Brexit causes strain on cross-border relationships

Long-distance relationships are strenuous to begin with and the uncertainty of Brexit could further complicate an already difficult matter of the heart.

Matthew Mairs from Ballymena is engaged to Jenny McKeown from Dundalk and both work in the field of teaching, with Matthew teaching Primary School students and Jenny teaching pre-nursery. As the Brexit deadlines creeps closer and closer Matthew and Jenny, like many other people, are left wondering how it will affect their everyday life and their future.

Matthew and Jenny met in 2014 while studying at university and are due to get married in July 2021. With Brexit on the horizon, it is hard for them to know if their relationship will be further strained by changes to border control and Jenny explained the lack of information the public have been given about Brexit is worrying.

“When the Brexit talks began, as an Irish citizen, we were all advised to apply for a green card with our insurance companies for traveling into Northern Ireland. I have yet to see an update on whether they are going to be required but this I hope will be the only change”.

As part of the peace deal between Ireland and the UK, the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland was made practically non-existent with no checks, cameras or guards. However, this was easily done with both parties being members of the EU and may not be the case when a deal is struck on January 1st. The UK and the EU are currently going through negotiations for a trade deal to try and eliminate as many drastic changes as possible in terms of tariffs and the transportation of goods. The only major change thought to be put forward is some paperwork that businesses may be required to prepare when crossing borders.

The biggest question that families have for the government officials is this: when will we be informed about changes to border controls and other everyday things? Matthew and Jenny both expressed their concerns over this and Matthew explained his side of questions in Northern Ireland.

“I don’t believe we have been given enough guidance with regards to what will happen in January. A lot of assumptions have been made with what might happen, which doesn’t give us a great insight as to what life will be like after Brexit.”

Jenny had different concerns as being in the South is slightly different as she explains “When the Brexit talks began, as an Irish citizen, we were all advised to apply for a green card with our insurance companies for traveling into Northern Ireland. I have yet to see an update on whether they are going to be required but this I hope will be the only change”.

As if this situation isn’t difficult enough for families who are across the border from each other, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused these families to take an even bigger hit. The reality of Northern Ireland and the South of Ireland being controlled by different governments means that restrictions were different for families over the border from each other.

Matthew explained “As COVID restrictions differ in both countries, it has had an impact on our relationship. I haven’t seen Jenny in person since the summer with restricted travel over the border. Hopefully with the introduction of a vaccine, the travel restrictions will be reduced so we can meet up again”.

Trying to plan a wedding with the COVID restrictions has proven very difficult as well, with thousands of weddings in both countries being cancelled, rescheduled and many couples left wondering when they will be able to have their big day.

Matthew said “with the economy likely to be impacted with Brexit, the cost of the wedding could be affected, and the hotel will undoubtedly pass the additional costs onto us. COVID may also directly affect the wedding plans too, as we are currently unsure the number of guests, we will be able to have along with other restrictions.”. “

We both have family members who are in the high-risk category so that has added another challenge”, Jenny added.

Jenny plans to move to Northern Ireland once her and Matthew get married in the summer, and she said that she “hopes Brexit will have a limited effect on her move and her progression in her career path”.

They plan to go ahead with the wedding in July, despite uncertainty of what COVID-19 restrictions will be in place at the time.

Many families just like Matthew and Jenny are very unsure about what is happening with Brexit and are left wondering what life will be like after Brexit. This is the same story for Ellen O’Neill from Ballymena, as she works and lives in Ballina but often comes home to her family in Ballymena.

Ellen explained “With me working and living in Ireland and travelling home most weekends to Ballymena the government have given me very little information about whether there will be changes to my situation or not. I feel like not much will change but it would even be nice for it to be made clear just for peace of mind and clarity for my future”.

Ellen also explained that her boyfriend lives in England and if him travelling to Ireland will be affected due to Ireland still being in the EU and the UK no longer being a member.

She said “small but important things like this have still not been made clear to people. It seems like nobody really knows what’s happening with Brexit and I think it needs to be made clear what will change after the deals are made.”

The pandemic took a toll on many families between the borders this year with people losing their jobs and people losing loved ones, so the public need now more than ever to feel reassured and confident about what they are walking into in 2021. Brexit has been a tiring and ongoing journey since the referendum in June 2016, with negotiations and agreements pushing the changes further and further back.

To find out more about Brexit, visit: