I listened into some of the Sean O’Rourke programme from Castleblaney last Friday. It was about the impact of Brexit on the social and economic life of the border area. Some weeks ago, I was asked by the producers, Tara Campbell and Alistair McConnell, to take part in this programme. I agreed and spoke to both of these people at great length on the phone. Then a few days before the programme went out I was told that I was not needed as they had enough speakers. Two other members of the BCAB were also invited and went along but they got very little air time. Declan Fearon who is chairperson of our group got to speak for 40 seconds.
The programme began with Oisin McConville, former All -star footballer from Crossmaglen, who took O’Rourke on a trip along the border to Crossmaglen. Oisin was good and knowledgeable but his references to ‘the army’ confused me. I did not know, at times, which army he was talking about.
The first contributor, a journalist called Michael O’Toole, spoke about the way that borders attract criminality. The first 15 minutes was taken up with the subject of criminality. Much of the programme was given over to politicians and three businessmen operating along the border. Mr Martin MacVickar and a Mr McArdle made useful presentations about how Brexit would impact negatively on their businesses. One of the more sensible politicians was Matt Carthy, a Sinn Fein MEP, who, when he got a chance to speak, showed that he is well informed about Brexit and made the case for giving the north special status since a majority voted to Remain in the EU. He argued that the Peace process was more secure within the EU. A member of the British Conservative party, Mr Harding from Coleraine, County Derry, who got a few hundred votes in the recent election in the north, argued in favour of Brexit. He argued that since the north is part of the UK it must abide by the UK vote. Matt Carthy MEP pointed out the inconsistency of this argument since the British government in the GFA had already agreed that a majority vote in the north would in the future require a new constitutional arrangement.
A Unionist politician, Mr Campbell, made an insulting remark about Matt Carthy and everybody laughed. This programme did not get to grips with the real concerns of people who live along the border as a result of Brexit. It paid too much attention to an irrelevant Conservative politician who got more air time than anyone else. We already know what the Conservatives want. We should hear about how the people who live on the border feel about Brexit. We will have to wait for another programme to deal with that.