Belleek residents fear Brexit may bring economic woe

Locals of Northern town feeling ill-informed, not least on the question of Border controls

Shopkeepers and locals in the rural Border town of Belleek, which straddles the Fermanagh-Donegal boundary, fear that a UK exit from the European Union could bring on economic woe.

Mostly, however, there is confusion from a community that believes it has not had the answers it needs to make a decision that could shape life for generations.

Claims and counter-claims have arrived thick and fast. Detailed information, in the eyes of the locals, has not. The uncertainty and confusion over what happens next has left people like scratching their heads.

"When you have shovel-and- spade qualifications, this type of thing wouldn't be too easy to understand, do you know what I mean?" says butcher John Dolan, who runs McGovern Meats.


“You know, I don’t really understand what is going on. A lot of people would be the same. These leaflets in the post, sure there are big words in them that you wouldn’t understand.

“I think it should be left the way it is. The Border doesn’t really exist at the minute anyway.

Nuala Burns, who works for the Marie Curie charity, says the return of Border checkpoints "would spoil the town".

Awkward commute

“If Border restrictions go up it would make going to work awkward,” she says. “I know a bit about Brexit, but I wouldn’t be high up on it. I would say not many people know enough about it.”

Pauline Gilmartin’s family gift shop has been going for 27 years. She too is concerned about what will happen next.

“We haven’t been told what is going to happen to the Border and are quite concerned about customs,” she says. “A lot of our suppliers are in the South. We take for granted the free movement here, very much so, and we have forgotten what it is like to have checkpoints.

"There is too much uncertainty. Boris Johnson shrugged his shoulders and said people in Northern Ireland have nothing to worry about. But why should we trust him? He needs to give us more information. For us, we need to know what the Border will look like.

"We are a few yards away from the Border. This is all about our day-to-day lives. To go to Enniskillen, we cross the Border by going over the bridge, which is in the Republic of Ireland. I would drive over the bridge, into the South, and then back into the North to get to Enniskillen. We are using the Border 10 times a day, so I have some concerns about all of this."

Priscilla Coyle says the debate has not been explained "in everyday language".

"I am not sure. I have not read enough on it. If England votes to leave, and Wales and Scotland, then our vote here, will it have an impact?"

Michelle Rooney finds herself in a difficult position. Her business, Rooney's Gift Store, is in Northern Ireland, but she lives in the Republic and therefore can't vote on Thursday.

No checkpoints?

“It is the Border point of view that I would be thinking of because nobody knows what is going to happen,” she says. “They are saying there won’t be checkpoints.

“I don’t have an opportunity to vote, but I would be voting to remain. I think for Border businesses we need to remain.”

Maria McGuinness, who owns McGuinness Pharmacy, is worried that a victory for Leave could have a “serious, adverse effect on trade” in Belleek.

“It would mean that we couldn’t supply our surrounding area,” she says. “It’s not that we are looking for people to come from the Republic to the North, but that’s part of our host area, so there should be an ease for those people to shop and we can supply them, as simple as that.

“Free movement is a big thing. We want to be able to facilitate the ease of purchases and, in my case, dispensing to people who are in my area. The convenience would be gone.”

In The Lemon Tree, a family-run cafe on the edge of town, Sheamus Rooney says he has always lived with the Border "one way or another".

“I suppose the single biggest problem for my business would be exchange rates. If the exchange rates are poor, we will have very poor southern business coming our way. But if the exchange rate is reasonable, it is noticeable that you get more people coming in.

“At the end of the day, whatever happens, happens. We will just have to live with it.”