Jonesborough: Protestors shut down a border road between Ireland and Northern Ireland on Saturday, erecting a concrete wall with mock-military checkpoints to illustrate the violent unrest a hard Brexit could bring to the fragile region.
Locals hauled towering concrete barriers into place and installed a customs hut defended by a watchtower manned by men dressed as armed British troops — evoking haunting memories of the three decades of bloodshed known as “the Troubles”.
“It’s actually to remind some of our younger generation exactly the way things were 25 years ago,” said John McNamee, an activist with group Border Communities against Brexit.
“This is what it was about and we certainly don’t want it back,” he said — dressed as a customs agent which were once a common sight at the border.
During the Troubles the area was militarised as republican and unionist paramilitaries and the British military vied for control.
More than 3,600 were killed before the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 ended the conflict and effectively dissolved the border between the British province of Northern Ireland and the Republic.
After a rally calling on Westminster to avoid the return of a hard border along the 310 mile (500 kilometer) boundary locals smashed down the mock wall using sledgehammers in a jubilant atmosphere.
They also took heavy machinery to the watchtowers as the British troops intervened in a dramatic act of “street theatre”, designed to illustrate tensions which could return to the region following a hard-won peace.
“We’re 60 days out from the reality of Brexit with or without a deal,” said Border Communities Against Brexit organiser Tom Murray.
“Without a deal there may be the imposition of a border. This is a visual representation of the potential of the worst case scenario,” he said.
British parliament is currently in deadlock, unable to pass a withdrawal deal that would rule out the need for border checks.
If Britain quits the EU without an accord on 29 March, there are concerns infrastructure will be needed to enforce customs and regulations at the new edge of the trading bloc.
“It would be fairly tough on our daily life,” explained protestor Aaron Crilly — whose family is split between the two territories.
On Friday Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar told Bloomberg TV that border may “involve people in uniform” as well as “cameras, physical infrastructure, possibly a police presence, or an army presence to back it up.”