North west travel curbs would be a disaster, MPs told
Any restrictions on the free movement of people across the border after the UK leaves the EU will spell disaster for the entire north west region, an influential Westminster committee has been told.
The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee was in Londonderry, where it heard there would be a gloomy future for the north west, at least in the short to medium term, if a 'hard' border was introduced.
The committee was told that on a daily basis there were 326,000 border crossings in the north west and many of those were by people living in Donegal and working in Derry or Strabane, and vice versa.
Michael Gallagher, strategy manager with Derry and Strabane District Council, outlined that free movement across the border is vital, especially in the health sector. In Derry, a shortage of nurses and doctors made the ability to recruit and employ non-UK residents "essential", Mr Gallagher said.
"We need to be able to recruit specialists from anywhere in the world," he added.
He pointed to a number of projects within the Western Trust that offer services to people living in Donegal, including the radiotherapy unit and the cardiac intervention service.
Micheal Tunney, head of enterprise and economic development for Donegal County Council, painted a similar picture of the potential dangers if a hard border existed between Derry and Donegal.
He said that while it was hard to quantify exactly how many people cross the border for work he knew of at least one large employer in Donegal where "60% of the cars in the car park had Northern Ireland registrations".
He also said many trade businesses such as kitchen fitters would "do half their work in Derry and half in Donegal".
Mr Gallagher said any barrier to free movement of goods from one region to the other would "impact enormously" on businesses who would be deterred.
Committee member and DUP East Londonderry MP Gregory Campbell asked Mr Gallagher to explain to the other MPs present, who might be unfamiliar with the region, what the difficulties could be if a hard border was introduced.
Mr Campbell said: "There is a 320 mile border around Northern Ireland and 50 miles in this area. If there were going to be changes, what do you see as the difficulties of a hard border?"
Mr Gallagher replied: "There are between 40 and 50 crossing in this area alone and within five miles of Derry there are around 12 or 13. It is difficult to see how you could police that."