Unite leader Coyne warns of risk to Northern Ireland over 'hard' Brexit
Tariffs and restrictions on cross-border trade post-EU withdrawal will hit jobs here, a leading trade unionist has warned.
Gerard Coyne, who is vying to become leader of Unite, insisted Northern Ireland's economy could not be "expendable or an acceptable casualty" in the Government's push to deliver Brexit.
Mr Coyne was in Belfast at the start of his 'five capitals' tour of the UK and Ireland as he ramps up his campaign to replace Len McCluskey as Unite's general secretary.
"On Brexit the stakes for Northern Ireland could not be higher," said Mr Coyne.
"It is the only part of the UK to share a border with another EU state. That border is at the heart of a civil and political conflict that so many have worked so hard at placing very firmly in the past over the last 20 and more years.
"No one with any sense wants to see a return to frontier posts or military checkpoints, or to unneeded restrictions on travel or commerce within the island of Ireland.
"As a trade union with members north and south of the border, Unite must be a leading voice in arguing for a Brexit deal that maintains a common travel area and which avoids jobs-killing restrictions on trade, such as tariffs.
"Such a deal must also respect the Good Friday Agreement and maintain cross-border political and economic co-operation.
"Northern Ireland has been through some very tough economic times in the last four decades. Long-term unemployment and low paying jobs were the norm for far too many people.
"No one can doubt the progress that has been made in the last 20 years - even though there are still so many problems here.
"This region's economy cannot be seen as expendable or an acceptable casualty of the need to deliver Brexit - instead it needs to be a top concern of the UK's negotiating team.
"As general secretary of Unite I will make the case for our members at all times. There is no difference in that, north or south, in Belfast or Ballina, Coleraine or Carlow, working people need strong and tariff-free trade to deliver good, skilled jobs, decent wages and a better standard of life. I will be on their side."
Unite has 44,000 members in Northern Ireland and 30,000 in the Republic.
Voting for the post of general secretary takes place between March 27 and April 19.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny said this week following talks in Dublin with Prime Minister Theresa May that helping agree a deal to keep UK-EU trade as close as possible would be an "absolute priority" for Ireland ahead of Brexit negotiations.
Mr Kenny said: "Our two governments are agreed that a close and friction-free economic and trading relationship between the UK and the EU, including Northern Ireland, is in our very best interests."
Stephen Kelly, the head of Manufacturing NI, has said one way of making up for any damage to trade with the EU following Brexit could be for Northern Ireland to encourage firms in the Republic to set up here.
"Yes, we try and attract firms from Silicon Valley in California, but what about setting up clusters of Irish firms to effectively build Liffey Valley or Shannon Valley?" Mr Kelly said.
Last week Craigavon-based pharmaceutical firm Almac announced it was setting up premises in Dundalk in order to maintain single market access following Brexit.