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Co Tyrone-born social media tycoon not convinced that remaining in EU is right way forward

By John Mulgrew

An Ulster entrepreneur and former top chef to celebrities such as Bono and the Beckhams has said he is not convinced staying in the EU is the right move for the UK or the Republic.

Cookstown man Niall Harbison is the person behind Lovin Dublin, an online city guide.

He was also once a chef to the rich and famous, launched a food website and also set up Simply Zesty - a social media firm sold to UTV for £1.7m in 2012.

"Having grown up in Belgium with my father working in the EU, I've seen the good and bad of it," he told the Belfast Telegraph.

"It's helped southern Ireland massively in the last three decades and brought stability across the continent, but that does seem to be unravelling a little in the last couple of years.

"At the Lovin Group we are more interested in emerging markets where growth is much more exciting than in the eurozone. Things feel solid from a business perspective at the moment, being in the euro, but I could see that unravelling very easily so I wouldn't be wedded to the eurozone forever.

"In terms of currency, the euro has been hit hard for us in the last couple of years, so trading with a stronger sterling and dollar makes things harder.

"I'd be 60% for staying in the euro and 40% for Brexit at the moment. I think Boris Johnson and his role as a potential future leader after what he has done for London could sway me the other way in the coming weeks."

Many firms and business groups throughout Northern Ireland have indicated they want the UK to remain as part of the EU.

However, several high-profile politicians - including Mayor of London Boris Johnson - have come strongly out in favour of a Brexit.

Aside from his various business ventures, Mr Harbison once cooked for some of the world's top celebrities.

Among the stars he has cooked for are Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates, U2 and the pop singer Mariah Carey.

Niall was just one when his parents moved to Belgium after his father got a job with the European Commission.

But after finishing school on the continent, he returned to Ireland and trained as a chef at the Cathal Brugha Street Hotel and Catering centre in Dublin.

He worked his way up to the position of head chef at Conrad Gallagher's restaurant Lloyds at the age of 21.

This week Anglo American chairman Sir John Parker - a former chief executive and chairman of Harland and Wolff - said he was in favour of Britain staying in the EU.

Northern Ireland-born Sir John is also a non-executive director of European aviation giant Airbus.

He told the Belfast Telegraph that British anti-EU attitudes were "puzzling" to board colleagues at Airbus.

"I am face-to-face with French and German board colleagues who are quite puzzled as to why we feel this way," he said.

And he claimed that in some cases, politicians who had come out in favour of leaving the EU were motivated by furthering their own careers rather than what was good for the UK.

"If you look at their personal records and what they have done in life to earn a living, a number of them wouldn't know one end of a boardroom from the other," he added.

Sir John said membership of the EU was of particular importance to Northern Ireland and the Republic as it gave access to the market despite the island's position on the periphery of Europe.

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