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Chair of Irish Brexit committee: Hard border will see ‘return to violence within a week’

Edmund Heaphy
Finance and news reporter
Protesters confront police officers during a march in Ardoyne in Belfast, Northern Ireland, in July 2016. Photo: Getty

The chairman of the Irish parliament’s Brexit committee said that there will be a “return to violence” in Northern Ireland “within a week” if a hard border is erected.

“The threat is quite evident that if you have a hard border, and you have the infrastructure of a hard border, there’ll be a return to violence within a week,” senator Neale Richmond told Yahoo Finance UK in a lengthy interview.

The remarks, which came in response to questions about the European Union’s understanding of what is at stake in a post-Brexit Northern Ireland, are his strongest on the subject yet.

The 28-nation bloc, he said, “is actually nearly stronger than the Irish government on this. They take the threat at face value.”

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), Richmond reiterated, stated on record “that the minute you put up so much as a pole or a CCTV camera or a crossing gate, it’ll be targeted.”

Richmond serves as the ruling Fine Gael party’s spokesperson on European affairs in the Irish senate, and chairs the special committee on the UK’s exit from the EU.

He called suggestions that neither side will enforce a hard border “lazy” and “brazenly cavalier.” “It’s like so many elements of the tricky parts of Brexit—you can’t just ignore it,” he said.

READ MORE: Why the Northern Irish border is a huge problem for Brexit

Mirroring comments made by chancellor Philip Hammond on Monday, Richmond said that the UK will have to enforce a hard border in the event of a no-deal Brexit. “Ultimately under WTO rules, you have to have customs checks.” If it doesn’t enforce a border, Richmond said, “the UK will then not just have reneged and walked out on a 45-year-old agreement with the largest economic bloc in the world, but they’ll also be in breach of WTO rules, and they’ll be an absolute economically rogue state.”

Keeping the border open, however, is “Ireland’s number one priority,” he noted.

“Peace on this island trumps any economic concerns. People thought we were being cynical in using the Irish border, and it’s really offensive when they say that. It’s generally people in mainland UK who do not appreciate how horrible the Troubles were.

“It was death after death and Northern Ireland was a horrible place.”

In the 30 years before the 1998 signing of the Good Friday Agreement, clashes during the Troubles took the lives of more than 3,600 people. Thousands of British troops were deployed to Northern Ireland to try and curb the violence.

The Good Friday Agreement provided the avenue for the phasing out of the British military checkpoints that had been introduced during the height of the Troubles.

In September, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier vowed to “improve” the bloc’s plan to prevent a hard border in Ireland and publicly declared that his team were working on new proposals designed to “de-dramatise” an issue that risks causing a no-deal Brexit.

Don’t forget to check out Yahoo Finance UK for more from our interview with Senator Richmond.