Tuesday 21 February 2012

Who gives a 'thrupenny damn' for the Irish hare?

HARES would be well advised to remain on the northern side of the Border where they will be cosseted and cared for as a protected native Irish species. By crossing over into the Republic, they face the risk of being harried and hunted down for sport.
It is one of the great anomalies of our land that the two jurisdictions take such a divergent approach to blood sports. A former newspaper colleague in Dublin once observed that the reason for the pervasive political deference to the bloodlust of coursing fans was the annual conclave of Roman collars in the crowd at the National Coursing Meeting in Clonmel – the Hare of the Dogma, if you will!
Clearly the bastions of church and state don't give a thruppeny damn for the indigenous species once depicted on that Irish coin.
Running for its life
A leap of fate
I am not aware if attendance at Clonmel has diminished since the dogs were muzzled in 1993 after an outcry following photos and film footage of a couple of greyhounds pulling a hare limb from limb in a gory display of triumph. Now the dogs can only frighten the wits out of their unfortunate quarry as the baying crowds cheer them on.
For coursing hares and hunting stags and foxes remain the preserve of country pursuits in Ireland with the latter defended as control of vermin. As if other means of culling wildlife were less efficient or humane than a bunch of Hoorah Henrys and Henriettas galloping  their horses over the countryside – the unspeakable in pursuit of the uneatable, as Oscar Wilde so aptly put it .
Thankfully, badger-baiting has been outlawed in both jurisdictions, although it is still conducted covertly – with cock-fighting and dog-fighting – along the Border by those who would doubtless defend bear-baiting on the pretext that our bear population might otherwise get out of control.
Shane McEntee
As for hare coursing, Dublin’s Minister of State for Agriculture Shane McEntee has defended it robustly, describing it as part of our Irish way of life (contrary to evidence that it was introduced by British Army officers at the Curragh in the early 19th century.)
‘We have to make sure no one comes near to taking that away from us,’ the Irish junior minister said earlier this month. His remarks were prompted by news that two independent Dáil Deputies will table a Private Members Bill before Easter to have hare-coursing banned, following disclosure that a public park in Milltown, Co. Cork is used for the blood sport.
D.J. Histon
Chief executive of the Irish Coursing Club, D. J. Histon said that a Department of the Environment survey in 2007 found a population of 565,000 hares in Ireland and coursing clubs required 1% of these. That’s 5,650 hares harried and chased merely for the pleasure of the coursing crowd. 
The Hare Preservation Trust, meanwhile, estimates that the population of the Irish species is falling by 25% every three years.
The southern minister of state insists, however, that hares are ‘not an endangered species’.
That will come as news in Northern Ireland where a ban on coursing introduced in 2003 under direct rule, has been continued by subsequent minister such as the DUP’s Arlene Foster, despite trenchant opposition and repeated attempts to overturn it by Sinn Féin.
Now the opposition to hare coursing is strengthened by the worrying news that a number of native wildlife species, including the Irish hare, face extinction if protective action is not taken throughout the island.
The alarm also includes the already depleted red squirrel and red deer which are also in danger of extinction, according to a two-year study by scientists at Queen's University in Belfast (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-17099536).
Prof. Ian Montgomery
Led by Prof. Ian Montgomery, the research team at the School of Biological Sciences in Queen’s found that invasive species pose such as threat to indigenous Irish wildlife that some species such as the pygmy shrew have vanished in many parts of the island. Wood mouse numbers have also dropped by 50% in places.
The Queen’s University research team leader described an ‘invasional meltdown’ in the international scientific journal Biological Invasions, claiming that native small mammals in Ireland would die out in at least 80% of their available habitat.
Belfast protester at Queen's University.
Prof. Montgomery stressed the importance of small mammals in the established food chain and urged joined-up action to redress the biological balance.
‘Governments, both north and south of the border, are urged to work together to address the overall problem,’ he said, saying that invasive mammals pose a risk throughout Ireland.
‘We should establish a realistic plan identifying the mammal species that are key to maintaining our unique biodiversity and ecology and those that we should eliminate or control.’
Few could possibly argue that one of the species we must protect and promote is the Irish hare, but its welfare now depends on which jurisdiction it lives in. Like most of the inhabitants of this island, however, hares are unaware of the Border that protects them for now.

