Builders slam hard border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic

A hard border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic would be damaging to the Northern Irish construction sector, according to new research by the Federation of Master Builders (FMB).

Key findings from the research include:

• over half of construction SMEs in NI said a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Irish 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 Irish Republic, and almost one third employ people who are based across the border

• just under 40% of construction SMEs in Northern Ireland said a hard border would have a negative impact on their ability to employ people from across the border

• one in three builders in Northern Ireland 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 have said the depreciation of sterling has threatened the financial well-being of their business following the EU referendum

Brian Berry, chief executive of the FMB, said: “Our research clearly shows that a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Irish 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.”

More than 200 roads criss-cross between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic and up to 35,000 people commute from one side to the other every day. A typical Northern Irish construction firm transports materials, products and labour from the Irish Republic into Northern Ireland on a regular basis.
“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 Irish Republic,” Brian said.

Berry concluded: “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 £2.4 billion per annum in Northern Ireland alone.”

Rory Reagan, director of Regan Building Contractors, said: “A hard border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic would make the day-to-day running of my business much more difficult. My firm employs individuals from the Irish 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 Irish Republic will manage to negotiate a post-Brexit border agreement that provides for the status quo.”