Did you know that 14 million cars cross the border between Dundalk and Newry every year? That at least 18,000 workers and 5,200 students cross the border every day to work or study? That 1.7 million people cross the border by bus or train every year for short-term visits?
In 2001 the North South Ministerial Council published a Study of Obstacles to Mobility, which explored the wide range of obstacles which hindered people moving across the Irish border to live and work. The report presented 50 recommendations / solutions and of relevance is the second recommendation which was:
A one-stop cross-border mobility information website should be established which would provide comprehensive and easily accessible information on key aspects of jobs, learning opportunities and living conditions on both sides of the border.
This would be linked with European Commission proposals for development of such a site on a pan-European basis. This site should also provide linkages to websites for government departments as well as representative agencies and voluntary groups.’
In response to this recommendation the NSMC Joint Secretariat, on behalf of the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) and Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) , awarded a contract, to the Centre for Cross-Border Studies (CCBS) to develop a Cross-border Mobility website (www.borderpeople.info) as a central access point for all cross-border mobility information on the island of Ireland. The project was initially funded in 2007 by the EU PEACE Programme and then developed as part of the Centre’s 2009-2012 INICCO-1 programme with EU INTERREG funding.
The Border People website now is recognised as the only source of cross-border citizens’ information and advice in Ireland. It provides practical information for people crossing the border to live, work, study or retire. It provides a signposting service to a wide range of (single jurisdiction) information sources, the most popular of which are in the areas of social security, taxation, welfare benefits, healthcare, pensions, and motoring.
As well as providing information to citizens the Border People project has actively engaged with policy and decision makers. Raymond McCartney MLA wrote in support:
As an elected representative I receive regular enquiries from constituents on cross-border issues. These issues can be as varied as cross-border banking, health and education services, crossborder travel, VRT, benefit enquiries and visa enquiries. We have used the Border People project on a number of occasions to access information and advice and we have also referred constituents directly to this service.
Although Border People is predominately a signposting information service, the project receives approximately 60 direct enquiries per month, via the website, email and telephone.
The majority are usually of a complex nature and the amount of misinformation given to the public by for example local social welfare, health agencies and tax offices is driving a large number of the enquiries.
Examples of misinformation given to individuals by officials:
- Job seekers in the South having their benefit stopped when they take part time work in the North
- A cross-border worker being refused access to company pension
- A cross-border worker being refused social welfare
- Illness benefit being refused
- Child Tax Credits stopped due to the family living in the South
- Cross-border worker being refused adoption benefit due to the adoption being classed as ‘foreign’
- Conflicting tax information given from tax offices
- Cross-border worker being denied automatic entitlement to Irish Medical card
One cross border worker stated ....
“With the support of the Border People, I successfully appealed an incorrect decision made by the HSE regarding my right to a medical card given the fact I reside in the south but work in the north."
There has always been a ‘knowledge gap’ between the two citizens information systems, with information providers in each jurisdiction having a very limited knowledge of the system on the other side of the border.
Furthermore there is currently no formal training for information providers in any area of cross-border mobility information by any of the agencies involved.
During 2013 - 2015, with the support of INTERREG IVA funding, the Border People project will:
- Further develop the cross border mobility website, as a central source of information and advice on mobility issues across a wide range of practical areas
- Embed, through training, the provision of cross-border information into the practices of mainstream information providers on both sides of the border
- User Group events will take place in border regions, the events will focus on practical mobility issues e.g. issues for cross border workers or persons retiring across the border
- Briefing papers will be prepared....while the project currently helps individuals navigate around obstacles, the briefing papers will be used to highlight significant barriers to mobility in the hope that they can encourage decision makers to find a way to minimise or eliminate the barriers altogether.
Behind the scenes four organisations are committed partners:
- Centre for Cross-Border Studies
- North South Ministerial Council Joint Secretariat
- Citizens Information Board (Ireland)
- Citizens Advice Bureaux (Northern Ireland)
The partners will be advised and guided by representatives from the NI Social Security Agency , the EU International Section of the Department of Social Protection and EURES Cross Border Partnership .
The Border People project is a clear example of cross-border cooperation at its most pragmatic and sensible: a means of making government departments, information and advice providers and the general public in both Irish jurisdictions more knowledgeable and thus more effective in dealing with practical obstacles to cross-border mobility.