Monday 13 February 2012

Changes afoot on the Border beat

Entente cordiale on the bridge at Belleek in 1924
They stood guard as Stormont’s sentinels down the decades; sandbagged, draped in barbed wire, strategic garrisons commanding every significant Border crossing.
Up to the end of 1925, they housed garrisons of ‘A Special’ Constabulary, full-time paramilitary reserves of the new Royal Ulster Constabulary who fought gun battles with the new Free State army across the fledgling frontier. In every successive period of unrest, they were bases for platoons of part-time ‘B Specials’ who guarded the line.
During the course of the recent Troubles, they were expanded, fortified with armoured steel walls, festooned with cameras and listening devices and crowned by turrets to survey the locality.
Most have withstood frequent and sustained attacks, some with significant loss of lives. Now they are redundant, surplus to requirement. So they are being decommissioned with barely a murmur of dissent from most of their surrounding communities.
Removing armour from Castlederg PSNI station
The latest list of 34 Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) stations to be shut down is still under review, but it will include most of the remaining frontline border posts and many others at a step-back from the frontier. The PSNI is slashing its complement of police stations to 49 from the 140 inherited from the RUC in 2001. Earlier closures included such iconic Border stations as Roslea in Fermanagh, and Middletown and Forkhill in Armagh.
PSNI stations now ‘under review’ and expected to close include Castlederg, Aughnacloy and Caledon in Tyrone; Kesh, Belleek, Belcoo and Newtownbutler in Fermanagh; as well as Keady, Newtownhamilton and Bessbrook in Armagh. Further back, but within close range of the Border, others under review include Donemana, Newtownstewart, Fivemiletown, Ballygawley and Moy in Tyrone; Irvinestown and Lisnaskea in Fermanagh; Warrenpoint in Down; and in Armagh, the stations at Markethill and Loughgall, the latter the focus of an SAS ambush in which nine armed IRA men were killed when they came prematurely to demolish the part-time barracks.
Similar stories of sustaining and repelling attacks could be cited for most of the PSNI stations now slated for closure by the newly devolved Department of Justice.
However, policing authorities emphasise this will not deplete but improve services, while reducing the operational budget by 14 % with a saving of £135 million. That should help to defray the £14 million already spent on supplying BlackBerry smartphones (equipped with special software) to police officers on the ground.  
According to the PSNI’s Strabane area commander Chief Inspector Andy Lemon, these devices reduce the need for patrolling officers ‘to return to a police station to complete administrative tasks’.
‘This has already increased the amount of patrol time per officer per shift by over 15% – meaning an extra hour per officer, per shift is spent on the street, in the community they serve,’ Inspector Lemon said (Strabane Chronicle, 2 February 2012).
Planned closures of peripheral stations will mean that the entire land frontier of Northern Ireland can be policed from seven current area command bases at Derry (Strand Road), Strabane, Omagh, Enniskillen, Dungannon, Armagh City and Newry.

On the other side of the Border, the history of policing is markedly different.
With partition, members of the new Civic Guards (An Garda Síochána) were deployed to former RIC barracks in towns and villages. Most of these remained in use until the Troubles threatened to spill over in the late 1960s/early 1970s. Antiquated barracks were replaced by ‘bungalow’ posts and scores (eventually thousands) of young gardaí were deployed for ‘Border Duty’ with extra pay. For example, Clones had a sergeant and three guards in the late 1960s; by 1975, it had 44 gardaí under a district inspector.
Since the 2001 ‘Foot and Mouth scare’, garda deployment along the Border has fallen sharply. Once bustling stations are sleepy day-time posts among the 122 stations in the four ‘Northern’ divisions of Donegal, Sligo-Leitrim, Cavan-Monaghan and Louth.
Garda Commissioner Mrtin Callinan
Of those, frontline Border posts include eight in Donegal (Muff, Carrigans, Lifford, Castlefinn, Ballybofey, Pettigo, Ballintra and Ballyshannon), one in Sligo-Leitrim (Kiltyclogher), 12 in Cavan-Monaghan (Blacklion, Ballyconnell, Belturbet, Redhills, Clones, Smithboro, Scotstown, Emyvale, Monaghan, Clontibret, Castleblayney and Carrickmacross), six in Louth (Hackballscross, Dromad, Omeath, Carlingford, Dundalk and Louth village).
Under the Policing Plan 2012 recently issued by Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan, there are plans to close a total of 39 Garda stations, ‘including eight stations which are at present non-operational’. Only three of these however, are Border stations – Kiltyclogher in Leitrim and Smithboro and Clontibret, both in Monaghan.
So against seven frontline PSNI stations in Northern Ireland, 24 garda stations will remain on the ‘southern’ side of the Border by 2015, when both forces are to commence joint training at the new police college in Cookstown, Co. Tyrone.
So better policing for the south? Not really, it seems, with today's report (http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/breaking/2012/0213/breaking46.html)) disclosing that 40% of Garda stations have no Internet connection, meaning officers can’t file reports by email.
A spokesman for the Garda Press Office was unable to tell the Frontier Post how many stations in the Border divisions have no Internet connection.
‘We wouldn’t have that kind of information here,’ he said. ‘We only have a figure for the national situation.’
He seemed as unconcerned as  senior garda officers who say they can manage without the Internet, and the priority should be in reversing plans to cut the patrol car fleet by 385 vehicles across the board where Dublin’s Justice Minister Alan Shatter wrestles with a current quota of 703 Garda stations. Recent speculation suggests that budgetary cutbacks could eventually mean closure of up to 200 garda stations on the insistence of the IMF-European Central Bank. That would reduce stations to a figure of 500 serving a population of 4.5 million (1:9,000), against fewer than 50 stations covering the North’s population of 1.5 million (1:30.000).
On the Northern side, there is a fatalistic sense even among those who would wish to retain Border security on full alert.
Emyvale garda station
Democratic Unionist Lord (Maurice) Morrow of Dungannon seems more concerned about the possible closure of Garda stations, saying this will mean ‘criminals and dissidents will be given a free hand in operating across the Border. While the future of garda stations is undoubtedly a matter for the Irish government, as a border constituent I am very concerned about the effect this will have on border security’ (Tyrone Times, 28 September 2011).
So in a bid to allay Lord Morrow’s fears about Emyvale garda station’s future, the Frontier Post asked the Garda Press Office spokesman if any future review would include an assessment of  Border stations.
‘If you want an official quote about that,’ he said, ‘you’ll have to send us an email’!

