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Donegal dependence on frequent Border crossings revealed

26 September 2017, The Irish Independent.

With the UK and EU grappling to find a solution to the Border post-Brexit, a new report sets out the extent of the movement and links between the two parts of this island, and between Ireland and Britain.

The study shows that an estimated 110 million Border crossings take place between Northern Ireland and the Republic annually.

In May alone, there were, on average, an estimated 118,000 vehicle crossings on a daily basis.

The vast majority of these were private vehicles – not commercial vans or trucks, according to the study published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). The report was produced in collaboration with the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) and the Central Statistics Office (CSO).

It is the fourth report in a series being published in response to what the ONS said was an increased user need for data about the people who may be most likely to be affected by the UK’s decision to leave the EU.

“The connection between the UK and Ireland is unique in this series, as it goes beyond both countries being members of the European Union,” the report stated.

“The UK and Ireland have benefited from a common travel area since 1922 and those born in Northern Ireland have rights to take up both Irish and British citizenship. Ireland is also unique amongst EU countries in that it shares a land Border with the UK. These and other reasons make the future relationship between Northern Ireland, Ireland, Great Britain and the European Union one of the top priorities for Brexit negotiations.”

The future of the Border is one of the thorniest problems in the Brexit process.

While Dublin, London and Brussels agree that there should be no return to a hard Border, the UK – on which the onus rests to come up with a solution, according to the EU – has yet to produce anything definitive.

The ONS report highlights, in particular, the extent to which people criss-cross the Border on a daily basis to work or to study. It cites the 2016 census by the CSO, which recorded 9,336 people who cross the Border to their place of work or study. Workers accounted for 75pc of these.

Donegal accounted for the largest number of cross-Border commuters, with 5,600 commuters, 76pc of whom travelled to Derry.

Data published in a joint report by Derry City and Strabane District Council and Donegal County Council show that there are more than 326,000 journeys made per week across the Border crossings at Derry/Bridgend, Muff village to Derry and Strabane and Lifford.

The ONS report states that, based on the 2011 census from Northern Ireland, it was estimated that 6,100 commuters living in the North commute to work in the south. Newry, Mourne and Down local government district accounted for the largest numbers, with 43pc of the total from there going, as expected, across to Co Louth.

Those total numbers are also regarded as being conservative. Data published by the Centre for Cross Border Studies show the numbers of cross-Border commuters are much greater. It suggests between 23,000 and 30,000 people are cross-Border workers.

“At present, businesses on both sides of the Border have the ability to draw from a labour pool that encompasses both jurisdictions, and can include not only Irish and UK citizens, but also other EU citizens resident on the island of Ireland,” it said, in a report published late last year.