With Brexit looming over the heads of the United Kingdom and its citizens, the practically invisible border between Ireland and Northern Ireland is quickly coming into focus.
On 7th April 2017, Irish foreign minister Charles Flanagan stated to BBC News, “Over 30,000 people cross the Ireland-Northern Ireland border daily.”
Where does this figure come from?
In 2007, the North-South Ministerial Council pledged to work with the Office of the First Minister, Deputy First Minister and the Department of Foreign Affairs to “commission the Centre for Cross Border Studies to develop an online website, www.borderpeople.info, to improve access to information that will help people find answers to problems associated with crossing the border in either direction”.
When we asked about the claim that 30,000 people cross the border on a daily basis, Annmarie O’Kane (Border People project manager at the Centre for Cross Border Studies) commented: “The Minister’s estimate of the level of cross-border mobility in this region may be somewhat conservative.” She went on to explain that “the lack of exact statistical data and analysis on cross-border mobility is a very common problem in many EU border regions”.
O’Kane went on to elaborate on the low number, stating that “the number of cross-border workers may already be within the region of 30,000″. For example a 2009 study by the European Commission estimates the flow of people commuting in and out of the UK to work to be over 29,000. A similar flow for Ireland is also noted in that report.
These numbers demonstrate an average of work commuters only; the minister may not be taking into account that the annual average daily traffic (AADT) could be much larger.
People cross the border for many reasons, not just to work. On 8th February 2017, NRA traffic data records 24,317 vehicles crossing the border at Jonesborough [Newry], and a further 7,849 vehicles crossing at Burnfoot [Derry-Londonderry] – and these are just two of the many border crossings. Of course people also use other forms of transport; cross-border train journey AADT averaged 2,300 per day in the year 2013-2014.”
With these statistics in hand, we can begin to see the growing numbers of people crossing the Ireland-Northern Ireland border on a daily basis. It is therefore reasonable to conclude that the estimate of 30,000 people crossing the border every day for work is accurate.
However, once we take into account the other ways and reasons people cross each day, Mr Flanagan’s number might be a low estimation.
A previous version contained a paragraph, “As a legal British-Irish agreement, this organisation [Centre for Cross Border Studies] completes the most validated research on border crossings between Ireland and Northern Ireland, including for example, where they cross and for what reasons.” This paragraph was removed.