By Rebecca Black, Press Association
A group of residents have called for mass demonstrations along the Irish border the day after Brexit.
Border Communities Against Brexit, supported by pro-Remain political parties, unveiled a new billboard at Stormont announcing the planned day of protest with just 25 days to go until the United Kingdom is due to leave the European Union.
Politicians from Northern Ireland’s main pro-Remain parties also turned out for the event, including representatives from Sinn Fein, the SDLP and the Alliance Party.
Border Communities Against Brexit group spokesman Declan Fearon announced several locations for the border demonstrations on March 30, including at border crossing points in Co Down, Co Fermanagh, Co Tyrone and in Londonderry.
He said their purpose in coming together is to press to ensure there is no return to a hard border in Ireland.
“From 2016, when a clear majority in the north (of Ireland) voted to remain within the European Union, border communities have lobbied extensively in Dublin, London and Brussels and indeed here at home,” he said.
“We have organised large-scale protests on the border itself which has helped give a voice to local people who are very frustrated and feel disenfranchised by the Brexit process.
“March 29 is the date by which the Tory Government is due to take Britain and indeed ourselves here in the north out of the European Union.
“While there has been much talk about delays and extensions of the withdrawal date, the political machinations at Westminster have completely ignored the views, needs, fears and desires of the people here in Ireland, in particular those living in the border region who will be so adversely affected by Brexit.
“Brexit and a hard border have the potential to cause devastation to our economy, our industries, jobs and especially to the farming sector, to the free movement of people crossing the border every day in our communities to work, study or to trade.
“Border Communities Against Brexit remain focused on ensuring that Irish voices from the border area continue to be heard in the crucial days and weeks ahead.
“To that end we have organised a significant people’s demonstration against Brexit at various points along the border for Saturday March 30.
“These mobilisations will take place at the Old Dublin Road in Kilcarn, on the old Newry to Dundalk road, at Belcoo/Blacklion, Moybridge and Aughnacloy, Lifford and Strabane and Coshquin in Derry.
“We are asking everyone living along the border on either side to make an effort to attend your nearest demonstration. We are calling all trade unions, all representative groups, civic leaders and citizens to join with us and demonstrate our anger at being taken out of the European Union.”
Sinn Fein MEP Martina Anderson backed the call to protest, and also called for a united Ireland.
“The least damaging option for the people in the north of Ireland is the backstop, and as we stand here today we have the DUP and the Brexiteers trying to tear up that backstop,” she said.
“We call on the people not to allow those who are playing fast and loose with the Good Friday Agreement to continue on with the reckless behaviour of the Brexiteers in the House of Commons and to stand shoulder to shoulder with the people of the Border Communities Against Brexit on March 30. Regardless of what you are doing, it is crucially important that you stand up for your rights.
“There is a solution to the problem, that is the conversation that has already been mainstreamed about the kind of constitutional change that will take place I believe on the island of Ireland and that is the reunification of our country.”
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said there is no such thing as a good Brexit, but he said the backstop is the best form of protection.
“People have struggled for far too long to have peace and democracy in Ireland and we are not about to give it up because a few people on the hard right of the Conservative Party or the DUP aren’t prepared to protect what we have achieved,” he said.
“It’s very simple, we won’t have border infrastructure across our island, those of us who live near the border know that it will not be allowed to happen. I think that message needs to get through to the people who have a vote in a couple of weeks’ time.”
Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry said Brexit is “not an orange versus green issue”, but affects people from all backgrounds and walks of life across Ireland.
“If we have the opportunity to stop Brexit entirely we should take that through a people’s vote, but the absolute bottom line is that we have to bank the backstop. It is not something that can be renegotiated, it is the bare minimum to protect both the rights and the economy and people’s way of life. Equally, we must avoid a no deal at all costs as well,” he said.