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'A no-man's land scenario': The ideas sent in from the public to avoid a hard Irish border

One person suggested that they should “erect poles at every road crossing the border between Northern Ireland and the South”.

Image: Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

A CUSTOMS CENTRE on the Isle of Man, and banning trade across the Irish border by road, and sending it only by sea or air, were among the suggestions sent to the Irish government on how to avoid a hard border. 

A number of suggestions were sent to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Tánaiste Simon Coveney in September last year on how to avoid a hard border while also protecting the island of Ireland against smuggling.

These emails and documents have been released to TheJournal.ie under a Freedom of Information request, and so the senders’ names and details are redacted.

These ideas were sent in when UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson was saying that the backstop needed to be scrapped, and when the Irish government was saying that there was no Withdrawal Agreement without a backstop. 

In October, a customs arrangement was struck where Northern Ireland would be aligned to the European Union’s Custom Union, but would remain in the UK’s custom territory, and so would benefit from any future trade deals. 

The practicalities of this are complicated and still to be ironed out in the trade talks phase, but it’s likely that goods travelling to Northern Ireland would initially pay tariffs, but would be reimbursed if it was proven that the goods remained in that territory.

In September last year, there were rumours that the UK had suggested customs checks between 1-5km on either side of the Irish border as a solution to avoiding hard border infrastructure. 

In one email sent to the Taoiseach and Tánaiste, this idea is called “crazy”.

“A no man’s land scenario. I could see that being a massive problem, perhaps a criminal element would take advantage of this ‘not defined’ area, it would be a disaster.”

“Buffer zones are a very very bad idea,” the emailer wrote.

Among the correspondences are suggestions on what could replace the backstop.

These include a proposal sent from a person who claims to have worked for transport and distribution, as well as security industries. 

This person suggested locating a customs centre both the Isle of Man and the Isle of Wight to monitor containers travelling from Ireland to the UK and vice versa.

“Point should be checked by Customs officials at an agreed distance point away from Crossing to ensure all documents and container seals are in order, and any defaulter shall be sent to a terminal parking space so that their documents can be rectified.”

Another person, in an email with the subject line ‘Solution to the Backstop’, wrote that the governments should “erect poles at every road crossing the border between Northern Ireland and the South”.

They should then “position the cameras and video cameras pointing in both directions”, and create a website where hauliers can log details of the goods they would be carrying from the two countries, with the tariffs they’ve paid as well.

Another suggestion, sent on 1 October by “an English member of the public”, suggested that Ireland and the UK trade “as if it were one country”.

“A producer in ROI wants to sell to the UK. In order to do this it stamps its goods with ‘for sale and consumption in UK only and not for further international distribution’. The UK producer would stamp the same but to ROI in this instance.

“The ROI producer would still sell goods into EU exactly as they do now.”

It’s worth noting that this is not entirely unlike the arrangement that is planned for Northern Ireland.

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