Brexit leaves ferry to Ireland in uncertain waters

File: The Carlingford ferry connects Northern Ireland to the Republic of Ireland. Photo: Facebook / Scenic Carlingford Ferry

CARLINGFORD - The Carlingford ferry, which connects Northern Ireland to the Republic of Ireland, was launched one year ago but is already facing an uncertain future with a solution to the post-Brexit border problem still to be found.

The service has proved popular with commuters looking for a speedy crossing to work, but the potential imposition of time-consuming customs checks means it may be increasingly reliant on an underdeveloped tourism sector.

The project was ten years in the making when Britain voted in 2016 to leave the European Union, but despite the setback, Frazer Ferries, which operates the service, has vowed to plough on.

"There is no clearly defined endgame for Brexit yet and we don't know what it will ultimately look like, but we do feel very confident that we will adapt," Paul O'Sullivan, director of Frazer Ferries, told AFP.

The service, which can accommodate 10 cars, runs every 30 minutes across the Carlingford lough, an inlet of the Irish Sea that separates the two countries.

There are no checks on the border between the British province of Northern Ireland and its southern neighbour, as both are currently members of the European Union and share the same customs rules.

But EU and British negotiators are so-far stumped on how to maintain the open border post-Brexit.

In addition to the 17 jobs directly created by the service, it also has the potential to provide a broader boost to the economy, said O'Sullivan.

The operator said a fishery based in the Northern Ireland coastal town of Kilkeel had been in touch about the possibility of making deliveries to the south.

"The ferry would obviously cut a 30-mile journey down to a couple of miles," he said, explaining that the boat takes quarter-of-an-hour, compared with more than an hour by road.

But the return of a physical border could spell an end to the shortened journey for professional clientele.

Paddy Malone, from the regional chamber of commerce, said Carlingford was hit particularly hard by the Troubles, and has "been neglected" since peace was achieved.

He partly blames authorities south of the border, whom he said "feel that if they get people up to the border, half of the money will be spent on the other side".

Malone believes the area has "huge potential if we can manage Brexit", but admitted that uncertainty hung over the border region and the future of the ferry.

On a more optimistic note, O'Sullivan insisted that if a physical border reappeared, "perhaps those cars would rather wait for these checks in the comfort of the ferry terminal overlooking Carlingford Lough" than take the motorway.

AFP

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