Lifford Bridge : Business organisations on both sides of the Border say help is needed in the event of a no-deal Brexit
Businesses in border counties need help and the EU and the British and Irish Governments should immediately draw up strategies to implement post-Brexit to protect current cross-border business arrangements.
That's the message from business leaders in Donegal and Tyrone as they weighed up the implications of yesterday's meeting in Dublin between Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar and British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson.
They fear if the UK crashes out of the EU next month without a deal, potential border controls could leave the business community dealing with an Armageddon type scenario - something border communities neither wanted nor voted for.
Chief executive of the Letterkenny Chamber, Toni Forrester, and her counterpart in Strabane, Michael ‘Bamba’ Gallen, have urged the Irish and British Governments to discuss with the European Commission the feasibility of developing a PEACE V programme, a successor to the current EU cohesion policy programme, to deal with the situation.
They agree the biggest challenge facing small businesses in border areas and throughout the whole of the State was “the unknown”.
The business chiefs also warn that suitable North-South tourism strategies needed to be developed for their specific cross-border region.
“The border community here is currently at a massive disadvantage with Brexit only 51 days away because of the dismissive attitude of the Conservative party to places west of the Bann and the non-functioning of the assembly in Stormont,” said Mr Gallen.
“It is left in a vacuum which threatens the whole infrastructure and security of the region,” he said.
His organisation has already initiated moves to encourage more shoppers from Donegal to visit them by offering Pound for Euro for the month of September initially and all going well, maybe continuing it for a spell afterwards.
"The campaign is ongoing brilliant at the moment and more and more shops are getting involved. They recognise the importance of shopping coming across the border and while it's hard to put a figure on it, I know without them we would have real problems.
"It's hard to prepare for anything at the moment because no-deal seems to be on the table, we just don't know how bad things could get.
“We're trying to limit the fallout and that's why border business groups need to act together.
“Things are so bad at the moment I'd take advice about what to do about Brexit from my dog rather than listen to Boris Johnston," he said.
He added the border did not vote for Brexit but would be the hardest hit areas and it was time an imaginative rescue plan was put in place.
Mrs Forrester agreed that strategies suitable to their specific cross-border regions were needed now more than ever.
"In fairness, local authorities on both sides of the border have a strategy identifying the problems and implications of Brexit for all business groups and have talked about cross-border initiatives but we can't wait for Brexit to happen, we need to step out and look for action now."
She pointed to the vital need for infrastructural developments such as the A5 and A6 road developments to be completed as fast as possible.
"We need the governments and the EU to recognise that we are going to be hardest hit after Brexit and we will need special treatment to avoid the harshest impact of a no-deal scenario.
"Councils here already work through a North-South Strategic Growth Partnership group and it’s really important but now funding needed to be ramped up to make sure we don't fall behind."
She added she was afraid the absence of an Assembly in Northern Ireland could give the British Government a way out of meetings its responsibilities towards the border in the long run and that in turn would also have an effect for Donegal.
"We've had sterling fluctuations over the years and we've learned how to deal with them but it's now time there was a special intervention for all businesses in the north-west.
“These exceptional circumstances call for creative thinking and this is the time to think about how we deliver for the north-west - we're all in this together," she said.