Hard Brexit border will hit building trade, federation warns
Northern Ireland's construction sector has been warned it faces serious damage from a hard post-Brexit border.
Businesses within the sector are already feeling the financial implications of the UK's decision to leave the EU with the depreciation of sterling, the Federation of Master Builders (FMB) said.
FMB chief executive Brian Berry said research carried out by the federation shows that a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic would dampen growth among construction SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) and called for free movement of people between the UK and Ireland.
"Your typical Northern Ireland construction firm transports materials, products and labour from the Republic into Northern Ireland on a regular basis and anything that interferes with their ability to do that quickly and easily must be dealt with sensitively," he said.
"Almost one third of Northern Ireland construction firms employ people who are based across the border and over half think a hard border would have a negative impact on purchasing products and materials from the Republic," he said.
Mr Berry warned that Brexit was already making its presence felt in Northern Ireland "with builders feeling the pinch since material prices have risen following the depreciation of sterling after the EU referendum".
"More than a third of Northern Ireland builders have reported that their margins have been squeezed since the EU vote last summer," he said.
"Let's remember that the construction industry is central to the health of the Northern Ireland economy.
"The construction sector employs around 65,000 people and has an output of £2.4bn per annum in Northern Ireland alone.
"Furthermore, it's an enabling industry as without it, we won't be able to deliver the new homes, roads, schools and hospitals that Northern Ireland so desperately needs."
Rory Reagan, director of Regan Building Contractors, said a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic would make the day-to-day running of his business difficult.
"My firm employs individuals from the Republic and my fear is that they will find themselves in long queues at border check points every morning.
"I also worry about the impact a border will have on my firm's ability to purchase materials from the Republic," he said.
Mr Reagan said he hopes that negotiations will lead to a post-Brexit border agreement "that provides for the status quo".