Belfast Telegraph

Belleek Pottery boss: Our message to Prime Minister hit home

By David Young

The managing director of Belleek Pottery last night said he felt the Prime Minister ended her visit to the factory with a better understanding of the concerns of border businesses as the Brexit deadline nears.

John Maguire accompanied Theresa May as she toured the pottery - a major export business - and met craftspeople working on the world-famous ceramics.

"She was really interested in the Belleek brand and our story," Mr Maguire said.

"Later, we talked about the challenges in relation to Brexit, what could happen, and the potential impact in could have on our business."

Mr Maguire, who has worked in the business for 30 years and is also High Sheriff of Co Fermanagh, said: "I think what she will bring back from her visit to the pottery here is that there is a lot of concern and uncertainty.

"The UK Government need to be super-sensitive to the border, and make sure that we do not go backwards."

The businessman added that Mrs May had been surprised by the volume of visitors to the pottery from over the border - almost 200,000 per year.

"That's a significant number, and is growing," he said.

"We can't afford any negatives in relation to travel between the south of Ireland and Northern Ireland for our visitors."

TJ Hughes, who runs a fuel business that straddles the frontier, which runs through Belleek, offered a more downbeat assessment of the Prime Minister's presence.

John Maguire
John Maguire

"I'm the second biggest employer in the town and I wasn't invited," he said.

"The front of our store is in the Republic, and at the back of it there's a separate business in Northern Ireland.

"But they wouldn't want to speak to a boy like me. I'd pose too many questions."

Mr Hughes employs 26 people in the village.

His message to Mrs May?

"Give us some guidance! We're a few months out from Brexit and we haven't a clue.

"I haven't a clue whether I'll have a business. I haven't a clue whether I'll be able to have my employees still working for me," he said.

"The majority of my employees live in Northern Ireland.

"I don't know if I'll be able to keep them in employment.

"Everybody says no border will go up.

"But, realistically, that won't be allowed by the EU if there's no deal. That's the plain and simple of it."

London, Dublin and Brussels have all said that there will be no reintroduction of the border checkpoints of the past.

But Mr Hughes was not reassured.

"Talk is cheap," he added.

"If you're up in Dublin you're looked after; if you're in London you're looked after.

"But out here? We're cannon fodder."

Belfast Telegraph

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