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Republic bordering on financial disaster

Earlier this week we reported on the boom time being enjoyed by traders in the Newry and Londonderry areas as the Republic’s ‘Euro tourists’ chased bargains on this side of the border. But, as Niamh Horan reports, it’s a different story if you’re watching your livelihood disappear up north

From yesterday morning, the first sign of the mass Christmas shopping exodus could be seen 11 kilometres outside Newry.

Cars packed with eager shoppers sat bumper-to-bumper all the way into the town.

Southern registration plates illustrated how far a nation on the brink of an economic meltdown was willing to go to save some of their hard-earned money.

From Dublin, Kildare, Wexford, Tipperary and Roscommon -- they waited patiently, armed with their cash.

After an hour waiting in traffic, drivers began to step out of their cars and stick their heads out of sunroof windows to see how far the queues stretched and they quickly discovered it was further than the eye could see.

You would almost have to witness it to believe it -- or to even begin to try and grasp just how big a dent this is going to leave in the Irish economy.

After two hours, the toilet breaks began and handfuls of drivers got out to relieve themselves at the side of the road. As with bargain-hunting, desperate times call for desperate measures.

I pulled down my window to chat to neighbouring cars and to see if there was even a hint of guilt among the trail of shoppers. One by one, they gave a uninterested shrug and shook their heads.

Debbie, a blonde in a Volvo jeep, pulled up beside me. She was bringing her two Dublin girlfriends shopping and couldn't believe how quickly word has spread about the good deals, having been up the previous week.

"I thought there was an accident up ahead so my husband rang the guards to find out why the tailbacks were so bad and it turns out it's all down to people going shopping. It's unbelievable."

Like every other driver I chatted to, she had no qualms whatsoever about bringing her money north.

"Ten years ago, when everyone was coming down to do their shopping in the south, I didn't hear anyone complain. What goes around comes around."

Before driving off she gave me some extra tips to get most out of my Christmas spend.

"Banbridge has some fantastic outlet stores. There are about 70 shops in all. Make sure you go to the information desk and they will give you up to 30 per cent discount vouchers for your first visit," she beamed.

Another driver who pulled up beside me had an empty trailer attached to his car. "Will that be full on the way home?" I asked. He gave me a smile and a nod and told me he was off to load up at Ikea.

A lengthy three hours after I left Dublin and I was in the heart of Newry, but the two main shopping centres, Buttercrane and The Quays, were still out of my reach.

A trail of traffic was snaking into the car park of each centre, horns were blowing, people fighting for spaces.

And with every one car pulling out, three more were waiting to take the spot. It was utter mayhem.

The car park attendant said his job has changed from pointing out spaces to defusing full-blown rows between customers.

"Tempers are flaring because people are so frustrated with the traffic. I think the fact that the locals are a bit bitter about all the people coming up from the south and causing the queues doesn't help."

Inside The Quays shopping centre, there was no let-up in the volume of shoppers. Nicola from Diamonds Jewellers says it has got to the point where the queues are repelling locals.

"I know a woman who spent two hours in her car the other day simply coming down the hill into Newry. It's insane."

She said their shop has had to re-order their Juicy Couture range several times to satisfy "groups of young girls from Dublin".

Shop windows have begun putting '€ for ?' signs in the window and, with the euro so strong against sterling, the majority of shoppers say they'll be paying another visit to the town over the next fortnight. It seems there's no end to their insatiable appetite for a good bargain.

As Mary Flynn from Taugh Macconnell in Roscommon said: "It's worth the drive. I have three neighbours who came home from the north last week with carloads of shopping and there's no doubt that I'll be back again on December 8."

I asked if she feels somewhat guilty about her shopping spree as jobs fritter away back home.

"People will always go where the bargains are. It's up to the Government to do something to save the retail sector. People are going to lose their jobs over this, but it's not up to us to sort it out."

The policy of looking after number one prevails throughout the crowd.

Tara Griffin, from Clondalkin, Dublin, says there's only one thing she's worried about and that is looking after her family.

"I'm not here to look after other people's jobs, that's the Government's duty. My job is to look after my family.

"I've saved literally hundreds here today – and I’ll be back.”

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