Irish shopkeepers fight Brexit fallout
Residents shopping across the border
In the wake of the Brexit referendum earthquake, few people felt the aftershocks as keenly as the shopkeepers of Dundalk, a sleepy town of 37,000 people on the Irish border with Northern Ireland. Following the plunge in the value of the pound, residents have been heading across to Northern Ireland to do their shopping and the movement has only intensified in the run-up to Christmas. But while the politicians are still trying to figure out what Brexit will look like, retailers in Dundalk are fighting back with gift vouchers - a form of alternative currency aimed at boosting local shopping.
“The vouchers allow businesses to give their employees up to 500 euros ($520) as a Christmas bonus tax free, making it a win for employers, a win for employees and a win for local businesses,” Dundalk Chamber of Commerce chairman Michael Gaynor told AFP. The pound is currently about 10 percent lower against the euro compared to before the June 23 referendum. The vouchers are available online or from the Dundalk Chamber of Commerce’s office and can be obtained either by individuals as regular gift vouchers for Christmas presents or by employers for bonuses.
The colorful “Shop Local Vouchers” are printed in denominations of 5, 10, 20 and 50 euros and are accepted in more than 200 Dundalk stores, from jewelers to electrical outlets to cafes. So far this year vouchers to the value of more than 300,000 euros have been purchased and the Chamber expects this to top out at over 500,000 euros by the end of the festive period in early January - a welcome boost to a local economy under severe pressure.
‘Worth taking the trip’
The border promises to be a central part of Brexit negotiations as many on both sides fear a return of customs and police checks - the “hard” border present during decades of conflict on the island. The border is currently open and checks would be “hugely problematic”, including for many people from Northern Ireland who work in Dundalk, Gaynor said.
In recent months, shoppers from the Irish Republic have been crossing the border in waves to take advantage of the favorable exchange rate, particularly on alcohol, toys and groceries. A recent Red C poll indicated that as many as 56 percent of shoppers in border counties intended to travel to Northern Ireland for Christmas shopping and a report by Goodbody Stockbrokers showed traffic flows from south to north on Saturday mornings had surged 29 percent in the wake of the referendum.
Although there are strong appeals to support the local economy, even people walking the streets of Dundalk are voting with their pockets. “Everything up north for toys is a lot cheaper and there is more variety - it’s definitely worth taking the trip up to get something a little different and save a few euros,” said Chris Cumiskey, a housewife who said she can save around 25 percent on food shopping in the nearby Northern Ireland town of Newry.
Eugene Kelly, an unemployed man, said: “At the end of the day, you’re going to go for the bargains. “They can say the economy here is going to be affected but at the end of the day you’ve got to go for your own pocket,” he said. Lorraine Prenty, a human resources executive, said she chose to shop local but noted the increase in cars heading across the border in recent months. “Around Dundalk there just isn’t the same volume of traffic or the number of people this year,” she said. —AFP
DUNDALK: Catherine Quigley (left) hands over vouchers, a form of alternative currency aimed at boosting local shopping at a cafe in this border town on Dec 1, 2016. —AFP