I HAD forgotten how many murders I covered as a young reporter in Northern Ireland in the 1990s until I was spring-cleaning my study a while ago and stumbled on a scrapbook I kept from the time. Inside the black file are newspaper clippings of murder after murder - nearly all of them up close and personal killings, where a man puts a pistol to the head of another man and pulls the trigger.

To my shame, many of the names of the victims had paled from my memory until I rediscovered that macabre scrapbook - my only excuse is that I reported on so many murders back then that it would be impossible to remember them all. That was the nature of the Troubles - it was an endless flood of violence and death. But one name still stood out clearly in my mind - Sean Monaghan, a young Catholic man of just 20 years old who lived with his protestant girlfriend Noelle Gould. Noelle was 19 when the Ulster Freedom Fighters - a barbaric sectarian murder gang - abducted the father of her twin baby daughters, Zoe and Kelly, aged 18 months. Police officers told me at the time that after his abduction Sean “went through 90 minutes of hell”. Try not to even imagine what happened to him in that time. He was eventually shot five times in the head and his body was dumped, bound and gagged, on waste ground. Sean may have been shot because he was a Catholic who lived with a Protestant, or it may have simply been a random sectarian murder. Either way, Sean was dead and his family destroyed.

As I write this, I’m looking at a picture of Noelle and her children in the Belfast Telegraph a few days after Sean’s murder in August 1994. Her children are blank-eyed in her arms, and Noelle’s face is a numb mask of grief. I’ve been thinking a lot about women like Noelle over recent weeks - it was often the widows who spoke most eloquently in the name of peace during the thirty years of violence.

On Sunday, the Prime Minister admitted that the Conservative Party could not rule out a hard border across Ireland in the event of a no deal Brexit - a state of affairs being whipped up by thoughtless, careless men like Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg. So that history remembers this moment accurately, we need to be very clear that a hard border across Ireland poses a serious threat to peace.

New research by BrexitLawNI - a partnership between Queen’s University, Ulster University, and human rights experts from the Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ) - warns that conflict in the north of Ireland could reignite over Brexit. CAJ director Brian Gormley says: “As the leaving process lurches ever nearer to a ‘hard’ or ‘no-deal Brexit’ there is a risk of nationalists becoming more and more disillusioned … while unionists coalesce in defence of Brexit and the border. The last thing we need is a new bone of contention between our people.”

Dissident republicans in the north are still armed and itching to return to violence. One told researchers: ‘Brexit was manna from heaven from our perspective.” When he was asked about a border across the island, he said: “The harder, the better.” BrexitLawNI’s experts say a hard border would be a “mobilising agent” for violence.

The Good Friday Agreement was a masterful piece of political prestidigitation. Those who identified as Irish could feel Irish - power-sharing and the EU ensured that; and those who identified as British could feel British. The north had bled itself white for 30 years; the paramilitaries were old, tired, and sick of jail or being on the run - and the Good Friday Agreement seemed to recognise everyone’s hopes and fears. A very uneasy peace settled over the country. Though terror and sectarianism were far from over, the people were no longer living in the era of mass murder.

However, once the peace deal was signed most of those living in mainland Britain quickly forgot that Northern Ireland even existed. Those with the weakest memories, ironically, seem to be the luminaries of the Conservative and Unionist Party. It is on their watch that the prospect of a United Ireland has become a greater possibility than at any time since the partition of the island in 1921.

Only a fool would think that a hard border across Ireland would not create fear and anger among republicans; only an idiot would think that the prospect of Irish unity would not create fear and anger among loyalists. Yet what do the Tories offer? On Sunday, came the announcement of a post-Brexit ‘Festival of Britain and Northern Ireland’ that will strengthen what Theresa May called “our precious union”.

Peace will not be safe in Northern Ireland without the status quo - without the finely-tuned nuance of the Good Friday Agreement which keeps loyalists and republicans from each other’s throats. The people of Northern Ireland know this - that’s why they voted against Brexit.

And so something which no-one from the North ever wants to even imagine, let alone say, creeps into the background - the spectre of violence, the shadow of the gunman, something never long absent from the stage of Irish history. One slim hope is that Brexit can be halted in its tracks. Yesterday we learned that a legal bid by Scottish politicians - from the SNP, Greens and Labour - to grant the UK parliament the right to revoke Article 50 looks increasingly likely to succeed. Stopping a hard Brexit is the only thing which will keep the devil at bay in Northern Ireland.

Noelle Gould’s children, Zoe and Kelly, will now be young women aged 26. Their mother told me back in 1994: “When my children grow up I will tell them the truth about what happened - what a good man their father was and how they lost him.” She told me she would raise her children not to “hold any hate”.

Brexit cannot be allowed to destroy what little peace, what little hope, people like Noelle Gould and her two daughters - and so many other countless widows and orphans - managed to salvage from the rubble of their lives in the wasteland that was thirty years of civil war in Northern Ireland.