‘Over the ditch, but I’m still emigrating’: Brexit fear prompts farmer to split land

David Crockett with ‘Ear to the Ground’ presenter Ella McSweeney. The farmer voted for the UK to remain in the EU.

A father and son along the Irish border will soon be looking at each other over the ditch from different jurisdictions after splitting their farm along border lines due to Brexit concerns.

David Crockett’s family — distant relatives of the famous American frontier hero — bought the farm outside Derry in 1911, just 10 years before it was divided down the middle by the border along Derry in the North and Donegal in the Republic.

At present, David can walk from his farmyard off Coshquin Rd in the North to the border a few feet away at the edge of a field in the Republic of Ireland just outside his silage bales.

On RTÉ’s Ear to the Ground, he reveals how he decided to hand his son Gordon an early inheritance of the portion of the farm in the Republic of Ireland, while he will continue to farm the land north of the border.

Although the Crockett family farmed the 300 acres on the outskirts of Derry with difficulty through the Troubles, David has decided to divide the land because of concerns over Brexit.

While the border has been effectively invisible in the wake of the Good Friday Agreement, the father and son face a future where they will be looking across the fields at each other from two different jurisdictions, with the possibility of a hard border running between them.

Gordon, 24, says he has taken over the reins of managing the farm in Donegal much earlier than he expected due to Brexit.

“It’s just over the ditch, but I’m still emigrating,” says Gordon, referring to how he will have to move house to the Republic side of the farm.

“It’s very early. Usually you’re well into your 40s when you’re getting the farm and I’m only 24.

There is going to be opportunities and there is going to downfalls in it no matter what. It’s just a matter of how you get around them. It’s going to be a learning curve.

David, who voted Remain in the June 2016 referendum, says he decided to turn his land into two separate farms cut along the border because of his family’s experience when there was a hard border.

“The yard is Northern Ireland and you can walk up to the border at a [fence],” he says.

“I voted to stay in Europe and my father [Robert] knew what it was like when we were out of Europe and when we were in Europe. I had to take him in in a wheelchair to vote to stay in Europe.”

David said he still has the Irish customs passbook belonging to his late father, Robert, which was used up to 12 times a day when there was a hard border between the two countries.

In the paperwork, he described how, if he wanted to bring in a load of hay or turnips, he had to get an export licence from Dublin and an import licence from London.

“Do they not learn from history?” David asks. “There has never been a politician here to look to see what the situation was before the vote and after the vote.”

- Ear to the Ground will be shown on RTÉ One at 7pm tomorrow

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