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Shoppers in Irish Republic told to serve their country

Until the other day, it was regarded as harmless to nip across the Irish border to pick up a bargain. Now suddenly it is being denounced as "the ultimate act of patriotic sabotage".

A heated battle between patriotism and the purse is breaking out in the Irish Republic as the Irish government struggles to overcome its greatest economic challenge in decades.

And things are so bad in southern Ireland that those who motor into Northern Ireland to shop are being publicly pressurised to confine their purchases to their own jurisdiction.

Lord Mayor of Dublin Eibhlin Byrne is among those urging an exercise of "civic patriotism" and asking people not to cross the border to pick up Christmas bargains.

She declared yesterday: "These are critical times. People need to be aware that when they make the decision to go north they are taking their spending out of the city and there will be repercussions."

So far, such appeals have had little visible effect, since the signs are that more southerners than ever are making their way north since the collapse in the value of sterling against the euro.

Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan described the loss of revenue as huge, saying that the practice of buying in the north had made things "very, very difficult" when he was framing his recent budget. That increase was highly visible at the weekend in the border shopping city of Newry in County Down. Its car parks were overwhelmed by the number of vehicles from the Republic, causing gridlock and a six-mile tailback.

The city has always been a popular venue for shopping southerners but now up to 50 per cent of its customers are cross-border shoppers.

In the past, they have come primarily for alcohol but now shoppers also buy groceries and baby goods, which are also significantly less expensive, and a wide range of other goods.

Just yesterday one of the Republic's biggest stores placed large newspaper advertisements announcing that it was slashing the price of alcoholic drinks.

Yet even the new lower prices are still much higher than the northern price. A litre bottle of Powers whiskey – which ironically is produced in the Republic – costs almost £4 less north of the border.

Southerners are commonly to be seen loading large amounts of drink into their vehicles, which has contributed to the closure of large numbers of southern pubs in recent years.

The incentive to make the northern trek may grow next week when prices go down further as a result of the UK-wide decrease in VAT. According to senior southern economist Jim Power: "The trend of people going north is the ultimate act of patriotic sabotage. While consumers may believe that they're saving money by travelling further for goods and services, they are shooting themselves in the foot.

"This is putting severe pressure on the livelihood of many families in communities nationwide."

Belfast Telegraph