Belfast Telegraph

Brexit: Hard border in Ireland is biggest fear among frontier folk of Tyrone

By Donna Deeney

Exactly a year ago the United Kingdom went to the polls and voted to leave the European Union - but today for people along Northern Ireland's border, there is still huge uncertainty about what the future holds.

It has been widely accepted that whatever lies ahead, it will impact most on Northern Ireland, the only part of the UK to share a border with a EU country.

That impact will be even more pronounced for the towns and villages that sit close to the border with the Republic, and felt most by the thousands who commute across it every day for work, leisure and trade with ease.

In West Tyrone, which includes the border town of Castlederg, 62% of the electorate came out to vote, and 26,765 backed the Remain camp.

That was more than double the number who thought the UK would be better off out of the EU.

Castlederg's neighbouring village of Castlefinn is just a five-minute drive, and the only way you can be sure you have entered the Republic is when the road signs change from miles to kilometres.

This is how people in Castlederg and Castlefinn want it to stay - regardless of how the vote went on June 23, 2016 - a seamless link between the two neighbouring counties of Tyrone and Donegal.

Frank Coyle, who voted Remain last year, said a return to the "borders of old" needs to be avoided.

He said: "This is a border town, but you wouldn't know there was a border at all. I can drive over to Castlefinn or I can drive to Lifford without restrictions at all.

"We were a bigger family when we were part of the European Union. It brought a lot of good things to border towns like Castlederg through the Peace and Reconciliation Fund.

"The worrying thing is, no one seems to know what is happening or what they are doing.

"We are getting no information from the British Government and that is a serious problem. They must know by this stage what is happening, but they aren't telling us."

Mark Farley doesn't see things in quite the same way. He voted to Leave and a year on he is confident he made the right decision.

Mr Farley said: "If I was given the chance today I would do the same again. I wouldn't want to see a hard border, but I don't really think there will be. I think a lot of it has been scaremongering.

"I think these talks between the DUP and the Conservatives will be good for Northern Ireland generally and for border towns like Castlederg, but they need to be talking to all the parties. Since last year there has been a big increase in the number of people coming across the border into towns on this side and it used to be the other way around."

One woman who crosses the border from Donegal to Castlederg on a regular basis is Mary Kelly, who recalled with horror the outcome of the referendum. She said: "I come into Castlederg at least three times a week and I couldn't believe it when I woke up to the news that Britain was leaving the EU.

"I come here for all my shopping and so does my husband. He buys all his agriculture stuff here and if he needs to get his car repaired he comes here for that too, because it is a lot, lot cheaper.

"The very idea of going back to a border would be a disaster.

"I remember waking up to the news that Britain voted to leave and I could not get over it, I couldn't believe it, I was devastated and that's the truth."

Marcus Logue, who voted to Remain last year, is a barber in Castlederg and he reckons around 40% of his customers are from across the border.

He said: "It looks to me like there is going to be a hard border and that's my biggest concern. I think a hard border would suit the DUP, because they won't want anything that they think would lead to a united Ireland.

"A lot of my clientele come from across the border and if there was a hard border I would lose them. I would see a big difference in my takings, and it would be the same for a lot of other traders."

As a nurse from Donegal, Frances Peoples is concerned about her patients who may need to cross the border for treatment. She said: "The cancer centre in Altnagelvin was built to help patients right across the north west region.

"One of the reasons for it was to save patients from Derry, Tyrone and Donegal having to travel for hours for treatment. If there are long queues at the borders, patients will be back to sitting in their cars for hours, and that's just one aspect."

Cynthia Reid voted to Remain. She is watching the negotiations between the DUP and the Conservatives with interest.

She said: "If you look at the handling they are having at the minute, you can't help but worry about how it will all end.

"You can only hope they will come to some kind of an agreement and I hope that any MP from here would do their best for us."

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