The Land Frontier (1920-1925)

The Government of Ireland Act 1920 provided for better government on the island of Ireland, with the establishment of a territory known as Northern Ireland in the six north eastern counties, with the other 26 counties known as Ireland. This act came about as a result of a number of Home Rule Bills.

Within a year, the Provisional Executive of Ireland would negotiate the Anglo-Irish Treaty that gave the Irish Free State control over its own affairs and fiscal independence. Article 12 of the Treaty allowed for the Boundary Commission to be established under the chairmanship of Justice Richard Feetham, Joseph Fisher, representing Northern Ireland, and Dr Eoin McNeill, representing the Irish Free State.

The new Treasury Department established in Dublin drew up plans for fiscal independence and their focus was drawn to the financial year starting on the 1 April 1923. On 3 January 1923, Charles J Flynn, one of the officials at the Treasury Department, sent a memorandum to President of the Executive Council, W. T. Cosgrave, setting out the options for Land Frontier Controls. Charles J Flynn was one of three Commissioners appointed on 21 February 1923 to the Revenue Commissioners.

At the outset, the control of 310 miles (499 Km) of a land frontier, from Muff on the shores of Lough Swilly Co. Donegal to Carlingford in Co. Louth, passing through farms, houses, lakes and mountains, would be difficult and would present opportunities for smuggling. There were also approved railway crossings such as at Pettigo in Co Donegal, Clones in Co. Monaghan, and Dundalk in Co. Louth to be considered. The Government decided on approved road crossing points, with set hours for the customs clearance of merchandise. These were set out in the Statutory Order Number 11/1923 and the Customs (Land Frontier) Regulations 1923 dated 24 March 1923.

The Customs (Land Frontier) Regulations 1923, made by the Minister of Finance under section 12 of The Adaptation of Enactments Acts, 1922, applied to the importation and export of any goods into and from the Irish Free State by land from midnight on 31 March 1923. There were a few exemptions regarding farm produce.

There was also provision for a trader to request customs to attend the clearing of merchandise outside official hours, on payment of a ‘merchant’s request fee’.

Public Notices in newspapers stated that if a person contravenes or fails to comply with such regulations under the Customs Acts, such person shall for every offence, in addition to any other penalty to which he may be liable, incur a fine not exceeding £100; the notices also stated that the goods in respect of which the offence is committed shall be forfeited.

Examples of Customs duties that applied to imports from Northern Ireland on 1 April 1923:

  • 331/3% Ad Valorem duty on Glass Bottles
  • 32/5d per pound on all sugar, confectionary, cakes, jams, marmalade, jellies, and candied fruit
  • 10% Ad Valorem duty on soap, soap substitutes and soap powder
  • 10% Ad Valorem duty on candles.

A newspaper with the heading “Amateur Photographers Surprise” appeared in the Irish Times on 3 March 1923. It stated:

“The first day of the new Land Frontier regulations passed off with no incidents of outstanding note except for an amateur photographer who arrived at Muff Co. Donegal. He was going to see a friend in the Free State and he took his camera to take a few snapshots. On examination of his camera equipment at the Customs frontier post, the officer noted the value of his camera lens, and assessed the import duty to be £3. The Officer allowed the photographer to proceed on the condition that he present his camera equipment for examination later that evening on his return to Derry. The customs officer was satisfied that the lens was re-exported, and no further action was needed.”

Terms used by locals and in the newspapers and even road signs soon appeared: ‘unapproved routes’ and ‘salient roads’ (a road that began in the Irish Free State and passed through Northern Ireland and re-entered the Irish Free State, with no other roads leading off the main road).

Between 1923 and 1993 with the introduction of the Single European Market, there were a number of amended Land Frontier Regulations issued.

The newspapers in 1923 reported that towns such as Bundoran, Letterkenny, Clones, Monaghan, and Dundalk would suffer a loss of trade. In response, the Customs (Land Frontier) Regulations 1924 (Statutory Order number 20) allowed crossings by “Motor vehicles carrying no goods except farm produce or baggage”. The owner of such vehicles was required to have a Customs Pass and only use approved routes. Motoring organisations such as the Royal Irish Automobile Club and the Automobile Association put in place a bond facility for its members and the general public to place a large bond with the Customs Service on both sides of the Land Frontier. A triptyque sticker was issued by Customs to show the motorist had complied with the bond conditions.

A customs ledger of Triptyque issued is held by the Hunt Museum in Limerick.

Customs Huts and examination halls were erected on the approved routes along with patrols huts. The total cost for the huts as shown in the Appropriation Accounts for the years 1922/23 and 1923/24 was £14,007.

The Boundary Commission reported in 1925, but it had no impact on the Customs and Excise Service.