Wednesday 26 July 2017

Border communities fear economic cost if Britain leaves

Despite all the fears, many people going about their daily business on the Border have no view on the upcoming referendum.
Despite all the fears, many people going about their daily business on the Border have no view on the upcoming referendum.

Brian Hutton

Traffic thundering through the invisible Border on the main road between Derry and Letterkenny is relentless.

Seconds into the Republic side - noted by a change in speed limits from miles to kilometres per hour - a thriving hub of businesses has sprung up in recent years around the once sleepy village of Bridgend.

The old Irish Customs post is now a fireplace showroom.

There is no evidence of the heavily fortified and towering British Army checkpoint that once loomed over the northern side.

Several filling stations do a roaring trade from Derry motorists taking advantage of cheaper fuel. Traders selling everything from log cabins to organic wheatgrass promote favourable sterling-to-euro exchange rates.

Long gone are the days of endless tailbacks, vehicle searches and cross-examination about one's intended journey.

Gary Kelly, a transport contractor having a drink in the Frontier Hotel on a day off, crosses the Border every day of his life.

Living in the North, he buys his fuel at Bridgend and fears a surge in prices in the event of a 'Brexit'.

"If the UK votes to leave, it will affect fuel prices drastically. I think it will affect prices all round drastically," he added.

Across the bar from him, taxi driver Pat McCluskey is more concerned with the prospect of renewed border controls.

"I remember it years ago, and there were queues all the time. It will be worse now because of fears about immigrants."

On the other side of the road from the hotel, Michael Faulkner runs a bureau de change. He calculates that 50,000 cars pass his outlet every day.

"I think everybody is concerned, nobody wants to go back to what it was 20 years ago when there was a physical border," he said.

"My personal view is that it won't go back to that, but there would be some curtailment, whether in business terms or the movement of people, there would be some sort of restriction. Any sort of restriction here won't be good for businesses on the Border."

But despite all the fears, many people going about their daily business on the Border have no view on the upcoming referendum. Some even ask what it is all about.

Others say they are so disinterested they won't even vote, among them taxi driver Martin McCool.

He said: "It was hectic when the army was on the Border, but the Customs will not make any difference. It's not going to be a big deal. It will make no difference to my life."

Irish Independent

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