Hard-hitting investigations on stories in Northern Ireland. Jim Fitzpatrick dives into the Brexit aftermath, exploring how immigration curbs could affect the NI economy.
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No area in the United Kingdom will suffer more wanton destruction
than Northern Ireland.
I'm Jim Fitzpatrick.
House prices will fall, food prices will rise,
jobs will be lost.
Economics and business was my bag at the BBC.
The biggest domestic risk to financial stability.
I also covered politics for years,
but have never seen such predictions of doom.
It could be catastrophic.
Like many during the Brexit campaign,
I was concerned about what would happen if we voted to leave the EU.
Would there be border checkpoints?
Having border controls and custom checks...
Would there be less money and fewer jobs?
Prices would go up, jobs would be lost,
living standards would go down.
I do not want to accelerate the break-up of the United Kingdom.
The consequences would be negative.
A supply and demand shock. Higher unemployment.
A lengthy divorce with a very uncertain settlement at the end.
-A pure dead weight loss.
-I think it's a risk.
The damage done to both economies, North and South, by Brexit.
But the world hasn't ended.
Life, like Brexit, is rarely that simple.
I'm here in Carlingford Lough, looking for the border.
This could soon be the frontier between a post-Brexit UK and the EU.
I'm not sure if it's a hard or a soft border,
but the water's fine.
And three months on from that vote to leave the EU,
on the surface, everything seems relatively calm.
But who knows what lurks beneath?
I couldn't see the border in Carlingford,
because here, nearly a century since partition,
it is still not agreed.
It's a hint, perhaps, of how complex Brexit will be.
You can't see Brexit, either, but it's real,
and I want to find out how we will feel its impact.
Will we notice a difference in the money in our pockets?
Will immigration controls hurt or help our economy?
Further along, I catch up with a businessman
who appeared on Spotlight before the referendum.
He was worried that losing his access to EU workers
would end his fish business in nearby Kilkeel.
If I didn't have them, I wouldn't be here,
and that's just the plain way of it.
We find it very hard to get local labour.
I meet John Rooney on his new oyster farm.
I mean, you say you can't hire locally. Is that true?
Oh, that's true.
It's the same in every factory
in Northern Ireland.
Surely it can't be that hard to find a couple of locals
to do just two days' work.
So I propose seeing if we can find someone local
to take a role at his fish factory for a couple of days.
If we were to test that out,
see if we could find a local to work in your place,
would you be up for that?
Oh, I have no problem. We try and employ local people.
They just don't apply for the jobs. It doesn't matter where they're at.
-So, John, we'll have to try the oysters now that we're here.
-Cheers, let's give it a go.
Some of John Rooney's foreign workers
have been with him for years.
He wants to keep employing workers like Gergana Ivanova.
Rooney Fish, like a lot of other employers in Northern Ireland,
tell us that they rely on migrant labour
because they find it so hard to recruit locally.
We're going to see if we can help.
We're going to put our guys on the case
to speak to the Jobcentre,
to go out into the street, to advertise on Facebook,
and see if we can find someone
to work for just two days in their factory.
But what does Brexit mean now for you and me?
Many predicted the cost of our weekly shop would go up.
So, has it?
We went to the very centre of Northern Ireland,
Cookstown, in Mid-Ulster, to find out.
Baker Tim Anderson runs a retail and wholesale business,
with 30 staff, from his high street shop.
What's changed for him?
You know, I still feel everything's the same.
Inflation's up a wee bit. Have you noticed an increase in price?
No, not from wholesalers as yet.
And you're not putting up the price of bread or buns just yet?
No, not just yet.
Butcher John Apperly employs 100 people
between his factory and nine high street shops,
including this one in Cookstown.
I asked John if shoppers have been afraid to spend post-Brexit.
Not in our business, anyway.
People are still coming in, doing their weekly shop.
Prices haven't gone up
and footfall's still good, so all's good on our front.
Would you have any concerns about what Brexit might mean?
We remain positive.
We still have our growth plans in place,
so we've got harder things to overcome than Brexit.
John Finch owns six convenience stores
which also sell food produced at his factory.
We would see ourselves in the front line.
