Construction firms in Northern Ireland (NI) worry that a hard border with the Republic of Ireland resulting from the UK leaving the European Union without a trade deal would be damaging to the sector, according to research published today.
Many say a hard border would hurt their ability to buy materials and employ people from their southern neighbour, says UK trade body the Federation of Master Builders (FMB).
With more than 200 roads linking NI and the Republic, and up to 35,000 people commuting daily, the FMB called for free movement between north and south, warning that poor handling of the matter will jeopardise an industry worth some £2.4bn to NI.
Findings from the survey released today said that:
- Over half of construction small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in NI said a hard border would have a negative impact on purchasing products and materials from the Republic;
- Almost half of NI 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% of construction SMEs in NI said a hard border between NI and the Republic would have a negative impact on their ability to employ people from across the border;
- One in three NI 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 NI construction SMEs have said the depreciation of sterling has threatened the financial well-being of their business following the EU referendum.
"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," said FMB chief executive Brian Berry.
"Let’s remember that the construction industry is central to the health of the NI economy. The construction sector employs around 65,000 people and has an output of £2.4bn per annum in NI 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 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 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."
Image: Sinn Féin anti-hard border protest at Stormont, Belfast, October 2015 (Sinn Féin/Wikimedia Commons)