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Shoppers flocking to Newry for Brexit bargains from Republic of Ireland

By Michael McHugh

Published 01/08/2016

Peter Murray, manager of the Buttercrane Shopping Centre in Newry
Peter Murray, manager of the Buttercrane Shopping Centre in Newry
Declan McChesney, owner of Cahill Brothers’ shoe shop

The Brexit vote has led to a surge in people from the Republic shopping in Northern Ireland, according to a major retailer.

Peter Murray, the manager of Newry's Buttercrane Shopping Centre, said there had been a 50% increase in southerners travelling to his store thanks to the pound initially slipping in value against the euro to levels not seen since 1985.

"Their euro is going further because of the rate against the pound," he explained.

"The devaluation of the pound makes their euro in their pockets go further, and prices in Newry are the same."

Mr Murray also told how the average proportion of Ireland-registered vehicles in his centre's car park had risen from 11% or 12% before the referendum to about 18% now.

However, it is not all good news, with companies that import from the EU feeling the pinch since the vote.

The city's Cahill Brothers - Northern Ireland's second oldest shoe shop - now pays more than before for the footwear it imports from Spain, Italy, France and Portugal because of the pound's weaker value.

Owner Declan McChesney said: "It is not possible to suddenly turn around and find a new location of expert manufacturers.

"Around 60% of the population of Ireland live within around one hour of Newry, so basically I am cutting my hinterland in half.

"For me to compete with towns across the border, I must now look to my margins, and to maintain my competitiveness I must reduce my margins."

Newry is around five miles from the border. The surrounding area is hilly, and parts of it are rural, but there is a main road to nearby Dundalk and on to Dublin.

Old currency exchange signs are still in evidence, even though most transactions are now done via plastic. Former border posts also lie abandoned, gathering rubbish from motorists rather than customs duties.

The only indication of passing into the Republic is the change in the colour of road markings and the different signs, with distances measured in kilometres, rather than miles.

Two decades ago, Army watchtowers looked down on traffic, soldiers checked vehicles for weapons and commerce was disrupted.

The Irish and British Governments, including Prime Minister Theresa May, have insisted there must not be a return to the borders of the past.

But Cahill Brothers' Mr McChesney said: "That is what we call in Newry a politician's promise. Let's be honest, that does not give us much room for hope.

"I cannot see how they are going to have free passage and free movement of goods if they don't have a record of it

"And if you don't have a record of it (goods and people), there will have to be a way of finding it and there will have to be some sort of checks, we suspect, which means a hard border.

"A hard border is desperately dangerous for the peace of Northern Ireland and also desperately difficult if you are in business."

Paddy Malone, a Dundalk accountant, said there were fewer northerners in his town now, but added that not many locals had gone over the border.

"I would like to think that sterling would track the euro and we could settle down to peaceful coexistence," he explained.

"I would prefer to think that we could actually live together without this disruption of trade because neither Newry nor Dundalk is benefiting from this boom and bust cycle.

"It does not help either of us to survive."

Belfast Telegraph

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