The Republic of Ireland will suffer greatly from the establishment of a hard border with Ulster to the North. Already, the weak pound has cost its economy dearly. EURACTIV’s partner Ouest-France reports.
In his shop in Enniskillen, just north of the border, John Parkinson cannot supress a smile when talking business. He sells household appliances, clothes and fishing tackle and employs 20 people. “Since October, my sales have gone up by 20%.”
The pound has lost about 15% of its value since the Brexit vote in July 2016, and shoppers often travel long distances to cross into Northern Ireland to take advantage of the exchange rate. “We really notice that there are more people, especially on Sundays,” one coffee shop owner said.
At Christmas this economic migration was the most noticeable. The small towns along the 580KM border saw a stream of new customers, eager to fill their stockings at low prices.
In Dundalk, a town of 37,000 people in the Republic of Ireland, the chambers of commerce saw the danger coming. Instead of annual bonuses, businesses gave out vouchers that were only valid in the town’s businesses. Exempt from social security contributions, these vouchers enabled businesses to put more cash in their employees’ pockets.
“This created work, the businesses then spent the money that they earned. We distributed €500,000 but in total this injected €1 million into the local economy,” said Paddy Malone, a business owner who took part in the scheme.
Like many, he fears Brexit will lead to a hard border between the two Irelands. “If they want to stop immigration I don’t see how they can do anything else.” The thought that the UK will impose customs duties on Irish imports is a real worry for Deale Richmond, an Irish senator.
60% of GDP exported
“Agri-food products, pharmaceuticals, IT… we export the equivalent of 60% of our GDP and the United Kingdom is our best customer,” he said. “With 7% growth the economy is doing well but it is still fragile. Without a good trade agreement with Britain, we will be heading for recession.”
Russell Mc Cabe, a meat exporter, is categorical: “The establishment of a border will be a real problem for the Irish economy.”
And the struggling sterling is catastrophic for the thousands of people that live in the Republic of Ireland but cross the border every day to work and earn their living in pounds.