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Worries over future of Ireland's 'fluid' border as article 50 looms

Archive image of Northern Ireland border. Photo by Brian Lawless/PA Wire

For residents of the small Irish village of Bridgend, prime ministerial statements made in the distant Westminster Parliament are usually an irrelevant affair.
But as Theresa May triggers Article 50, starting the process that will see Britain leave the EU, there are genuine fears on the impact this could have on the lives of those living in this North West border area which straddles Londonderry and Donegal.
Driving from the city of Derry in Northern Ireland, towards the peninsula town of Buncrana in the Irish Republic, the only physical sign that you are travelling from one country into another is the changing of the speed signals from miles to kilometres.
The thousands of journeys that are made across this small part of the Irish border every day demonstrates just how intertwined people's lives here have become.
Mothers take their children to and from school, employees travel to work, friends meet for lunch, couples do their weekly shopping and patients attend medical appointments.
"I live just a few miles away in Derry and cross the border here for my shopping in Buncrana as it is cheaper," says Charles Murray, a Remain voter.
"This is a fluid border and I am very concerned about the damage Brexit will do to this area.
"Any sort of border will change the trade, it will damage it. I voted to remain because I believe the freedom of movement is very important," he adds.
The Irish border runs for 500km, from Lough Foyle in the north-west to Newry in the south-east.
Derry is a cross-border city, which helps to explain why its vote for Remain in the EU referendum, at 78.3 per cent, was the fourth-highest in the UK.
It is one of the few cities to currently straddle an international border. Soon it will be straddling an EU/non-EU border.
"It is a very busy crossing. You have people bringing kids to school, shopping, workers going both ways. There are a lot of things we do as a matter of course on the border," says Toni Forrester, chief executive of Letterkenny Chamber of Commerce in Co Donegal.
"We need to know what the British government are planning.
"There's no Northern Irish government at the moment, no voice for the North West," adds Ms Forrester, who lives in Derry and travels across the border to work every day.
"The British government is focused on mainland Britain. I don't think they are seeing the issues here," she says.
Sinead McLaughlin, chief executive of Londonderry Chamber of Commerce, warns any disruption to cross border trade will have a significant impact on the region
"We have got a really integrated cross border market, particularly in agri food and manufacture.
"It's difficult to see how any type of border would help support businesses on both sides.
"I think there are going to be a number of stumbling blocks and Ireland is a particularly difficult one in this negotiation," she says.
Ms McLaughlin adds she is very disappointed that Northern Ireland currently has "no government voice and strong mandate of purpose around what this region is asking for from the UK government".
Leave voter Robert Moore, a farmer whose beef and tillage farm just outside Derry is a stone's throw from the border with Co Donegal, says he is not overly concerned about the impact of Brexit on cross border trade.
"The reason I voted to leave was because the common agricultural policy was no longer delivering for farming. It is awful and it is pushing our product prices down and input costs up.
"Average incomes in the last year were about £9,000 which is pathetic," he says.
"I am not overly concerned about cross border trade at this time.
"If you look at the thing logically you end up coming to the inevitable conclusion there is going to have to be a deal of some description because it is in everyone's best interest to do a deal," he adds.

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