Brexit worries from the Irish border a photo essay

Amid the growing tensions over Brexit and the border, photojournalist Charles McQuillan met people whose work takes them across the frontier. Many expressed fears about the future and the possible return of old divisions

In June 2016, Britain voted to leave the EU by 52% to 48%, but Northern Ireland voted by 56% to remain. The frontier between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, which runs for 310 miles, is the only border between the UK and the EU. During the Northern Ireland conflict of the latter 20th century, this border was controlled by police and soldiers.

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Charles McQuillan, a freelance photographer with the news agency Getty Images, used a panoramic film camera to shoot these images. He then built a darkroom in his garage to process the films. He says: The most problematic issue with photographing the border is that there is nothing there to photograph. With that as a starting point, the basic concept for the picture essay was to show that uninterrupted space, and to include people who have a direct relationship with the border. And, more broadly, to show them in the landscape with the expanse of the open countryside around them and their place in it. The nothingness of it.

One of the privileges that comes with being a photographer is that it allows you access to people you would not necessarily meet, and it was difficult not to be moved by Betty, Eamonn, John, Brian, Emma, Johnny, Vincent, William and Catriona as I listened to their concerns about Brexit. Each of the subjects photographed were grateful for being allowed a voice, something many people in the province feel they no longer have.

My own memories of the border and the checkpoints are somewhat distant, but I can recall sitting on the back seat of my mother and fathers car wondering whether the raised hand of the guard would either beckon onwards or to stop. The mundaneness of the various checkpoints across the north, the armed soldier with his weapon trained on the car, all seem to have merged into one memory now. When stopped at the border, the question to my father was always the same: Where are you coming from, sir, and where are you going? I cant remember my father ever declaring anything.

Catriona Walsh

Schoolgirl

Student, Londonderry

Catriona attends nearby St Marys college in Derry. Her journey to and from school threads through the border.

She says: Irelands economy cannot afford to make the border anything more than it already is today an invisible line that separates the country. At most, we will have checkpoints which will take a great step back into the past of Northern Ireland. My biggest fear is that it will damage my future education through travelling to university, affecting my pathway of study.

John Sheridan

John

Farmer and landowner, Florence Court

The popular boardwalk on the farmers land allows thousands of tourists to walk across the border every year as it meanders between County Fermanagh in Northern Ireland and County Cavan in the Republic of Ireland.

A member of the Border Communities Against Brexit group, Sheridan predicts the UK will lose much of its wealth and status after Brexit. He says: There is no such thing as a soft border. Over time, it will become a hard border by layer upon layer of legislation. The only practical solution I can see is to have the border in the Irish Sea.

Emma Marmion

Emma

Vice-chair of Newry Chamber of Commerce and Trade

Marmion, who has two young children, owns a human resources business with offices and employees in Newry in the north and Dundalk in the south. She recalls recently explaining to her eldest child, while they were riding their bikes, that she was unable to use the road they were cycling on when she was young because of concrete blockades placed there by the British army. She says she has no idea what the border will look like after Brexit. Thats the scary part nobody knows. My greatest hope is that it would be division-less and prosperous, not just for business and trade but for the navigation of everyday life.

When asked what concerns her most, Marmion says: That the border would look like it did when I was growing up: restrictive and fearsome. Absent of both the freedom of movement and unlocked opportunity that my children deserve and that I have enjoyed since 1998.

Johnny McKeegan

Johnny

Undertaker, Enniskillen

McKeegan crosses the border several times a week as he attends to the recently deceased from both sides of the frontier. He says: If the politicians were children you would give them a smack and tell them to get their heads together to sort it out. Theres no reason in the world that they cant come to some common-sense agreement. In relation to my sensitive line of work, can you imagine waiting in a queue at the border with family sitting in cars behind you as you carry their loved ones home? Its undignified. You just cant close the border off with a brick wall and red tape.

Betty Holmes

Betty

Cancer support worker, Donegal

Holmes is a member of Donegal Action for Cancer Care, which is based in the Republic of Ireland but has access to nearby health facilities in the north. Without access to the new radiotherapy unit in Derry, which the Irish government invested in, cancer patients in Donegal face a five-hour journey to Galway.

When asked what she thinks the border will look like post-Brexit, Holmes says: There will be a serious division of people who have lived and worked closely together for many peaceful years. Long queues, angry people, loss of jobs, missed appointments, flights and a younger generation who cant understand why. They will now bere introduced to a time when hate and bigotry were rife and the possible return of paramilitaries. My greatest fear after Brexit is the serious loss of access to cancer services for Donegal patients at Altnagelvin Area hospital in Derry. Without these patients, the North West Cancer Centre will not have the critical mass to sustain the services needed for cancer patients in Derry and the surrounding areas.

Vincent McKevitt

Vincent

Firework specialist, Newry

McKevitt recalls how, in his youth, IRA snipers would shoot at the customs post from the hills, pictured behind him. He was sent by his parents to the US to avoid getting caught up in the violence that engulfed the province. His fireworks, gardening and fuel business sits on the land the former customs post used to occupy.

He says he has many concerns about Brexit. My greatest fear is of the government taking my land away with the return of the customs post. Ive built up all of this and worked hard, what would I do then?

William Lynch

William

Oyster farmer, Culmore

As a business owner whose oyster farm straddles both sides of the border, Lynch will be particularly affected after Brexit. He faces tariffs to ship his oysters outside of the UK to nearby Donegal, and indeed the rest of the Europe. He says: I worry that we will return to the bad old days. I remember the border growing up as a child quite vividly, and I remember the two customs posts sat only a few yards apart from each other, and that you couldnt cross the border after 10pm without special written permission from the guards. To further complicate matters, the UK government claims jurisdiction over Lough Foyle to the high-tide mark, while the Irish government disputes this.

Eamonn Clifford

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