‘The Border runs through my bus yard and I am in my worst nightmare’
Don Reddin says his Donegal-based bus firm faces deep uncertainty as a result of Brexit
Don Reddin on the Border, which runs through his bus yard in Muff, Co Donegal. Photograph: Trevor McBride
The border that runs through Don Reddin’s bus yard is nothing like the one between Camden and Westminster.
Here in Muff, Co Donegal, the Irish Border makes its way inland from Lough Foyle alongside a tiny stream which delineates the Republic from Northern Ireland. A set of “dragon’s teeth” – used to block Border roads during the Troubles – still stand in the area. The next crossing point is now through Reddin’s yard, after he extended it at a cost of £200,000 to give his buses a “back gate” into the North in the event of a hard Border.
When the now prime minister Boris Johnson claimed, in February last year, that the Border could work in a similar way to the congestion charge in London, Reddin despaired.
“I lived in London,” says Reddin. “Please, don’t insult our intelligence by coming out with that nonsense, that’s the worst nonsense I’ve ever heard.”
“Do they have different drivers’ licences, a different tax system [there]? Please. It’s back to the kipper,” he says, referring to the kipper produced on stage by Johnson at a Conservative leadership hustings earlier this year. “It’s another kipper.”
In the three years since the Brexit referendum, Reddin has split his business into two companies – one in Northern Ireland, and one in the Republic. In his office – in the South – the Border is just outside the window.
“I’m lucky that I was in the position of being so close to the Border that I could extend the yard,” he says, “and that I had the foresight to see it.”
“I’m not happy [with] where we’re at, but I’m glad I’ve done what I’ve done,” he adds.
“Northern Ireland right now is further away from Europe than ever it’s been in a long, long time.”
Johnson’s election, says Reddin, means that his “worst nightmare has become a reality. Boris Johnson has a serious lack of knowledge of Northern Ireland and a flippant disregard as to what his comments are towards Northern Ireland.”
Still, on the Border the problem remains the uncertainty caused by Brexit. “The barriers are going up,” says Reddin. “The Conservative Party have gone for a pro-Brexit leader that can’t get out of Europe quick enough.
“Does he understand or know anything about Northern Ireland? To my knowledge, no; how can he, when he compared it to London? Me of all people, I can explain to him exactly why it’s not.
“But the thing about Boris Johnson is that he doesn’t care about what the likes of myself think. He’s an MP for Henley-on-Thames. I don’t think the people of Henley-on-Thames are too bothered, and I don’t think the DUP are too bothered.
“We’re jumping off the springboard into uncertainty, that’s where it’s at. There’s never been more uncertainty.”
In the northwest, Reddin’s coaches are a familiar sight on both sides of the Border; many pupils in Derry travel to and from school in one of the buses. His biggest issue at present is the fluctuation in exchange rates; he attempts to price jobs, or tender for work, often to find that the rate has changed again.
“Every time somebody like Boris Johnson opens his mouth and makes himself out to be a complete idiot sterling falls, and meanwhile you’ve priced work in this currency. I was explaining this to an English bus company and they couldn’t believe the effect it had on us, they just don’t have this problem.”
He also points out that the bus and coach industry is heavily regulated; cross-Border use of buses is, at the moment, based on EU regulations.
“What happens after Brexit with all the transport arrangements?” asks Reddin. “When we take our Republic buses into Northern Ireland we have to have certain documents on the bus, that’s all EU – what happens to all of that? It’s back to more uncertainty.”
Yet Reddin’s fear is that there could be a deeper consequence. This week he had a former soldier on one of his buses. “I said to him, ‘Isn’t it a wonderful place now that we have peace’, and he agreed.
“I’m at an age when I remember all the problems [of the Troubles]. I think it was one of the EU ministers said – I’ve quoted it a few times – he said he was from a border area, and we don’t have peace, we have a frozen conflict. This is a frozen conflict.
“And it takes very little – look at what happened with the journalist Lyra McKee being shot. That’s what’s lurking below the surface.”
Today, Reddin’s company will take four bus-loads of Catholic and Protestant children from either side of an interface area in Derry to Donegal for a day out.
“They get European funding for that,” he says. “What happens if that runs out? The area they’re from, it was so divided, it was a flashpoint, and now they’re interacting with each other. I’m proud to be a part of that, I’m proud to be providing the buses for that.
“But then you go into certain areas and all of a sudden the flags are back up and they’re all brand new and it’s like division again, and Brexit is another step in that.
“It makes me feel sadness. Just sadness. There’s not enough people on this island to be feeling like that.”
There is also frustration. “You’re a passenger on the backseat of [a] rollercoaster, you have no control over it.
“I’ve no comment on where we go from here, because I have no say.”
What can he do? “Carry on regardless – and hope, like everyone. I have employees to pay, and it’s like playing a game of poker.
“Ask me what I think – it’ll be fine. What do I really think? The Lord only knows.”
Does that mean a no-deal Brexit? “I don’t know. I’m still an optimist.”