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Travel fears for thousands of pupils forced to cross Irish border for schooling

Many parents fear pupils in border communities could face disrupted journeys in the event of a hard border
Many parents fear pupils in border communities could face disrupted journeys in the event of a hard border
Marguerite Hamilton, former principal of Thornhill College

By Aoife Moore

Parents have warned that thousands of pupils in Irish border communities could face disrupted journeys to school if a hard border is implemented post-Brexit.

While many students attend schools on the opposite side of the border through schemes approved by authorities, countless others are believed to use a practice commonly referred to as "grannying" to attend school in Northern Ireland.

While the UK and Irish governments have maintained that the free movement of people between the two jurisdictions will not be affected, queues of traffic affecting thousands of people are anticipated if customs checks are reintroduced after March 29.

Under a reciprocal agreement between Northern Ireland and the Republic, children living on one side of the border can access education on the other side.

The caveat is that schools in Northern Ireland may only consider a child who is resident in the Republic for admission after all resident children who have applied to the school have been considered.

A practice called "grannying" sees residents who move to the Republic giving schools in Northern Ireland proof of address at a grandmother or relative's house to avoid being left out.

One Londonderry mother, who admits using the unauthorised practice, is concerned. The woman, who has lived in Donegal for over 16 years and has two children at school in Northern Ireland, said the idea of sending her children to school in the Republic never crossed her mind.

"I'm from Derry originally, I work and pay tax in Derry, it made sense for the children to go to school there," she said.

"If there was an emergency, or they were sick and had to leave school immediately, it's not practical for them to be in Donegal and I'm driving to work in the morning anyway, so it makes sense with the school run."

Marguerite Hamilton, a former principal of Thornhill College, a girls' grammar in Londonderry, a mile from the border, said it was "inconceivable" children could be stopped or delayed from going to school if customs posts were installed.

Ms Hamilton said schools across Northern Ireland are aware of "grannying" students living over the border.

"When a child applies for school, we ask for a verifiable proof of address, a bank statement or letter from a doctor for example. If they can supply the proof, it is not the school's place to go around investigating if the child actually resides there or not," she said.

"Also, if circumstances change for instance, if they start school living in Derry, and move even just one mile away to the south, should they be forced to leave the school and educational system they know? What's clear is that those arguing about the border in London will not have their lives affected by the consequences." Ms Hamilton estimates hundreds of children attend school in Northern Ireland who live in the Republic.

The Department of Education and Skills in the Republic said it is confident the Common Travel Area will facilitate existing arrangements for cross-border pupils.

The Department of Education in Northern Ireland said it is aware of the issue, but has faith the Common Travel Area between the jurisdictions will safeguard access to education.

A spokeswoman said: "In relation to the impact of Brexit, the British and Irish governments have agreed that the rights flowing from the Common Travel Area should be maintained."

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