I missed the border when I drove across it on Monday. I was lost in an audio book and the one sign that reads 'Welcome to Northern Ireland' didn't register with me. It was only when I noticed the distance on the road signs was now marked in miles – and not kilometres – that I realised I was in the North.
We took Claire Byrne Live on the road for a broadcast experiment with the BBC Northern Ireland show, Nolan Live. The BBC presenter, Stephen Nolan travelled to Dublin to present from our RTE studio and I went to Stephen's studio in Belfast.
It was a fascinating experience, not to mention a great pleasure to work with the hugely welcoming and accommodating team at BBC Northern Ireland – and the crew on the Nolan Show.
We arranged to meet Stephen at the Flagstaff viewing point high above Carlingford Lough on my way to Belfast. Having failed to spot the Border as I drove across it, I was now standing on a windy height admiring the breathtaking view of the lough, the Mourne mountains and the rolling landscape of South Down, Armagh and Louth.
#NolanByrneLive partnered with @AmarachResearch and @LucidTalk in to poll citizens on both sides of the border about their views on the impact of BREXIT.— RTÉ ClaireByrneLive (@ClaireByrneLive) November 14, 2018
*A sample of 1,100 adults were polled in both jurisdictions, on 8th and 9th of November 2018 #CBLive https://t.co/btmVGS8lA8 pic.twitter.com/HdFohH748u
As we filmed ahead of our live show that night, the significance of the location was not lost on us. The border between Northern Ireland and the Republic cuts right through Carlingford Lough, which glimmered beneath us in the weak November sunlight. It is this geographical line that has been pitched into the epicentre of the turmoil of Brexit, becoming the ultimate focus of the UK, the EU and, of course, Ireland. It was the reason why we took our show on the road. Our filming complete, Stephen and his team headed south, while I continued to Belfast on our cultural and broadcasting exchange.
Working in a different environment, figuring out the logistics of an unfamiliar set-up in a different jurisdiction, presented challenges. I wanted to hear from an audience in Northern Ireland about how they feel about this Brexit endgame. Whether they voted for it or not, how did people feel about Brexit as D-day moves ever closer?
"For those in the Republic, just emerging from the economic crash of 2008, Brexit seems like a cruel twist of fate."
Our audience in Belfast was populated with those who both supported Brexit and those who felt Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom should remain in the EU. The overriding sense I gleaned from most of the people we spoke to, regardless of their position on the debate, was concern over what would happen next.
As the fog of the unknown lifts and the implications of Brexit become clearer, the warnings over the future for Northern Ireland are stark. One British government report predicted that economic output could decrease in Northern Ireland by 8% in the event of a deal being done between the EU and the UK, or by 12% in the event of no deal. Whatever way you skin it, those numbers would present serious challenges to the economy of Northern Ireland.
For those in the Republic, just emerging from the economic crash of 2008, Brexit seems like a cruel twist of fate. Minister for Finance Pascal Donohue has warned that Ireland would see 40,000 jobs lost in the event of a hard Brexit. It is an unpalatable vista that Ireland didn't invite, or need, but is now more than ever the new reality facing everyone on this island.
Outside of the studio, Belfast is a thriving, welcoming and beautiful city these days. Warnings about a return to a hard border and the potential for extreme elements to take Northern Ireland back to the bad days of violence are difficult to imagine coming to pass.
As I write this, the British Prime Minister Teresa May is battling through a stream of resignations from her cabinet as the battle over the Brexit withdrawal deal drifts endlessly on. Wherever it goes, our visit to Northern Ireland served as an important reminder of what is at stake - of how far we've come and the need to protect and preserve the huge and arguably delicate progress that has been made on the island of Ireland.
I'd like to thank the people who welcomed us to Northern Ireland - all of those who looked after us in BBC Northern Ireland and the audience and panel guests who joined us in the studio on the night.
We will definitely repeat the experiment!
You can watch the programme in full here:
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