One of the largest cross-border businesses on the island of Ireland has called for “common sense to prevail” in last-ditch efforts to reach a Brexit deal.
O’Neill’s, based in County Tyrone, produces Gaelic football kits. Each team’s colours can cross the border up to eight times during the manufacturing process.
The yarn arrives in Dublin Port, crosses the border for weaving and repeatedly for dyeing, for cutting, for stitching, for packaging and for distribution.
The managing director says politicians need to explain to his staff why the company is preparing to relocate its Northern Ireland factory if there’s a no-deal Brexit.
Kieran Kennedy said: “Look at the 700 staff here in Strabane, they come from all traditions, see how it would affect their livelihood.”
“Do they want to be associated with losing jobs for the sake of the union or whatever? We just want to trade how we have always traded, so let common sense prevail,” he added.
At the Empire Music Hall in Belfast, where comedians make their debut, a Sky News panel of experts concluded that a no-deal Brexit would be no joke.
Victor Chestnutt, deputy president of the Ulster Farmers’ Union, said: “If food flows into the UK tariff-free and we face a tariff going out, we are on a hiding to nothing. Our farmers will disappear.”
“The solution is some leadership in politics,” added Tina McKenzie, who chairs the Federation of Small Businesses NI.
“We put forward actual solutions… the enhanced economic zone, where trade can flow through Northern Ireland into GB from Europe and from GB into Europe via Northern Ireland.”
Unionists rejected Theresa May’s backstop position of Northern Ireland remaining in the EU’s customs union and single market, if necessary.
The EU rejected Boris Johnson’s alternative – Northern Ireland leaving the customs union but accepting single market regulations.
Hopes had all but faded until the prime minister met his Irish counterpart Leo Varadkar and announced that they could see a pathway to an agreement.
Aodhan Connolly, director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, said: “Any alternative arrangements need to do what the backstop does. What we need…is to have unfettered access to both the Great British market and the EU market.”
Some point to the use of technology at the Norway-Sweden border but 1,300 commercial vehicles cross that each day, compared to 13,000 at the Northern Irish border.
Janice Gault, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Hotels Federation, asked: “Are you going to chip every cow? Are you going to chip every human? If a visitor arrives from North America, I don’t necessarily want to have to chip and pin them when they arrive.”
The subtle nature of the border enables people to identify as British or Irish or both – a key component of the Good Friday Agreement.
It is the political implication of almost any practical solution offered that keeps the border front and centre of what many regard as the endgame.