A report from the Irish Revenue Commission appears to rule out any hope of a so-called ‘soft border’ between the Republic and Northern Ireland should the United Kingdom leave the European Union without a comprehensive trade deal.
The report states that after Brexit “the UK will become a third country for customs purposes and the associated formalities will become unavoidable”.
These “associated formalities” will include customs posts at routes across the 500 kilometre border and long queues as goods are checked for the required paperwork and passports are scrutinised.
This was the main reason why the people of Northern Ireland voted solidly against Brexit, only to see their preference negated in the overall UK context.
It is also why, ever since, the Government at Westminster has been desperate to come up with some kind of compromise that can equate a continuation of the current border situation with the decision to quit the EU.
Among the suggestions: Allow traffic to flow normally each way only to be halted at unobtrusive places a distance from the actual border for checks; make the border between the island of Ireland and the UK mainland; handle all the formalities in cyberspace so there is no need for any physical barriers at the border.
These and other proposals have been derided as “magical thinking” by one EU official, who added that the British proposals were long on aspirations but short on workable solutions.
Both the Republic and the UK fear that a ‘hard border’ will reignite passions over a united Ireland that has poisoned relations between the countries in the past and could lead to a resurgence of violence sponsored by the Irish Republican Army (IRA).
Since the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, the boundary between north and south has essentially disappeared. It has been stated many times that the only way drivers can tell they have travelled between jurisdictions is when the road signs (kilometres in the south, miles in the north) change.
With Ireland united in all but name, this largely destroyed the IRA’s raison d’etre and ushered in a prolonged period of peace and stability as both sides put the notorious ‘Troubles’ behind them.
However, all bets are off should a border be reinstituted.
Writing for the Centre for European Policy Studies, Senior Lecturer in Sociology at Queen’s University, Belfast, Katy Hayward, says a customs border would also raise the economic attractiveness of smuggling.
She calls for "flexibility and imagination" to be employed in finding a system that would somehow overcome the difficulties that inevitably lie ahead.
It used to be said that when the UK sneezed, Ireland caught a cold. So much so the Republic felt it was obliged to follow its larger neighbour intro the EU is 1973.
Things have changed drastically since.
Ireland has prospered under EU membership, and is currently recovering strongly from the effects of the global financial crisis of 2008. Its continued membership is in no doubt.
The border issue was never properly put to the electorate during the febrile referendum campaign of last year. It is just one of the consequences that are now becoming clear.
One of the biggest constitutional issues that has faced the country in 100 years should never have been disposed of in a simple first-past-the post vote, the result of which split the nation almost down the middle.
History will condemn the hubris of those who so casually entered into the arrangement, but it is done and the UK’s leaders must rise to the challenge.
There is still time for wise heads to prevail and for a ‘confirmation referendum’ to be held when negotiations are complete and all the facts and consequences of Brexit are on the table.
A mature, democratic society that cares for the rights of all its people — not just those who shout loudest — can have no other choice.