Larne (Northern Ireland)
From our correspondent
At the entrance of the city, a roundabout overhung by an enormous metallic crown announces the color: Larne is in Unionist territory. This thousand-year-old port is fiercely attached to its place within the UK, its monarchical symbols, its free healthcare system and the pound sterling. Six times a day, a ferry runs from Northern Ireland to Cairnryan in Scotland, so close it could be seen even in good weather.
But there was no good weather in February, when the epidemic and the cold drove people from the streets. The passenger terminal is deserted, only a few trucks disembark from theEuropean Causeway, at the dock. Since 1er January, with the end of the transition period, Larne and the Northern Irish ports are under pressure. The Unionist community does not adapt to the border in the Irish Sea, which distances them from Great Britain and slows down trade. Earlier this week, the Council of East and Mid Antrim had to urgently arrest its 12 agents responsible for new customs controls, quickly imitated by the European Commission which suspended its teams to ensure their safety.
” Employees saw graffiti designating them as targets. They were tracked, and their license plates were lifted », Explains the mayor, Peter Johnston. If he assures that it is“ isolated acts “, other tags have appeared in the rest of the country: ” No to the border in the Irish Sea! “,” Enough is enough ! We must retaliate “,” It’s time for war! “…
Pending the investigation, goods continue to flow freely. “ We are still in a grace period, and the affected customs officers were more concerned with verifying documents than physical inspections. », Assures the city councilor. From 1er April, new rules must take effect with strict and costly health certificates on food and animal products arriving in the province, and therefore in the European common market. More than surprised, the chosen one is disappointed. ” It’s the last thing we wanted to see happen! “. For him, customs officials are the last victims of the Northern Irish protocol, ” which already weighs on the steel industry and the distribution sector ”.
Larne is one of the few constituencies where the “yes” to Brexit prevailed, during the referendum in 2016. In the rest of the province, the “no” resounded firmly. Four years of negotiations failed to get the North Irish to agree: a land border risked arousing tensions; moving the controls in the ports seemed to be the solution, but had the effect of reviving them.
A few hundred yards from the wharf, workers line up in front of a prefabricated cabin where Paul places Irish bread cakes on the grill. ” Since Brexit, things have changed. The customers are still there, but there will surely be fewer and fewer. »The graffiti which appeared a few meters from his cafe does not worry him. “ Those who did that got what they wanted: that we stop the controls One of his customers mutters, grabbing his sandwich.
In the parking lot, Brian left his tanker engine running. ” These new regulations are ridiculous, but from there to threaten poor guys who do their day’s work … “. If the police have not found a connection with the loyalist paramilitaries, all are convinced that the armed groups are behind the threats. ” All this is nothing compared to what we lived during the war, and I would be surprised if it went further. They just want to scare… That’s how it works around here! “.
A police car makes its rounds and leaves. A few trucks get on. Larne waits. Britons and Europeans are due to discuss next week possible easing of the protocol, and an extension of grace periods, hoping to ease tensions.