A protest against Brexit at the border between Donegal and Tyrone.
Last Thursday marked a year until the UK will leave the European Union following the referendum vote on June 23rd, 2016.
Brexit, as it has become known, is one of the biggest events to affect this island since the Second World War.
The Irish border, which most of us cross on a regular basis, has become one of the key issues in deciding the outcome of the negotiations that will see the UK part company with its European neighbours.
Between 23,000 and 28,000 people cross the border every day for work, and fears of a hard border are held by many.
The unravelling of much of the progress that has been made in so many aspects of cross-border cooperation since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 is one of the biggest fears.
Brexit has already been felt in Donegal with the impact of the exchange rate hitting cross-border trade.
In this feature for the Democrat, a range of figures in the county give their view on how Brexit is playing out for Donegal.
Gerry McMonagle, Cathaoirleach, Donegal County Council
While there are still many uncertainties surrounding the impact of Brexit, I do believe that we are a very resilient and ambitious region and through our work with Derry City and Strabane District Council we, in the North West are in a strong position to respond to the challenges that Brexit will present.
Having Letterkenny designated as a regional centre for growth in the National Planning Framework and recognising the Letterkenny, Derry and Strabane City Region is extremely important for our future development. This has come about as a result of the concerted efforts of both Donegal County Council and Derry City and Strabane District Council working together through the North West Strategic Growth Partnership. This partnership is the first of its kind on the island of Ireland and is all about government departments on both sides of the border working collectively to resource the regions key priorities for growth and development with a commitment to building a more resilient economy in the North West City Region.
We have very ambitious and resilient businesses in this region and we are renowned for our rich culture, heritage and tourism offerings and I believe that we have established a reputation as a compelling location not only for business but as a great place to live, work and visit. I firmly believe that we have the potential, the resilience and the ambition to not only address the challenges that Brexit will present but to fully maximise the opportunities that are opening up for us.
Seán O'Donoghue, Chief Executive,Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation
We reacted very swiftly in forming alliances with our European counterparts to establish the European Fisheries Alliance in September 2016. Each member impressed upon its Head of Government how the level of uncertainty and the scale of the challenge facing their fishermen merited special attention, hence our insistence that trade and fisheries be inextricably linked at all times in the negotiations. Happily, we are now at a stage whereby we can see that our very legitimate concerns are being listened to but we cannot afford to concede any ground whatsoever as these extremely important negotiations now move onto phase two.
The KFO has always maintained that the €1.15billion Irish fishing industry which sustains more than 14,500 jobs, must be a top priority for our Government. The formal adoption of the guidelines today is seen as another key step as the Brexit process gathers momentum. The guidelines give Michel Barnier, the mandate to talk directly to the UK about the future relationship with a view to reaching a broad political agreement by October to allow the EU and UK parliaments time to consider it.”
Joe McHugh, Donegal TD, Government Chief Whip and Minster for Irish, the Gaeltacht and the Islands
In Donegal we will not be defined by Brexit. There’s a positivity emerging in a big way in our county as a result of the peace process and the gains of the last 20 years. That resilience and confidence has to manifest itself in such a way that there cannot be a return to a hard border. It’s the psychology of it.
As I write this the only landmark that shows I’m crossing the border is the river. We’ve just driven through Lifford and there’s nothing else to tell me I’ve travelled from the Republic to the north and that’s the reality that we are to preserve.
Twenty years ago I knew exactly where the border was.If there’s a re-emergence of a defining line between north and south that could awaken a psychology that dominated the years when we had a hard border. And we cannot have that.
I am confident Donegal will thrive. The links between Letterkenny, Derry and Strabane are being driven forward with the Government’s plans for new City Region status and the ambitious goal for LYIT to become a Technological University.
I will be working with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to make sure that the county grows and prospers as we manage the initiatives that will define Donegal.”
Toni Forrester, Chief Executive, Letterkenny Chamber
We had certainly hoped for a longer transition period than that committed to recently. Many of our members still have serious concerns over how the border will operate and how it will impact them in their business operations.
There have of course been guarantees regarding the border however it is still unclear how trade across the border will actually operate and under what rules and tariffs.
Even with a technological solution, a trusted trader scheme and electronic documentation we still believe there will have to be some kind of checks and whether that is at the border or at other points beyond the border any delays could have serious implications for business.
Small businesses in particular have limited resources and margins are tight.
Any increase in their administrative burden and costs will have a direct impact on them. In addition there are concerns on how health and education and many other services will be affected after Brexit.
On a more positive note the North West Strategic Growth Partnership established between Donegal and Derry City & Strabane District Councils is forging ahead with joint initiatives and involving all the key stakeholders in the region. The NW City Region has been recognised in the National Development Plan, Ireland 2040 giving us a clear vision for the North West Region going forward.
Terry McNamara, Ibec North West Regional Director
The UK ruling out membership of the Single Market and Customs Union will inevitably lead to significant trade disruption.
Attempting to replicate the benefits through other mechanisms is deeply complex and unlikely to gain EU support. Unless the UK changes course, all current indicators point to a future EU-UK relationship akin to that of a third country. Numerous new barriers to trade would be created.
The UK would suffer enormously as a result and Ireland would take a major hit.
Businesses in the North West are particularly exposed due to cross border economic links.
For jobs, trade and investment, business wants a much closer EU-UK relationship than what is currently likely. The outcome of talks must safeguard our close economic ties, not unravel them.
Michael Chance, Chairman Donegal branch of the Irish Farmers Association
It is not looking good at the minute but we have to assume it will come right at some stage.
It’s a problem at the minute especially for the livestock end. Forty percent of our food exports go to the UK.
Having said that we are their biggest market for food so it should be in their interest to keep that door open. But then again the EU is their biggest market and they seem prepared to put that at risk, which is a contradiction. Whatever about the political sense it does not make any commercial sense.
For farmers, it doesn't matter if you are in Donegal or west Cork. We are more aware of it but the problem is the same. The issues are the same. I live a couple of miles from the border and up here we are more aware of it but we have the same issues with food exports.
An open border will not solve anything because the main trade is done across the irish Sea. A border down the irish Sea stopes east-west trade. So it might solve a political problem regarding the Good Friday Agreement but it does not solve the import-export problem.”
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