Northern Ireland

Brexit concerns for border sportswear firm

Stitchers in the O'Neills factoiry
Image caption More than 500 people depend on the factory for work

One of Strabane's biggest employers has expressed concerns over the impact Brexit could have on its business.

Sportswear firm O'Neills employs more than 500 people in County Tyrone, and is best known for making jerseys for Gaelic Athletic Association teams.

Managing director Kieran Kennedy said uncertainty about the Irish border is not good for business.

"We knit our own fabric. The fabric is then sent to our sister company in Dublin on a daily basis for dyeing.

"Then it comes back here (to Strabane) again.

Image caption Kieran Kennedy says tariffs would cause big problems

"If there are tariffs and duties it will cause us major problems, importing and exporting our own fabric.

"I also think if there's tariffs and duties, we'll have to increase our prices and I would just be concerned about how that would affect our customers and our sales going forward."

The Strabane factory is only a mile from the border with the Irish Republic.

Manufacturing

O'Neills has 200,000 sq ft (18580 sq m) of manufacturing space on a 12-acre site.

They employ 550 people, and about half of them live across the border in neighbouring County Donegal towns and villages, such as Raphoe, Lifford and Ballybofey.

At present, they pass through the border every morning without having to stop, but the future is unclear.

Mr Kennedy said: "Uncertainty is a big problem, especially in business."

Image caption Strabane lies close to the border with County Donegal

However, he said he was encouraged by recent developments in the Brexit negotiations:

"It seems in the last few days that the approach is softening and there may be a soft Brexit.

"A soft Brexit would do us no harm really."

The UK-EU negotiations will be watched carefully right across Europe, but the people living in Irish border areas will be following events particularly closely.

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