By Bernard Purcell
The UK’s builders declared this week that a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic would do severe harm to Northern Ireland’s £2.4 billion a year construction industry. The Federation of Master Builders (FMB) said it was calling for what it called “a return to the pre- 1973 arrangement that saw the free movement of people between the UK and Ireland.”
In a report published this week the FMB said: “There are more than 200 roads that criss-cross between Northern Ireland and the Republic and up to 35,000 people commute from one side to the other every day.
“Your typical Northern Irish 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 easy must be dealt with sensitively.
“Indeed, almost one third of Northern Irish 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.”
Key findings from the research include:
• Over half of construction Small to Medium Size Enterprises or businesses (SMEs) in Northern Ireland said a hard border between NI and the Republic would have a negative impact on purchasing products and materials from the Republic;
• Almost half of Northern Irish construction SMEs purchase building materials or products from the Republic and almost one third employ people who are based across the border;
• Just under 40 per cent of construction SMEs in Northern Ireland said a hard border between (it) and the Republic would have a negative impact on their ability to employ people from across the border;
• One in three Northern Irish builders have had their margins squeezed on projects since the depreciation of sterling following the EU referendum due to its impact on material prices;
• Almost a quarter of Northern Irish construction SMEs said the depreciation of sterling after the EU Referendum threatens the financial well-being of their businesses
The FMB’s Chief Executive Brian Berry said: “Our research clearly shows that a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic would dampen growth among construction SMEs.
“What we’re calling for today is a return to the pre-1973 arrangement that saw the free movement of people between the UK and Ireland.
“Brexit is 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.
“Indeed, more than a third of NI builders have reported that their margins have been squeezed since the EU vote last summer.
“Let’s remember that the construction industry is central to the health of the Northern Irish 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 in Cookstown, is President of the Northern Ireland branch of the Federation of Master Builders.
He said: “A hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic would make the day-to-day running of my business much more difficult.
“My firm employs individuals from the Republic and my fear is that they will find themselves in long queues at border check points of every morning.
“I also worry about the impact a border will have on my firm’s ability to purchase materials from the Republic. My hope is that the EU, UK and the Republic of Ireland will manage to negotiate a post-Brexit border agreement that provides for the status quo.”