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Irish border towns braced for Brexit chill

After Prime Minister Theresa May revealed plans for the UK exit from the EU, Nicola Anderson meets retailers in the south to get their reaction to a possible hard border

"The smugglers will be back," warns Paddy Malone of Dundalk Chamber of Commerce.

These have been lean years for criminals, since the addition of a colourless diesel marker currently hampering the smuggling of fuel.

Gossip around the town is that the IRA is offering 'a million' to the scientist who can come up with a way of getting rid of it.

But only criminals see the silver lining in the prospect of a hard border returning, with the shadowy opportunities it may usher forth.

It was a week which saw Prime Minister Theresa May claim that she wishes to maintain the Common Travel Area between Northern Ireland and the Republic, and Taoiseach Enda Kenny firmly reiterating his government's commitment to maintaining the freedom of movement of people and goods.

But amid all the discourse and discussion, communities along the border are weighing up their prospects and wondering how their future will look. Signs on the roadsides read: "No EU frontier in Ireland. No hard border. Respect the remain vote. Border communities against Brexit."

Dundalk is mounting its own defences, fighting back against the weak sterling with a successful Shop Local drive.

But Mr Malone sees the possibility of a hard border as a disaster which, amongst many things, would hamper the proper future marketing of the 'Ancient East' which should rightly take in both sides of the border, he believes.

"Carlingford Lough is the setting of the Chronicles of Narnia - but it's not being sold on this basis," he says.

"You can't even find a tourist map that shows both North and South of the scenic lake, because the authorities on either side only market their own side."

At the Mother Fruckers truck stop at Killean, Co Louth, just at the border, I talk to Newry man Dermot O'Connor in his cab.

His father was a lorry driver too and, as a child, Dermot remembers the half day it could take to clear customs. "It scared the life out of me with the soldiers and the guns," he recalls.

Dermot drives mostly household goods from both sides across the border, often clocking up 14 hours a day.

If the border goes back up, the North will be left behind, he believes, adding: "London doesn't care about us - we're second class citizens."

It's a favourable situation for Jim Mone, who has an oil company in Castleblayney, Co Monaghan. Four cars, all with UK plates, sit on his forecourt, being filled up. The price difference for the fill of a large truck could be as much as €150 a time, he reveals.

He's not overly concerned about a hard border: "There is far more uncertainty here than in Belfast or Dublin and always has been."

But Sarah Mulholland of family firm Mulholland Shoes says trade is quiet. "Two shops in the town are closing," she says.

But there are also business owners who are taking courage, among them repair store owner, Seamus Feeney: "If the border goes up, there's always a way around it."

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