WITH just three weeks until voters across the UK decide on whether Britain and the North will remain part of the EU, a large cloud of uncertainty hangs over Tyrone’s border areas.
Should the UK pull out, places like Aughnacloy will be transformed into the frontier between the UK and the European Union.
What that would mean in practice is something that both the remain and leave campaigns continue to debate.
Each side are conjuring up opposing images of what a post-Brexit border between the North and South of Ireland could look like.
In Aughnacloy, talk of checkpoints stirs unwelcome memories of the old fortified military crossing on the edge of the town.
Sean McGirr, who runs three businesses in the town, has lived in Aughnacloy for 36 years. He recalls how the checkpoint cut off communities and destroyed a thriving market town.
“It was chaotic,” he said. “People, particularly the older ones, will be thinking back wondering ‘what will this mean’.
Since partition, the Irish Republic and the UK have generally enjoyed a special relationship in terms of trade and the movement of people born out through the Common Travel Agreement (CTA).
Both countries signed up to join the EU in 1973, heralding enhanced freedom of movement for goods and people, at least in theory.
In practice, it was not until the peace process was secured that people in border areas could truly enjoy such freedoms, when the fortifications came down and tiny cross-border roads reopened.
These days, commuters barely notice the north-south boundary as they head for Emyvale, it’s even more invisible on smaller rural roads.
‘WE SUFFERED BADLY’
Yet border businesses have still endured their trials. Sharp fluctuations in currency strength has had a drastic impact.
“We suffered badly when the Euro was really poor against sterling,” said Sean. “Visitors weren’t coming to the border towns and in fact people were shopping across the border because it was cheaper.”
The latest tourism statistics released last week revealed a continued slump (18%) in the number of visitors travelling from south to north.
With such tribulations, Sean McGirr is keen to avoid any additional hindrance to trade.
His businesses include the Central Bar, Tulips flower store and Enable Care Services, which provides domiciliary care.
Cross-border trade is crucial, especially for the bar, where on a typical Sunday, half his till is in Euro.
“The impact on a small town a mile from the border is going to be tremendous,” he said.
“It would certainly leave me, as far as the flower shop is concerned, that I would have to contemplate moving to another town.
“It’s going to cause serious financial problems for small businesses,” he added. “It is a major concern.”
Although right on the Monaghan border, Aughnacloy retains a sizeable unionist community. As the largest unionist party, the DUP is leading calls for a leave vote. But if there are those in favour of a Brexit in Aughnacloy, they’re not exactly singing it from the rooftops.
Many local people appear on the other hand are undecided on which way to vote.
Nissan car dealer Derek Loane isn’t getting too worked up about the June 23 referendum. In business for 40 years, he has operated through the turbulence of the Troubles and the many fluctuations in the currency exchange.
Like many border businesses, he has had to adapt his business model to whichever currency is performing stronger.
“I used to import cars all the time across the border. It all depends on the pound and Euro, it’s the other way about now,” he said.
“We’re putting cars down the other way now. We’ve done quite a bit over the past while.
“We do a lot of servicing for customers from across the border too, that’s something I’ve noticed. Whichever way it goes, I just go with it,” affirmed the car dealer.
“There have been hard times, but we got through it all right.”
It is perhaps this endurance and ability to adapt which means Derek isn’t too hung up about the June 23 poll.
Still unsure which way he will vote, he said, “I’m not even thinking about it. I’ll just take it as it comes, whatever happens.
“I wouldn’t like to lose out,” he adds.