Belfast Telegraph

Brexit impact report highlights migrant labour dependency in border counties

A high dependency on migrant labour in Ireland's border counties has been highlighted in new academic research examining the potential impact of Brexit.

The Ulster University (UU) findings were presented at a conference in Co Fermanagh bringing together local authorities from both sides of the border.

The border councils commissioned the analysis to inform the debate about what could lie ahead when the UK leaves the European Union (EU).

As expected, it flagged potential risks to trade and movement of goods and services, particularly in the agri-food sector.

Lead researcher Eoin Magennis said a "surprising finding" was the number of non-UK/Irish workers employed in the border counties.

"That is an area of exposure - depending on how the issue of freedom of movement plays out," he said.

The research found that in the manufacturing industry, 33% of the workforce along the border was neither Irish or British.

For Northern Ireland as a whole, it is about 25% and the Irish Republic's average is closer to 20%.

Mr Magennis, senior economist at UU's economic policy centre, said difficulties sourcing the required staff locally had led to the reliance on migrant labour.

"Companies have struggled to find the skills locally and that is one of the issues going back over a long period," he said.

The conference at the Lough Erne Resort near Enniskillen was held as the Irish Government published a survey indicating three in four small to medium businesses south of the border predicted a future Brexit impact.

While 65% of the 1,045 enterprises surveyed recorded no or minimal effect to date, they were less confident about the road ahead.

Only a quarter felt there would be no impact in the next 18 months.

Those identified as most at risk were small businesses with 50 employees or fewer; firms in the border counties; and those involved in food exports.

Jobs Minister Mary Mitchell O'Connor said: "While the survey results are of a point in time, the findings have helped inform the deliberations of my department in considering what additional steps may need to be taken to support SMEs impacted by Brexit."

Any government intervention to help the business sector would need to comply with EU rules on state aid.

Ms Mitchell O'Connor added: "Brexit is an ongoing issue and I am conscious that the environment may change as the Brexit negotiations develop.

"I will continue to listen to the business community and to develop appropriate policy responses to help them in addressing the challenges of Brexit."

Another survey of Irish businesses has found an apparent widespread dearth of knowledge around customs regulations.

Chartered Accountants Ireland said the collective lack of expertise, which has been in decline since the creation of the single market 25 years ago, could be exposed if new tariffs come into effect post-Brexit.

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