Uncertainty for family living in Republic but working in the North

‘It’s a shame because these little Border places were just the ideal place to live and raise a family’

For Ruairí O’Kane, moving from Derry City in Northern Ireland to the Border village of Muff, Co Donegal, gave him and his wife Alicia “the best of both worlds”.

“You come out on to the main street and turn left, and you can head to Inishowen and the beaches and the pubs, or turn right and you’re into Derry and you have the nice city lifestyle. It was just the ideal place to live.

"Now you're thinking about what the post-Brexit scenario will be," says O'Kane.

When he moved 10 years ago, the Border simply was not a consideration.


“At the time the houses were much bigger than you could get in Derry for the same value, and there was a better exchange rate, and the whole way of living felt somehow quieter here.

“OK, you’ve got your euro wallet and your sterling one but there’s not much of a divide between the two, and that’s why a lot of people moved here in the first place.”

O’Kane, who works in PR in Belfast, crosses the Border each day to go to work; his wife does the same.

As well as financial concerns – the family has two salaries in sterling and a mortgage in euro – O’Kane is worried about potential restrictions on travel.

“I’m someone who remembers what the checkpoints were like. Today I could easily cross the Border four, six times a day and do that freely.

“Now I’m thinking, even just to visit the shop or go to a relative’s house, there might be a whole hassle to get into Derry.”

Healthcare and education

Now father to a five-month-old son, Lúcás – born in Derry’s Altnagelvin hospital – O’Kane also has questions over continued access to healthcare and education.

“I’ve always worked in the UK my whole life and I’m entitled to healthcare in the North, but now you’re thinking, will that still be available if you do need to get to the doctor’s?

“Altnagelvin is the main hospital in the northwest, how easy will it be to go there if you’ve a Donegal address? It’s a whole unknown, nobody quite knows how these things will work out because we never had to think about it before.

“The Border never existed, well it did physically for a time but it wasn’t there in people’s minds.”

Moving back

O’Kane has another question mark over his pension.

“I’m wondering am I still entitled to my state pension – which is a UK state pension – and wondering what will I get, and will I get something that was as good as what I was once promised?

“It’s the uncertainty not just for your state pension but also for your private one as well, because they prefer you to have a UK address, so how that might work or sort itself out when you’re in Donegal is a worry.”

Like many who moved from Northern Ireland, O’Kane has considered moving back across the Border.

“It’s certainly a thought but there are other practical considerations, such as if we were to sell the house would we get what we paid for it, so we probably couldn’t afford to move back into Derry.

“Obviously with the wee one we’re thinking about schools and all the rest for him as well.

“I know other people are selling up and moving across and it’s a shame because these little Border places were just the ideal place to live and raise a family.

“We feel frustrated, but we also feel let down because people in the North voted to stay in Europe, and if anyone knows the benefit of being part of Europe it’s us.

“You feel this is something that has happened to you against your will – all because certain groups of people in England don’t like living next door to people from foreign countries – and we’re the ones bearing the brunt of it.”

Freya McClements

Freya McClements

Freya McClements is Northern Editor of The Irish Times