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Hard border between the Republic and Northern Ireland would hit construction, warn builders

Words: Laura Edgar
The NI and Irish border / iStock-835949912

The Federation of Master Builders (FMB) has warned that a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic would damage the construction sector in Northern Ireland.

Research undertaken by the trade body suggests that over half of construction SMEs in Northern Ireland believe that a hard border between the two countries would have a negative impact on purchasing products and materials from the Republic.

According to the survey, nearly half of Northern Ireland construction SMEs buy building materials or other products from the Republic, with almost a third employing people from across the border.

For just under 40 per cent of construction SMEs in Northern Ireland, a hard border would disrupt their ability to employ people from Ireland.

One in three builders from Northern Ireland reported that margins have been squeezed on projects since the depreciation of the pound following Brexit, owing to its impact on material prices. Almost a quarter said the depreciation has threatened the financial well-being of their business.

Brian Berry, chief executive at the FMB, said: “Our research clearly shows that a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic would dampen growth among construction SMEs.”

The FMB has called for a return to the pre-1973 arrangement of free movement of people between the UK and Ireland.

Berry said a 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 easily must be dealt with sensitively.

“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 NI economy. The construction sector employs around 65,000 people and has an output of £2.4 billion 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 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 checkpoints 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.”

The FMB’s research was carried out between 22 September and 10 October 2017. A survey was sent to 250 FMB members in Northern Ireland, and 11 per cent responded.

The RTPI is holding a conference on the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland to explore potential implications of Brexit. More information can be found on the RTPI website.

Image credit | iStock