During the worst of the Troubles, police roadblocks and Army checkpoints were a regular sight. Even though we are in the midst of the so-called peace process, the same curfews may need to be used to ensure the coronavirus is seriously curtailed.
Northern Ireland was already ahead of the rest of the UK regions in firing the starting gun on an unofficial lockdown to combat the rapidly growing crisis.
But we need to explore what full lockdown could mean, and uses the experience of the Ulster ex-pat community in Southern Spain to make this case.
Social media footage of security forces in Spain removing a woman who had refused to obey a ruling not to use a community swimming pool could well become a reality in Northern Ireland if some citizens decide to become ‘thrawn’ and do their own thing, disobeying the advice on how to combat the virus.
So in reality, where Northern Ireland goes, the rest of the United Kingdom will follow - that seems to be the strategy the geographical British Isles is following to combat the spread of the coronavirus as the UK moves rapidly and very emphatically into the delay phase.
But while the British Government has not yet decided on a full-scale Spanish-style lockdown as part of this stage, it has already begun in Northern Ireland - sparked by the recent North-South Ministerial meeting in Armagh.
The Republic of Ireland has already implemented a full lockdown until 29 March with schools closed and even celebrations of the island’s national saint, Patrick, and yesterday’s Mother’s Day, cancelled.
Boris Johnston has advised people across the UK to avoid pubs, clubs and theatres and has now urged entire families to self-isolate if a family member in that home shows symptoms of the virus; a virus that is doubling in numbers affected every five to six days.
In mainland Britain, while schools closed from last Friday, in Northern Ireland, the voluntary educational lockdown has started well before the official Johnston closure announcement on 18 March, with 10 of Belfast’s special education needs (SEN) schools closing, with many other schools and colleges already closed even before last Friday’s formal shutting.
Northern Ireland’s universities are delivering lectures online to students, and the Province’s six regional colleges of further and higher education are following this example.
Even Northern Ireland’s thriving Women’s Institute movement has been seriously affected with its Annual General Meeting, usually attended by over 1,000 delegates from across the Province, cancelled, as well as numerous local branch meetings cancelled, which are a vital social lifeline for many members.
Northern Ireland’s farming community - hit hard a few years ago by the Foot and Mouth crisis - looks set to take another hit with the prestigious annual Balmoral Agricultural Show in jeopardy. The top event, usually held in May, has been postponed until at least August.
For some organisations, representation at Balmoral is their main source of income. One organisation which traditionally had a lucrative stand at Balmoral, predicted it could lose up to £26,000 if it could not attend the show.
The Balmoral decision could have knock-on consequences for other top farming shows across the Province, such as the Ballymena Show and the North Antrim Agricultural Show in Ballymoney - two of Northern Ireland’s leading rural-based shows.
Northern Ireland Health Minister Robin Swann of the Ulster Unionists has already warned that social distancing may need to take place, and has called on people to stop stealing hand sanitisers from hospitals and GP surgeries.
The political Unionist/Nationalist debate even initially divided key members of the Executive with deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill of Sinn Fein urging that the full lockdown of schools should start immediately following the Republic’s example, while the DUP First Minister Arlene Foster wants schools to follow the UK advice and remain open. But that was early last week; by the end of the week, with Johnston telling schools to shut, the Stormont Executive now seems to be singing from the same political hymn sheet.
On the ground, one rural County Antrim pharmacist is already limiting people entering the shop to one person at a time, keeping their distance from staff - a tactic which pharmacies across the UK will need to adopt in a lockdown scenario.
The key question is whether Boris Johnston will have to deploy the Army as has already happened in Spain, where roadblocks and police checks are now a regular occurrence.
Speaking to a Northern Ireland ex-pat family now living permanently in Southern Spain, they say even the beaches are closed, with military on the streets questioning people as to their motives for being out.
People are only allowed to visit either the supermarket or the chemist. Only 40 people are allowed into a supermarket at any one time and there must be strict social distancing.
Fines are being imposed on people out of their homes without a valid reason. Dogs can be walked, but only by one person at a time.
An instruction in English on when the ex-pats cannot leave home states: “I can be penalised for not complying with these guidelines, a fine of 100 euros to 600,000 euros.”
Going to the supermarket with the whole family is banned, as is “taking the opportunity to walking 10 km’, going running, go out by bike, to the park, cafe or bar, even “to see a family member other than for your assistance of care by a dependent or elderly person; to meet friends in a house”. Could the Spanish experience spark a curfew policy, or even marshal law in Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK?
In Ireland, in the Catholic community, Masses are being cancelled. Indeed, in numerous Protestant churches, plastic gloves are being worn to distribute the emblems during the sacrament of Holy Communion.
Communicants are not allowed to handle the bread, but are given it by the servers; the wine glasses are handed to them, and then placed back in the serving dish by the servers limiting the amount of contact.
Some places of worship are even preparing to broadcast their services online across the internet if a lockdown means that even churches are closed across Northern Ireland. Indeed, many places of worship have already closed their doors.
Southern Ireland may have already gone into lockdown until 29 March, but the unofficial lockdown is already under way in Northern Ireland - an indication of practical measures Boris Johnston may have to introduce on mainland Britain.
Indeed, Prime Minister Johnston may even face the regional battle which is currently taking place on the island of Ireland. With pubs closed across the Republic ahead of the very muted St Patrick’s Day commemorations, Southern residents may be travelling across the Irish border to Northern Ireland to find open pubs to get their pints.
Likewise, just as the split in policy between Sinn Fein and the DUP as to who should take the lead in the closure of schools (the Republic’s example or the UK example) has now been resolved, could the same situation face Boris Johnston with a Scottish Nationalist government in the Scottish Parliament whereby SNP First Minister Nicola Sturgeon decides to implement her own policies which run contrary to Westminster?
That political dilemma known as Brexit has now been put on the back burner as the virus brings parties together. Coronavirus has achieved what a General Election could never match - the SNP and Tories singing from the same hymn sheet!
However, if the Northern Ireland parties can compromise on an agreed strategy to combat the virus, that may well be the example which Boris Johnston can follow to avoid any fractious debates on the regional implementation of a national strategy involving the whole of the UK.