Bordering on crisis: A qualitative analysis of focus group, social media, and news media perspectives on the Republic of Ireland-Northern Ireland border during the 'first wave' of the COVID-19 pandemic

Soc Sci Med. 2021 Jun 15;282:114111. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2021.114111. Online ahead of print.


RATIONALE: International border controls were among the earliest and most effective of measures to constrain transmission of COVID-19. However, such measures are complex when established borders are open yet politically contested, as for the border that divides the Republic of Ireland (ROI) from Northern Ireland (NI). Understanding how this border affected the everyday lives of both populations during the pandemic is important for informing the continued development of effective responses to COVID-19 and future health crises.

OBJECTIVE: This multi-methods study aimed to explore public perspectives on how the ROI-NI border affected experiences of and responses to the ‘first wave’ of the pandemic.

METHOD: The study collated data from focus groups (n = 8), news articles (n = 967), and Twitter posts (n = 356) on the island of Ireland, which mentioned the ROI-NI border in relation to COVID-19. Thematic analysis was used to explore the range of perspectives on the role played by the border during the early months of the pandemic.

RESULTS: Analysis identified three themes: Cross-Border Interdependencies illustrated the complexity and challenges of living near the border; Interpretations of Cross-Border Policy Disparities showed that lay publics perceived NI and ROI policy approaches as discordant and politicised; and Responses to Cross-Border Policy Disparities revealed alternating calls to either strengthen border controls, or pursue a unified all-island approach.

CONCLUSIONS: Results reveal clear public appetite for greater synchronisation of cross-border pandemic responses, emphasise the specific vulnerability of communities living near the border, and highlight the risk of long-term socio-political repercussions of border management decisions taken during the pandemic. Findings will inform implementation of pandemic responses and public health policies in jurisdictions that share a porous land border.

PMID:34147919 | DOI:10.1016/j.socscimed.2021.114111