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'Flextension' bad for Northern Ireland business, warns sportswear company chief

Kieran Kennedy, managing director of O’Neills Irish International Sports Co Ltd, which makes GAA sportswear and gear
Kieran Kennedy, managing director of O’Neills Irish International Sports Co Ltd, which makes GAA sportswear and gear
Leona O'Neill

By Leona O'Neill

The chief of the largest sportswear manufacturing company in Ireland believes the Brexit 'flextension' is "bad for business" and has left many Northern Ireland companies in "no man's land".

Kieran Kennedy, managing director of O'Neills Irish International Sports Co Ltd, which is based in Strabane, Co Tyrone, spoke out after EU leaders granted the UK a six-month extension.

The new October 31 deadline means the country will not leave the European bloc today.

After the deal was announced, however, Prime Minister Theresa May said she was still determined to pull out of the EU as soon as possible.

Mr Kennedy, whose O'Neills sportswear products cross the border up to eight times a day, said the situation was hampering growth for Northern Irish businesses.

"The delay just increases the uncertainty," he added. "It's not good for business. We would like to know one way or the other what is actually happening.

"We don't want Brexit to happen at all.

"Our products cross the border up to eight times a day.

"We manufacture the product from start to finish.

"We buy yarn from the Far East - it comes up from the Port of Dublin, up through Aughnacloy and (into) Strabane.

"We knit the yarn into fabric and the fabric goes back down to our sister company in Dublin. It is then is dyed and comes back up again. We are cutting it in Strabane and then sending some of it back to Dublin again for warehouse and distribution.

"If there are tariffs, duties or delays at the border, it would be an absolute disaster for our business.

"In terms of delays, it would cost us up to £5,000 a week if a border goes in."

Mr Kennedy said that although many businesses were relieved that the UK was not crashing out of the EU today, there was still considerable fear over the future.

"We are definitely in a no man's land now," he added. "We don't know what is happening. We are just relieved that we are not crashing out without a deal today.

"Up until that decision was made in the early hours of Thursday, we just weren't sure what would happen. We would have been facing a major crisis if the rest of the EU countries had vetoed that deal. I think we would have been in big trouble.

"We would be very supportive of the agreement that is in place at the moment because I think it will make Northern Ireland very lucrative in terms of companies coming to set up their businesses here because we would have access to the European and also the UK market.

"We would be still hoping that she (Theresa May) could get her deal over the line, but she will have to move her red lines in terms of the customs union.

"But this delay just creates more uncertainty. We are actually no further forward than we were three years ago. That is the issue. It is just a constant worry on how it is going to end up. All we want is clarity."

Mr Kennedy said companies needed certainty in order to grow and thrive.

"It is very difficult for business," he said. "They have to plan ahead. We are trying to grow the business all the time and it is difficult to do that when there is such uncertainty there.

"The delay is bad for business and bad for everybody. At least if you had finality and knew what was happening, you could plan your strategy, but you can't plan your strategy when you don't know what is going to happen."

Belfast Telegraph

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