireland' sign stands on the border in Middletown, Northern Ireland, December 9, 2017. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne SEARCH "KILCOYNE BORDER" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
An abandoned shop is seen in Mullan, Ireland, March 16, 2018. The building was home to four families who left during The Troubles. The town was largely abandoned after the hard border was put in place during the conflict. Mullan has seen some regeneration in recent years, but faces an uncertain future with Brexit on the horizon. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne SEARCH "KILCOYNE BORDER" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A traffic cone stands in a field on the border between County Donegal and County Londonderry near Lenamore, Northern Ireland, February 1, 2018. SEARCH "KILCOYNE BORDER" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
The border seen through tree branches in Kiltyclogher, Ireland, February 21, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne SEARCH "KILCOYNE BORDER" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Mervyn Johnson who owns a garage poses for a photograph in the border town of Pettigo, Northern Ireland, February 20, 2018. "I've been here since 1956, it was a bit of a problem for a few years. My premises has been blown up about six or seven times, we just kept building and starting again" Johnson said laughing. "We just got used to it (the hard border) really but now that it's gone, we wouldn't like it back again". REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne SEARCH "KILCOYNE BORDER" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Alice Mullen from Monaghan in the Republic of Ireland does her shopping at a former customs post on the border in Middletown, Northern Ireland, December 9, 2017. "I'd be very worried if it was a hard border, I remember when people were divided. I would be very afraid of the threat to the peace process, it was a dreadful time to live through. Even to go to mass on a Sunday, you'd have to go through checkpoints. It is terribly stressful," said Mullen. "All those barricades and boundaries were pulled down. I see it as a huge big exercise of trust and I do believe everyone breathed a sigh of relief." REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne SEARCH "KILCOYNE BORDER" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
David McClintock from Donegal sits in the 'Border Cafe' in the border village of Muff, Ireland, February 1, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne SEARCH "KILCOYNE BORDER" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Stephen Burns drinks in a pub on the Northern Ireland side of Belleek, February 20, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne SEARCH "KILCOYNE BORDER" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A man fills jerry cans with Kerosene on the border village of Middletown, Northern Ireland, December 9, 2017. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne SEARCH "KILCOYNE BORDER" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A disused Great Northern Railway line and station that was for customs and excise on the border town of Glenfarne, Ireland, February 21, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne SEARCH "KILCOYNE BORDER" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Union Flag colours painted on kerbstones and bus-stops along the border village of Newbuildings, Northern Ireland, February 1, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne SEARCH "KILCOYNE BORDER" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A bull stands in a field with a disused Customs Facilitation Office in the background on the border in Carrickcarnon, Ireland, December 7, 2017. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne SEARCH "KILCOYNE BORDER" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A road which crosses the border from County Donegal in Ireland to County Londonderry in Northern Ireland, is seen from near the border village of Lenamore, Ireland, February 1, 2018. There are no markings apart from the change in roadsigns. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne SEARCH "KILCOYNE BORDER" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
An old British postbox, painted green, stands at a disused railway station and Great Northern railway line that was for Customs and Excise on the border town of Glenfarne, Ireland, February 21, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne SEARCH "KILCOYNE BORDER" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Zig-zag steps lead up to the prehistoric stone fort of Grianan of Aileach where you can view the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, seen from near the border village of Speenogue, Ireland, February 1, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne SEARCH "KILCOYNE BORDER" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
John Murphy flies the European flag outside his home near the border village of Forkhill, Northern Ireland, December 7, 2017. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne SEARCH "KILCOYNE BORDER" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
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"At the minute there is no real problem, you can cross the border as free as you want. We could cross it six or eight times a day," the beef, sheep and cereal farmer said.

"If there was any sort of obstruction it would slow down our work every day."

London and Dublin are committed to keeping the free flow of goods without returning to the kind of checkpoint that once operated below the Crockett's field. But agreeing a practical solution post-Brexit has proved elusive so far.

A hundred kilometers away in the southern border town of Clones, Brian Adamson has nothing but bad memories of the border which was transformed by a 1998 peace deal that ended Northern Ireland's 'Troubles' and by the creation of the EU's Single Market that removed barriers to trade among members.

"I hated going through the border because you got enormous hassle, you could be there for 10 minutes or you could be there for two hours. If they didn't like you, it'd be two hours," said Adamson who moved from Dublin 36 years ago and opened a pub in the town during the three decades of violence across the border.

"I live a mile and a half out the road and when I'm traveling home I have to cross the border twice. Things are grand as they are and I don't understand why they wouldn't leave it as it is."

NORMAL LIFE

The end of customs checks was central to the establishment of an all-island economy. A recent study by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) highlighted a "considerable" level of supply chain interconnectedness that followed.

While Northern Ireland trades mostly with the rest of the UK, the report found that it is the complexities of this integration that could make disruption so damaging.

While fewer than one in five Irish firms surveyed were two-way, cross border traders, they accounted for more than 60 percent of the country's exports to the British province and over 70 percent of its imports in 2015.

For Seamus McQuaid, who wholesales into the south from his autoparts garage just inside the Northern border, the possible imposition of tariffs post-Brexit would mean having to set up a company 200 meters down the road to serve the same customers.

Yet it's also the simple things that could change. The current seamless border means neighbors from the south also use McQuaid's garage to save on expensive postage costs by having their Amazon or eBay orders delivered to his UK address.

"I don't mind that at all, as long as it's locals," he said.

The removal of checks has also helped revitalize parts of the border, most strikingly in places like Mullan, a village in the southern county of Monaghan, whose one street ends exactly at the border with Northern Ireland.

The bridge linking it to the north was blown up by security forces during the 'Troubles' to prevent smuggling and unwanted crossings, rendering the town a dead end. Most people left.

"When I came back, this would have been somewhere you would have driven through and have been quite sad. It was a decrepit looking village," said Brenda McGinn, whose Busy Bee Ceramics is one of a handful of enterprises restoring life to the community.

"Now this is a revitalized, old hidden village."

But like many who just want normal to continue, the locals in Mullan and elsewhere fear some of that progress could be lost as Brexit negotiations over their day-to-day lives come to a head in the coming months.

"It's the last chapter that counts," said Tom Parkes, who owns a farm on a former customs post in the tiny Northern Irish village of Middletown.

"Where we finish up at the end of the day. That's what matters."

(Writing by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

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