Denis Bradley: There will never again be a border in Ireland

British and Europeans need to know Border not on table

I crossed the oxymoron six times this week and about 10 times last week. It wouldn’t have entered my mind that I was crossing anything, and in the bad old days it certainly would have been called worst things than an oxymoron, but for the last 20 years or so there is no border when you cross the Border.

This famous construct has been at the top of the news in the last few weeks. It is high on the agenda of the Brexit negotiations, and the official line from Europe is that there will be no talk about future trading arrangements between Britain and Europe until there is some clarity on the Border question.

My father would have been intrigued by the prominence of the Border. He drove a bus across it five or six times a day, and on warm summer days when the Derry people wanted to get to the cool of a Donegal beach that would have increased to 12 or 14 journeys.

For those of us who are approaching senility and who have lived near or beside it, the Border has been a pain in the ass for most of our lives

When he retired my brother stepped into that role. Those were the days when the British army erected their posts and asked for name and proof of identity before they let us through to the other side.


The Border is in my DNA. Like thousands of others I can regale any company with stories and happenings that will have them in stitches of laughter. For those of us who are approaching senility and who have lived near or beside it, it has been a pain in the ass for most of our lives.

The talk about the Border is beginning to hot up. The Americans and the cops threw in their two pence worth this last few weeks.

Richard Haass, the American who was once sent to seal a deal between the Northern parties, is saying that we need another referendum, and that the unionist parties are politically stupid to have backed Brexit. He wasn't the first to say that.

The cops on both sides of the Border had a conference last month, and they sent out a warning that any new border could become an opportunity for “violent dissident republicans and organised gangs involved in cross-Border crimes such as smuggling”.


But the most bizarre has been the insinuation from both the Brits and the Europeans that if there is a visible border it will be the fault of the other side. The Brits saying that they don’t want to see a physical border and the Europeans that the Brits created the problem and it is up to them to come up with a solution.

I think neither side gets it. It is far more simple and uncomplicated. There is never, ever, going to be a border in Ireland again. It doesn't matter what either of them say. The Border doesn't need a solution because it is already solved.

One day, the British army lifted its gear and went home. Most of the people felt a burden lift off their shoulders

Twenty or so years ago the Irish Border disappeared. The old customs posts had long disappeared and then, one day, the British army lifted its gear and went home. Most of the people felt a burden lift off their shoulders – a people who had lived in the shadow of its presence were, for the first time, free of the inconvenience and the scar on the landscape.

Since then they have lived with that freedom, and they have judged it to be right and good, and they have no intention of giving it up.

To put it crudely, the British army isn’t big enough and the Europeans don’t have an army, so there isn’t a problem. There is not going to be a border in Ireland.

The silliest talk of all is about the Irish Government having to police a border in Ireland. It is reported that the Irish revenue and customs people were up looking around them a few months back, identifying possible customs posts. Were they out of their tiny minds? The Irish Government policing a border ever again in this part of Ireland is as big an oxymoron as the Border itself. Any Irish government who tried that on would last about a month in power.

Bandit country

The media, in general, don’t get it either. This isn’t about bandit country or dissident republicans or smugglers. This is about there being a time in the affairs of men; this is about how the water flows when the damn bursts; this is about nature reclaiming disturbed ground.

Even the more enlightened get it wrong. In the midst of a thoughtful and constructive speech recently Bertie Ahern made a reference to the danger of a border being reimposed. That is as far off the mark as you can be. The Brits and the Europeans need to know that the Border is not on the table at all, it is not up for negotiation. As John Cleese would have said, it is a dead parrot.

The negotiators have much work to do and many issues to resolve, and those of us who are Border people wish them well and hope that things will come to the best possible resolution. We are just grateful that we are not in the mix. They will have to find their compromises and resolutions far away from this part of the world.

In the meantime we will reminisce and tell stories to our children and grandchildren of sad, funny and unbelievable things that once happened when we drove up and down the roads. In those days it was called the Border.

Denis Bradley is a journalist and former vice-chairman of the police board for the Police Service of Northern Ireland