Living in limbo on the daily commute to Derry

Donegal school principal Marie Lindsay is worried about the possibility of a hard Brexit


Marie Lindsay lives in Muff, Co Donegal. In the early hours of June 24th last year she was alarmed when she awoke to discover that the United Kingdom had voted to quit the European Union.

“A year ago I was shocked, and now I’m just alarmed,” says Lindsay, who crosses the border every day into Derry where she is the award-winning school principal of St Mary’s College on Northland Road.

For her the Border, after years of peace, had retreated to being a virtually invisible line, significant only for marking the point where the road signage changed from kilometres to miles.

There doesn’t seem to be a clear plan as to what will happen

Suddenly, the Border was “back in people’s psyches”, she tells The Irish Times. In the year since, people on both sides of the Foyle have absorbed currency fluctuations, changes in government and fears of a so-called hard Border.

Today, she hopes that Theresa May’s failure to win an election mandate offers hopes that “there may be a silver lining” after all and that “we might have a better chance of getting a softer Brexit deal”.

“There doesn’t seem to be a clear plan as to what will happen, and I’m alarmed by that lack of clarity, so while I say there may be a glimmer of hope for us, the general feeling is now one of chaos,” she goes on.

Like others working or living in Derry, Lindsay worries that London knows little about their concerns, or cares enough to find out, though the Conservatives’ need for the Democratic Unionist Party may keep Northern Ireland “in their minds”.

Border controls

Her son, Denis, a self-employed plumber who works on both sides of the Border, worried a year ago that border controls would force him to pick one side or the other.

There is a lot of worry amongst border traders who are producers in food

“I’m still trying to market myself more in Donegal and get more of a client base built in here in case it is a hard Border. But at the same time I’m pricing and taking on jobs in the North and I’ll do that as long as I can,” he goes on.

Donegal chef Brian McDermott has similar concerns. “There is a lot of worry amongst border traders who are producers in food about the freedom of movement of foods, ingredients and produce in general,” he says.

The hope had been that a cross-border northwest food brand could “demonstrate the truth that we are all living and working here within a 30-mile radius, and the border should be immaterial”.

Now, however, food producers, unsure about the future, have begun to raise questions about plans to sign up for a Derry-based project, says McDermott, who heads the North West Regional College’s Foodovation centre in Derry.

A father of two who grew up within a stone’s throw of the Border checkpoint at Coshquin – where Patsy Gillespie was killed, along with six soldiers, when he was forced to drive a car bomb into a British Army post in 1990.

A year on, he says he feels more relaxed. “Truthfully, I think now there is a chance it may not happen.I know that sounds a bit far-fetched, but it’s almost as if the severity of it has relaxed.

“It’s as if somebody’s taken things down a notch and allowed a cooling-off period. Part of me is still hoping it could be re-run and it may not go through, and that would be the ultimate result,” he says.

Community action

The Irish Government has played “some good politics” by raising the prospect of unity being a possibility, but McDermott puts most of his faith in community action, not politicians.

There is only one Brexit and it’s not hard and it’s not soft

“If there is change, though, it will have to come from below, from people like representatives of farming unions, to local politicians, and from then on up,” McDermott declares.

However, Irwin Armstrong disagrees. The CEO of Ciga Healthcare, a Co Antrim company which exports medical test kits worldwide, campaigned for a Leave vote .

“There is only one Brexit and it’s not hard and it’s not soft. It’s out of the single market, out of the customs union, that is Brexit,” he says, adding that Sinn Féin and probably the SDLP must learn the lessons.

“[They] thought Brexit was more important than the United Kingdom to unionists in Northern Ireland. I think everyone has now learned that the Union comes first and Brexit comes way down the list,” he said.

They believed that Unionists would opt for Irish unity if it meant EU membership: “Unionists don’t care. They’re more interested in the Union than they are in the European Union. That’s the net result of the last election,” he says.