Return to special licences for priests, doctors and vets to use unapproved border crossings not wanted, says academic

Unapproved crossing.
Unapproved crossing.

A public law expert has warned nobody wants to return to a scenario whereby only priests, doctors and vets are licensed to use unapproved border crossings between Derry and Donegal.

Colin Murray, a Reader in Public Law at Newcastle University, claimed that up until the establishment of the European Single Market in 1993, people had been routinely prosecuted for moving livestock over the border.

Mr. Murray, who is currently working on an Economic and Social Research Council-funded project on aspects of Brexit pertaining to the North, also pointed out that up until the 1970s only select professions were allowed to use unapproved crossings on the frontier.

The academic made the observations when challenged by DUP MP Gregory Campbell during a briefing of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee on the potential legal implications of the European Union withdrawal agreement and the Irish backstop.

The East Derry MP reiterated his view that it would be impossible to police the estimated 285 crossing points on the border.

These included “major roads, minor roads, approved crossings, unapproved crossings, laneways and fields” from Muff to Omeath, he stated.

Mr. Campbell said that while there were 10 or 12 main crossings, including three in Derry, there were almost 300 smaller entry and exit points.

Mr. Murray responded: “All of which, up to 1993, people were prosecuted on for moving cows.”

The DUP MP replied that this was not something he had had experience of as a border dweller.

“I have lived on the border for 65 years. I have not seen very much evidence of that in the past,” he said.

But Mr. Murray insisted: “Did you have a licence to use a vehicle on an unapproved route? Until the 1970s, they were only issued to veterinarians, to doctors or to clergy crossing the border. There are plenty of documented cases of people desperately trying to get access to vehicular routes or vehicular use of non-approved routes that simply were not granted up to that point. That is the history of life on the border.”

Mr Campbell disagreed: “There have been 100 years - more than double the lifetime of the EU and the European Economic Community (EEC) - where people have lived, worked, operated and socialised on either side of the border, even when there was a terror campaign.”

The East Derry MP asked: “Is anybody seriously suggesting now that is going to deal with people doing what they have always done for 100 years, long before the EU came into existence?”