Articles 2 and 3 of the Irish Constitution had been amended the previous year, there was no longer a suggestion of a hostile claim to the six counties of Northern Ireland, but it still seemed reasonable to assume that a move from north to south would have been smoother than it turned out to be.
The strangest part of the move to the Republic in 1999 was the process of registering the cars. The Republic of Ireland has defied the terms of the 1993 Maastricht Treaty on the free movement of people, goods and services and had continued to charge an import levy on motor cars. They did not call it a duty on imported vehicles, which it was clearly was, and still is, they called it Vehicle Registration Tax. Moving to the Republic, one had to have owned a car for more than six months in order not to have to pay duties on its registration.
Thus it was that an encounter was arranged with an official from the Revenue Commissioners, let’s call him George, who would inspect the Ford Mondeo that was coming south. The first surprise came with the location, George advised that the tax authorities had no inspection area and that cars should be parked in an adjacent supermarket car park. It was a good deal of trepidation that the appointment was kept, George had been rudely abrupt when talking on the telephone.
Waiting in the office, it was surprise to meet a man dressed in a scruffy fisherman’s jersey. He took the application form and looked at it, “this is not complete!”
“Oh, what’s wrong?”
“You only have your last address. Where were you living before that? You didn’t come out of thin air.”
He insisted on all the addresses for an entire lifetime; it would have been possible to have written down anything, he had no means of verifying anything.
“Where’s the car?”
“In the car park, as you instructed.”
George grunted and fetched his coat. Reaching the car, he looked around, “have you a torch?” He was unhappy that there was no torch in the car. “Where’s the engine number? I need to check what’s on the logbook against the number on the engine.” His displeasure increased when it was pointed out that none of this had been advised on the information leaflet. After much more huffing and puffing, he muttered that the registration documents would be posted to us.
As Brexit approaches and the Northern Ireland border becomes the frontier between the United Kingdom and Europe, the EU need to hope that George is not still on duty.