Page last updated at 09:10 GMT, Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Striking workers head north for bargains

Buttercrane Shopping Centre in Newry
Shoppers from the Republic still travel to Northern Ireland for bargains

A strike by more than 250,000 public sector workers in the Republic of Ireland has led to an unexpected windfall for traders in Newry.

There was a five-mile traffic tailback going into the border city from the south on Tuesday.

More than 50,000 teachers were on strike and many of the shoppers were parents of children who had to take the day off school.

While thousands of striking workers braved the cold to stand on picket lines, some of their cash-strapped colleagues used their day off to take advantage of cheaper prices in Northern Ireland.

The strike was staged in protest at Irish government plans to cut the public sector pay bill by 1.3bn euros next year.

The workers say they cannot take any more cuts in their wages after an emergency budget earlier this year.

'Unpatriotic'

Businesses in the Republic have been hit by shoppers travelling north to avail of cheaper goods and a lower VAT rate, and revenue lost to cross-border shopping has been a sore point for the Irish government.

After last year's Christmas exodus by southern shoppers, Irish finance minister Brian Lenihan suggested it was "unpatriotic" of them to shop in Northern Ireland rather than boost the ailing economy in the south.

Earlier this month, Mr Lenihan insisted it would be different this Christmas, as he could react to any changes in the British VAT rate because this time around, his UK counterpart will reveal his budget first.

"Just appreciate that, in a very difficult time, any tax you pay is not supporting our state," he added.

Peter Murray, manager of the Buttercrane Shopping Centre in Newry, told RTE that business had been good on Tuesday.

"It is a direct result of the day of action - there are no strike specials," he said.

Social and Family Affairs Minister Mary Hanafin has said anyone who chose to shop north of the border should reflect on the damage they were doing to the economy.

Many shops in the Republic have slashed their prices to compete with their rivals in Northern Ireland.

However, a recent survey suggested that as many as 250,000 households in the Republic are now travelling to Northern Ireland to do their shopping.



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