Thursday 2 February 2012

Size matters in Border rivalry

Salmond leap of faith
Borders are all the rage right now, with Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond planning to give his a 'big boost' in 2014 and Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness hoping to give his a 'big boot' in 2016.
Even if both get their way, during the intervening two years between referendums we might even have to shuffle aside from our position as the United Kingdom’s only international land frontier.
Here at the Frontier Post, that prospect has us hard at work measuring, calibrating, weighing and researching our potential rival across the water.
Preliminary comparisons show that it certainly has the jump on us, already being ‘The Border’ as far as most people over there are concerned. Ours is usually designated as the ‘Irish Border,’ as if it was solely our idea!
Knowing where you are
The Scottish Border also has the distinction of being signposted officially as the ‘Border’ on all road and rail crossings where crosses of St George for England and St Andrew's Saltire for Scotland pin the colours to the mast, along with coats of arms and other insignia. Travellers by rail or road can be left in little doubt where to get their photo taken with one foot in either country.
Signage on the right tracks
There is less tourist entertainment over here. Knowing when you’ve crossed our Border is a rather more subtle matter of noting speed signage (either miles or kilometres, not confusing the 60 and 100 limits), good guesswork and sensitivity to creases in the road surface (which reliably mark the jurisdiction of roadwork gangs).
Roadsign at 'Black Gap' between Tyrone and Donegal
It is a matter of relief to the Frontier Post, however, that some very remote – and even narrower – border crossings  are clearly marked on the ‘southern’ side with warnings in French and German to ‘drive on the left’. This is in the unlikely event of invasion by tourists, we suspect.
Motorists on some roads are also advised that Fermanagh welcomes them ‘naturally’, although these are usually located some distance inside the county line, so telling those in the know that they have crossed the Border, rather than that they are crossing it.
IRA monument in The Square, Crossmaglen, Co Armagh
In the nethermost reaches of Northern Ireland, it was once noted, you’ll know you’ve gone north into south Armagh (and the United Kingdom) when you see the tricolour, Ireland’s national flag, and other Republican standards all over the place!

