LONDONDERRY (Reuters) – Just a few kilometres from the border with Ireland, the people of Northern Ireland’s second city of Londonderry know exactly what is at stake as Britain seeks to seal its departure from the European Union.
Almost 50 years ago, the city became the centre of Northern Ireland’s conflict, referred to as the “Troubles”, when British troops shot dead 13 unarmed civilians during a civil rights demonstration on what became known as Bloody Sunday.
More recently, it has been the focal point of a rise in the kind of violence that still stunts progress in the British-run region.
The conundrum Brexit negotiators hope they have solved with Thursday’s draft divorce agreement was how to secure Britain’s orderly withdrawal from the EU without erecting checkpoints along the 500-km (300-mile) border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. Many fear that a return to a visible ‘hard’ border could undermine a 1998 peace accord which mostly ended three decades of bloody, sectarian conflict that left some 3,600 people dead.
When agreeing the deal, EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said that peace was what really mattered.
That is a sentiment shared by Derry native Richard Moore, who was blinded at the age of 10 when a British soldier fired a rubber bullet at him as he ran home from school, just a few months after Bloody Sunday.
“My children never really experienced the conflict the way I experienced it, they were born just around the time that peace was beginning to visit this part of the world,” said Moore, who founded a charity to help children in impoverished countries.
But the three years of often acrimonious Brexit talks have been destabilising to the hard-won peace, he said.