Belfast Telegraph

'With Customs points on Irish border people won'tbother coming here'

Businesses and communities fear repercussions of Brexit could bring an end to vibrant North-South trade

By Donna Deeney

The connections between Londonderry and Donegal are as long and deep as the lough they share.

Many families living in Derry have their roots in Donegal, and the city has long been considered the natural capital of the north west for those on the far side of the border.

It is to Derry that people living in border villages such as Bridgend and Muff flock to for work, shopping and leisure.

The traffic flow, however, isn't just one way.

Huge swathes of people from Derry travel across the border at least once a week to take advantage of the cheaper fuel, and if the weather is in their favour many spend time on the beaches and shorefront walks in towns such as Buncrana and Moville.

On the day that Prime Minister Theresa May triggered Article 50, marking the beginning of the UK's withdrawal from the European Union, people in the village of Muff in Co Donegal were concerned about what the future held for them.

A stranger driving from Derry into Donegal through the village would struggle to see where Northern Ireland ends and the Republic begins.

Even looking at the registration plates on the cars parked up along the main street sheds little light on which side of the border you are in, such is the mix.

The steady flow of cars, all with Northern Irish registrations, at any of the four petrol stations in this area make up at least 60% of the custom.

But if fears over border controls are realised, it could be the death knell for a number of companies.

McColgan's Butchers is a family-owned business that opened in 1994, long after the 'hard' border that used to exist between Muff and Derry was removed.

Conor McColgan thought any kind of border control impacting on the traffic flow into and out of the village would be disastrous.

He said: "I would say about 40% of our custom is people from Derry. We used to get people from as far away as Limavady who came because they got a good rate on the euro, but we still get people from Derry every week.

"A lot of our customers are from Culmore which is two minutes away, so we are worried about Brexit, especially if it means introducing a border. If it means people will have to sit in a long queue of traffic, they just won't bother - they will stay in Derry.

"The traffic flow is bad enough in the mornings and evenings as it is. The tailbacks can be 200 cars or more of people leaving Muff to go to work or take their children to school.

"People won't put up with checkpoints - they will just up sticks, leave and go and live in Derry where they work."

Gerard Noone, who owns a poultry farm business and trades in both Donegal and Derry, was no more optimistic.

He said: "The UK leaving European Union will definitely impact on people like me who do business in the North. At the least, there will be an increase in paperwork.

"I suppose we just have to wait and see, but it is a worry that is in the back of my mind.

"When you are doing deliveries, every half hour counts, so the idea that you could be held up at a border is going to make a big difference."

Elaine Hillen is one of the hundreds of people who live in Derry but visit Donegal regularly. She said: "I come down here at least once a week for petrol, but also we would come for a day out. In fact, that is what we are doing today. There is no way I would be bothered sitting at in a queue if there was a border, and I can't imagine many other people would either."

In Derry city, on the day that he announced his plans for a new hotel, Brendan Duddy Jnr said he was also extremely worried about the uncertainty around the impact on border towns from Brexit.

"In the short term, the weakness of sterling against the euro has been beneficial to the traders in Derry, but this is not a new phenomenon," Mr Duddy stressed.

"Fluctuations between sterling and the euro, and before that sterling and the punt, were something we have been working with for the past 40 years.

"What is damaging to business is uncertainly, and this period of uncertainty triggered by Theresa May signing a bit of paper will not help businesses here in the longer term."

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