Times past
Lackey Bridge near Clones, Co Monaghan in the 1980s
Our Border was so much more obvious in the past. Along with the permanent disappearance (as opposed to frequent 'temporary absence' for necessary repairs or reconstruction) of customs posts, the past decade or so has brought the removal of even more intrusive British Army checkpoints. They’ve gone along with their concrete/steel barricades, road craters and blasted bridges that once left no doubt about the Border’s whereabouts.
Hadrian's Wall was an international frontier
There were military fortifications on the Border across the water, too, but we have to go even further back for them. Back to when Scotland – or Caledonia as it was called before we invaded/colonised it in the 6th century inviting them to return the favour a thousand years later – had an international frontier with the Roman Empire. Hadrian’s Wall marked the Border then, but it was further south and it was superceded in any case by the Antonine Wall further north. Neither helps with the modern line.
In terms of Border delineation, we found that Hadrian’s Wall now ranks alongside our own Black Pig’s Dyke (which some regard as contemporaneous) in failing to delineate current border locations.
Margin of error
So it was back to the drawing board in the big Border face-off.
We conducted a detailed opinion poll in both Border locations (accurate to a margin of 1:5,000,000 for Scotland and 1:1,500,000 for here).
In the first, we found virtually no equivocation along their border in how people described themselves as English or Scots. That is a clear distinction of national identity notwithstanding common British citizenship.
Over here, however, the opinion poll was less certain. Designations such as Irish, British, Northern Irish, Ulster, northern or southern were matters of persistent disagreement. Most believe they don’t even make geographic sense much less reflect ethnic sensibility. 

Money or mouth
So the Scots win again by word of mouth but, in the big stakes they haven’t got a chance because our border is a monetary land frontier and today (2 February 2012) Scotland’s Finance Secretary John Swinney said they’ll be sticking with sterling (and Sterling, of course) after independence.
Yet our border’s elevation to this significant monetary status really only dates back to 1979 when Dublin broke the sterling link, a momentous event that is invariably ignored or forgotten by economic commentators speculating on where it ‘all went wrong’.
The eurozone and its land frontier with sterling
There is little to be forgotten about the current status (since 2001) of being the only land frontier between sterling and the eurozone. However, even that is belied in the car parks of the Quays and Buttercrane shopping centres in Newry and at other cross-Border ‘shopping meccas’ all the way up to Derry City.
Newry value for euro shoppers
These have become places of huge significance for people asserting their rights under the Treaty of Rome (Schengen, 1997) to ‘free movement of goods and people’. Against the deluded denunciations of some Dublin politicians who call them ‘unpatriotic’, these cross-Border shoppers assert their rights as trenchantly as the protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square or Cairo’s Tahrir Square.
That has to count, because Scotland has not experienced such tidal migration at least since the days when a two-year difference in the ‘age of consent’ drew couples up to Gretna Green’s nuptial forge.
Now the nub
Which brings us to the question of whether size really matters? We think it should because our Border is 360 kms (220 miles) long while their Border is a puny 154 km (96 miles). Theirs is even shorter than the Border between England and Wales which measures 257 km (160 miles). 
When it comes to local authority boundaries which double as the ‘international frontier’, we also have an impressive 12 (Donegal, Derry City, Strabane, Omagh, Fermanagh, Leitrim, Cavan, Monaghan, Dungannon, Armagh, Louth, Newry & Mourne) to their five (Dumfries & Galloway, Scottish Borders, Cumbria, Durham and Northumberland). 

Debatable point
But what of the infamous Debatable Lands between England and Scotland, notwithstanding that everything on this side is disputed? They seem to have been agreed on the western front, with Dumfries revelling in an annual Guid Neichburris (good neighbours) festival that features horsemen galloping along the frontier to ensure the Sassanachs haven’t encroached.
No mistaking England's claim on Berwick signage
The only remaining contention arises with Berwick-upon-Tweed (pop. 11,665 in 2001 census), four kilometres south of the border and incorporated into Northumbria and England only in 1885. (We note the correspondence beween that resolution and the start of the Irish Home Rule crisis with Gladstone’s election victory that year.) 

Last refuge
If patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel, then sport must be the last refuge of the patriot. 
One of the main arguments for transferring Berwick is that the town’s sports clubs compete north of the Border. In soccer, Berwick Rangers FC plays in the Scottish League and its rugby club is involved in SRFU’s Eastern’s Regional League Div. 1.
Over here, of course, rugby is organised on a provincial basis under the Irish Rugby Football Union. That means clubs on the ‘southern’ side of the border in Donegal, Cavan and Monaghan are affiliated to the Belfast-based Ulster Rugby Union. Cross-border provincial affiliation is also the case for golf, cricket, badminton, Gaelic games, motor sports, showjumping and almost every other sport we can think of here at the Frontier Post.  
The exception is soccer, of course, but Derry City is affiliated to the Dublin-based Football Association of Ireland (the breakaway) and not the original Irish Football Association based in Belfast.
Martin McGuinness flies the flag
Which brings us back to Derry city’s own Martin McGuinness and his desire to kick our Border into touch. If Berwick is ceded north, might the Brandywell and adjacent districts move south.
We’ll keep you posted on that and our ongoing research.