Retailers hope to profit as Republic of Ireland shoppers lured north by falling prices
Predictions of a surge of shoppers from the South crossing the border into Northern Ireland have been welcomed as prices continue to fall here.
Financial experts believe a "perfect storm" of currency shifts and tax changes could lead to an influx of Republic-registered cars into shopping centre car parks from Londonderry to Newry again as bargain hunters bid to get more for their euros.
A new price survey from Irish Revenue and Customs chiefs indicates the cost of alcohol and tobacco has climbed in the South over the past year, while the price of identical products in Northern Ireland has fallen.
The official survey priced 15 products - including beers, wines, spirits, motor and home heating fuels - in both jurisdictions and found they were all cheaper north of the border compared with 12 months previously.
All but one of the 11 alcohol and tobacco items surveyed in the Republic had increased over the same period. The cost of petrol, diesel and home heating fuel had declined significantly on both sides of the border following the collapse of oil prices on international markets.
Over the past year the price of a bottle of vodka in Dublin was unchanged at €20 (£15.66), while in Newry it fell from £13.48 to £13.03.
The only change in excise or duty over the past year was a 50% increase on a pack of 20 cigarettes in the Republic, so the price changes identified are largely attributable to fluctuations in the euro and sterling exchange rate.
Last night Gillian Fitzpatrick, the SDLP chairwoman of Newry, Mourne and Down District Council, welcomed the potential for an influx of shoppers from the South - but said there was no strong evidence of it happening yet.
She said: "We do have a regular amount of southern vehicles but the car parks have not been full to the brim, there has been no queueing into them.
"I have not seen a massive increase, but we would be absolutely delighted if that turns out to be the case. It would be fantastic - but they should be coming here because we offer so much."
However, there was worry across the border.
The Irish Times reported Thomas Burke of Retail Ireland as saying: "It is always a concern to see the price gap widening. What we would be concerned about is a perfect storm which would see price gaps widen because of currency shifts and tax changes."
Mr Burke said there had been no indications from retailers suggesting people had started travelling North in big numbers, but he expressed concern that shoppers would start to think there "are greater bargains to be had in Northern Ireland".
The research revealed that most alcohol products as well as home heating fuels were cheaper in Northern Ireland, while tobacco and motor fuels cost less in the Republic.
It also showed that prices for goods in which Northern Ireland already had an advantage over the Republic had dropped even more in the past year.
In addition, the gap in prices between the jurisdictions where the Republic held the advantage, such as cigarettes and auto diesel, had narrowed.