Ireland-United Kingdom

Border: Ireland-United Kingdom

Border: Ireland-United Kingdom

Date(s) of establishment: 1921; current demarcation in 1925
Length of border: 360 km
Regions concerned: in Northern Ireland (UK) – Districts of Newry, Mourne and Down ; Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon ; Mid Ulster ; Fermanagh and Omagh ; Derry City and Strabane
in Ireland – Counties Donegal, Leitrim, Cavan, Monaghan, Louth

European programme(s):

This terrestrial border, 360 km in length, marks the separation between Ireland and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The border begins at Lough Foyle (estuary of the river Foyle), in the north of the island and ends at Carlingford Lough (estuary of the River Newry and its canal) on the east coast of the island, by the Irish Sea. Despite the conflicts that have surrounded the border, it is considered as an open border, and can be crossed without restriction thanks to the Common Travel Area between the United Kingdom and Ireland. The border region is mostly rural and sparsely populated. The creation of the border separated certain towns from the traditional hinterlands.


Upon its creation, this was intended to be an internal border within the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. In 1921, in order to implement the “Government of Ireland Act 1920”, which was intended to establish Home Rule (internal autonomy) in Ireland, the Westminster parliament created two jurisdictions on the island, each with its own parliament: Northern Ireland, comprising six of the nine counties in the historic province of Ulster; and Southern Ireland, comprising the remaining three counties of Ulster and the three other provinces. Before these two autonomous regions were fully established, the Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed on 6 December 1921, officially ending the Irish war of independence and creating the Irish Free State. The next day, the parliament of Northern Ireland exercised its treaty rights and opted out of the Irish Free State, and thus the regional border was transformed into a national border.

In the eventuality of a Northern Irish opt-out, the Anglo-Irish Treaty provided for a Boundary Commission, which was established in 1924 in order to adapt the border demarcation according to the wishes of the inhabitants. Several modifications were proposed, but not one was adopted and ultimately the border was formally established in 1925, in the same configuration as in 1921.

The Irish and British governments subsequently disputed the sovereignty of “Lough Foyle” and “Carlingford Lough” where the terrestrial border becomes a maritime one. This disagreement remains unresolved but is no longer the subject of active demands. Moreover, these two estuaries are designated “wetlands of international importance” within the framework of the Ramsar Convention, and their preservation is managed by a north-south cooperation body, the Loughs Agency, established under the Good Friday Agreement.

The creation of the border has sometimes been held responsible for the poor economic situation in the border region. Indeed, the heavy militarisation of the zone during the Irish civil war (1922-1923) and the presence of security barriers and roadblocks had a large impact on the entire region; the border became a “marker” of the crystallisation of this conflict.
The break, materialised by the border, contributed to the weakening of social and economic links between regions that it separated. It also led to numerous population movements during the Troubles, exacerbating identity issues.

Cross-border cooperation

Despite the impact of this conflict on the border, which has long discouraged inhabitants of the border region from crossing it, commerce has been developing little by little in the region; this constituted the first truly cross-border phenomenon. From 2008 onwards, the number of households living in Ireland and doing their shopping in Northern Ireland has steadily increased. Today, nearly 250,000 households regularly make purchases in Northern Ireland.

The Good Friday Agreement (also known as the Belfast Agreement, officially the Northern Ireland Peace Agreement) of 1998 established mechanisms for north-south institutional cooperation in a number of sectors (education, transport, agriculture, health, environment, tourism) and also within new all-island cross-border implementation bodies (inland waterways, trade and business development, food safety promotion, language promotion, EU funding programmes, aquaculture, lighthouses and marine tourism).

The EU cooperation programmes:

Three operational programmes enable the financing of cross-border cooperation between Ireland and Northern Ireland:

  • The United Kingdom – Ireland “operational programme for peace and reconciliation” (PEACE IV) has the aim of restoring peace between the communities. The complicated history and numerous conflicts that have taken place in the border zone justify this specific objective.

  • In addition to the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, the operational programme “Northern Ireland, the Border Region of Ireland and Western Scotland” covers the maritime border between Ireland and Scotland. It aims to develop a more prosperous cross-border region, notably by focusing on research and innovation. In order to achieve this, preservation of the environment is a priority.

  • The “Ireland – Wales” operational programme does not involve the terrestrial border, but rather, the maritime border between Ireland and Wales. This programme focuses on innovation, knowledge transfer and climate change.

The first two programmes are managed by the “Special EU Programmes Body” (SEUPB), a cross-border body created under the Good Friday Agreement.

Numerous bodies encourage Irish-British cross-border cooperation:

The Centre for Cross Border Studies, situated in Armagh and Dublin, undertakes much research and works towards the development of cooperation on the border, notably in the fields of education, health and public information. The Centre identifies problems specific to the border region and holds meetings during which the identified problems are examined and discussed. The Centre also supports the different cross-border networks and thus encourages cooperation at many levels.

The International Centre for Local and Regional Development is also very involved in Irish-British cross-border cooperation. Among its many objectives, it aims in particular to promote its research activities in partnership with university programmes and be of assistance to the local authorities for the implementation of different measures on the ground. Experts from the University of Ulster, the Athlone Institute of Technology, the Institute of Urban Development, and the Centre for Cross-Border Studies all participate in this work which aims to create new partnerships between the health, economic and housing sectors.

In addition, a government service intended for the citizens has been set up. Called “Border Ireland”, it offers an online database, making available a large amount of cross-border of information targeted at residents of the region. This website contains numerous articles and much research, respresenting a very complete information resource.
Other administrative services have been set up by the two governments, including a North-South parliamentary forum created in 2010 which organises conferences meetings of Working Groups on cross-border issues. In the same manner, a North/South consultative forum was mentioned during a ministerial meeting. With the aim of bringing together members of civil society from both sides of the border, it is currently at the planning stage.

Cross-border cooperation is organised in parallel around several networks that bring together towns, districts and counties. The three best known networks are the following:
- the Irish Central Border Area Network (ICBAN),
- the North West Region Cross Border Group,
- and the East Border Region.

At a more local level, the progress of cross-border cooperation has recently resulted in the creation of the cross-border conurbation of Newry-Dundalk. These two towns, situated at the western end of the border, formalised their situation as “twin cities” with two reports published in 2006 and 2009. In March 2011, this situation was strengthened with a Memorandum (extended in 2014) focusing on tourism, leisure activities and sustainable development. The cross-border conurbation aims to create “a new form of regional governance that transcends the traditional frameworks of local and central government,” as Mick Murphy, the mayor of Newry declared.

Territory projects and institutional bodies for cooperation

Cross-border cooperation at the local level