Over half of NI construction firms say hard border would damage industry

Over half of construction SMEs in Northern Ireland said a hard border would have a negative impact on purchasing products and materials from the Republic
Gareth McKeown

OVER half of construction firms in Northern Ireland have said a hard border would cause untold damage to the industry according to new research.

The latest survey by the Federation of Master Builders (FMB) has outlined the perils a hard border could have on the embattled construction industry in the north.

Over 50 per cent of construction SMEs in Northern Ireland surveyed said a hard border would have a negative impact on purchasing products and materials from the Republic, while just under 40 per cent said such a move would negatively affect their ability to employ people from across the border.

Almost half of small and medium sized construction firms in the north purchase building materials or products from the Republic and almost a third employ people who are based across the border. As well as the future implications associated with the UK exit from the European Union, many firms are already suffering due to the uncertainty.

One in three builders have had their margins squeezed on projects since the depreciation of sterling following the referendum due to its impact on material prices according to the research, while almost a quarter of those surveyed said the depreciation of sterling has threatened the financial well-being of their business.

Director of Cookstown-based Regan Building Contractors, Rory Regan said a hard border would make the day-to-day running of his 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.”

Chief executive of the FMB, Brian Berry said the research clearly show a hard border would dampen growth among construction SMEs and called for the retention of free movement of people between the UK and Ireland

"Your typical NI 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," he said.

"Let’s remember that the construction industry is central to the health of the Northern Ireland 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.”

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