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Brexit: Fears over emergency co-operation at Irish border

By Cormac Campbell
BBC News NI South East Reporter

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image copyrightGerard Murray
image captionAn Irish Air Corps helicopter helps to fight a gorse fire in County Armagh

In the borderlands of south Armagh, Brexit is all pervasive.

With free movement, commerce and security topping the agenda, the issue of how emergency services respond to crises on the zig-zagged frontier has largely been an afterthought.

That changed last week as gorse fires swept through the Ring of Gullion.

Pictures of an Irish Air Corps helicopter scooping water from Camlough Lake to douse a huge blaze on Slieve Gullion highlighted the current level of cross-border co-operation.

  • Irish Air Corps called to gorse fire in NI

A few miles away at Flagstaff, fire crews from Newry drove through County Louth unimpeded on their way to the remote beauty spot.

Flagstaff overlooks Carlingford Lough - an area which has long been the subject of debate in relation to just where the border is located. To this end, mussel and oyster farmers have free reign of the lough whilst one of the navigation towers from Warrenpoint Port is located in the Republic.

But with the potential for a hard frontier, there are concerns that emergency operations such as those last week could be delayed or impeded.

Such is the concern at Newry, Mourne and Down Council, that last week it met with the fire service to discuss how such operations would be delivered post-Brexit.

image copyrightNIFRS
image captionThe gorse fire covered an area of approximately 100 acres in south Armagh

According to the council's chair, Councillor Mark Murnin: "We are currently assessing the amount of damage that has been done at both locations. We'd like to put on record our appreciation to the fire service and also to the Irish Air Corps for their help at Slieve Gullion."

The Slieve Gullion fire came perilously close to houses and was just a few hundred metres from the site of building works at the new Killeavy Castle hotel.

'So essential'

Abby McSherry, of the Ring of Gullion Landscape Partnership, said: "It was a close run thing with some homes, certainly it was very urgent.

"But it wasn't just houses, it was forestry as well. If the fire had got in to the forestry there would have been thousands of pounds of damage as it would have, quite literally, gone up in smoke.

"We don't know what the final Brexit agreements will be. But certainly if that sort of co-operation is prevented or made more difficult it really will have an impact.

"The co-operation is so essential, I would hate to see it disappear."

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