I went Up The North today, to catch up with an old mate in Co. Down. I had my directions memorised. But it didn’t stop me getting lost. That’s not the story though.
I crossed the border without evening knowing it. I’d the radio on and was listening to how the Gardaí had raided a halting site in Finglas, finding guns, drugs, and a very expensive live caged monkey. Photographs of the monkey showed it looking very bored indeed. Subsequent reporting talked of how the value of the monkey (€2000) is indicative of how much money there is in the drugs business. The story then moved to other examples of exotic animals owned by drug kingpins. And the old story of a captured mobile phone showing a prisoner in Portlaoise Prison sharing his cell with a budgie named Shrek. It’s no wonder I was distracted.
When I finally focused on where I was going, I noticed that the white registration plates in front of me had morphed to yellow, the green post boxes had turned to red, and the speed limit had gone from kilometres to miles (I hope I noticed this in time). The price of petrol had dropped dramatically, too, but it would, as I was now in sterling country.
It was only then that the full force of Brexit hit me. Yes, I’ve been keeping up with what’s going on (or not going on) and yes, I’d been concerned about thoughts of a hard border, but it had all be quite superficial. I’d not really stopped to think what it would mean if we went back to the days when you couldn’t move from Ireland to Northern Ireland without noticing.
Granted, back then, the border was political in the extreme. A Brexit border would be more about customs checks than dodgy customers. But that said, anything that impinges free movement between the two countries can’t be good.
Next up on the radio was a report from Killybegs, Ireland’s fishing capital, where a whole slew of boats has been docked till next January. Why? Most of them fish for mackerel. They fish in Scottish waters, off the coast of Orkney because that’s where the mackerel are when they’re at their oiliest. And oily fish is what the Japanese want. Usually, they keep some of their quota till the autumn so that they can spread out the profit and keep more locals in jobs in the processing plants. But this year, uncertain as to what Brexit would bring, and unclear whether they’d be allowed to fish in UK waters post-April, they caught their full quota and now have nothing left to fish for.
If Brexit happens, the UK will no longer be bound by the Russian embargo on EU agricultural and fish products. And next to or above the Japanese, the Russians are big consumers of mackerel. So UK fishers will be able to sell all that lovely early oily mackerel to Russia, upping the prices, and thus killing off the Irish mackerel market and the livelihoods of lord knows how many as collateral damage. The Japanese will hardly want the less oily mackerel that make it into Irish waters.
As a complete aside, the growing mackerel population is apparently responsible for the high salmon mortality rate at sea… the number of salmon returning to their Irish rivers to spawn is down 70%. Anyway, those interviewed were rightly upset. Fishing is the scaly-headed stepchild that no one really cares about. That said, the lads interviewed seemed impressed with Michel Barnier, who has been pushing to include fishing under the general trade banner.
Until today, Brexit has been a pretty abstract phenomenon for me. I’ve been watching from the sidelines at the idiocy of it all. I’ve read the news. Listened to the debates. Watch the reporting. But I’ve been one step removed. I woke up on Friday, 24th June 2016, as shocked as the rest of the world at the result of the referendum but until today, I’d never really felt anything about it. It was all in my head, not in my heart. This evening, I’ve a newfound empathy with my remainer British friends. And am certain that no one has fully come to terms with the magnitude of it all, of the changes it undoubtedly will bring. The old adage of not appreciating what you have until you no longer have it comes to mind.