We get a lot of white van drivers, so if things are not working well,
you see them regressing and the lunchbox coming back out again
and whenever they are,
they're in and they're happy enough to spend money,
buy coffee and fast food.
What about prices on the shelves here in your shop?
Are they going up?
Not at the minute.
We haven't increased prices at all, and we have no requirement,
it's not as if we're suffering any increase in price.
That just hasn't happened. To date, anyway.
The day after we filmed, the Office For National Statistics
published its sale figures for July,
which indicated shoppers were undeterred by Brexit.
It's Angela McGowan's job to keep a close eye
on how Northern Ireland's economy performs.
Like most experts, she warned about the dangers of Brexit.
She doesn't see any immediate hit for shoppers,
but predicts inflation will rise.
For example, if you're buying something in your supermarket now,
the retail store probably bought that
maybe two or three months ago.
But as time goes on, they're going to notice when they import things
that they're more expensive, because their pound is worth less.
It's basic economics.
So maybe people don't notice it in their basket of goods right now,
but where people will have noticed it
is if they took a foreign holiday this year.
They notice that whenever they went on their holiday,
everything was much more expensive.
Your pound takes you less further abroad,
so there will be an inflationary effect on those people already.
Meanwhile, we have temporary jobs to fill at a Kilkeel fish factory,
mostly staffed by foreign EU nationals.
So, we're on the hunt for locals to see what they make of the work.
We've no luck in Kilkeel, but after more than a month of searching,
we finally find two candidates who are local,
to Northern Ireland at least.
It's just after 6.30 in the morning,
and I'm waiting for our workers to show up.
32-year-old Diarmuid, a video editor from Omagh,
has been unemployed for 12 months.
He arrives early.
-You've been unemployed, working here and there.
Why are you doing this?
It's given me an opportunity to do something a little bit different.
It's kind of difficult to actually jump straight back into work
whenever you've been away for a long time,
and whenever you have an option to go and do something a bit different,
it gives you a new skill set, a new perspective.
-Now, it's two days.
-Are you going to hack it?
Oh, yeah! Well, I'm pretty sure.
Like, I mean, I don't mind it, so we'll see how it goes.
Our second candidate is late.
It's after seven, and the shift's begun.
'I'm ten seconds away. You'll see me here in two seconds.'
Good stuff, Roy. You're on speakerphone. It's Jim here.
-Look forward to seeing you very shortly.
-'Good man, Jim.'
Well, that's Roy. He's on his way.
'20-year-old law student Roy, from Larne,
'has ambitions to be a comedian.
'Though arriving late is no joke for time-pressured employers.'
We'll have to get you moving here, cos it's seven o'clock.
-Let's get to work.
All of my dad's side of the family
have worked with fish for as long as I can remember.
They were out in the boats.
I'm not going to be out in the boats.
I'm going to be doing the next best thing.
On a stationary boat, maybe! Just to see if I can hack it.
-I want to see if I can do it, and I think I can.
-Just one thing.
It's after seven o'clock. You were due to start at seven.
These sort of places, they don't appreciate people being late.
You know what else they say. Touts out.
Induction begins in the boardroom...
Everything is alive, so if you're handling
at the back door, at intake, just be very careful,
because you can get a wee nip.
..before the necessary work clothes are donned.
-We shall return to check on Roy and Diarmuid shortly.
We've learned that prices on the high street haven't gone up.
Meanwhile, for tourists coming here, they've gone down.
Thanks to the fall in the pound, hoteliers in Northern Ireland
are reporting their best summer in many years.
The fact that, obviously, Northern Ireland, part of the UK.
The currency in sterling, we've seen a devaluation in that currency.
Is that driving any more of those tourists across the border?
Yes, and early indications are quite strong.
I think we can see it, you know, day by day in Belfast and around
already in the car registrations on the roads.
The majority of tourists arrive here from the Republic,
so the Brexit benefit depends on the border remaining fluid.
So, could Brexit mean boom time for tourism in Northern Ireland?
If we don't see any hardening of the borders, yes, indeed,
there could be an upside to Brexit for tourism.
Leave voter Richard Irwin says Brexit has been good
for his mattress cover and window blind business.
And that could be good news for us all.
Richard Irwin believes his sales are a good indicator
of the likelihood of recession.
He says people put off buying items like mattresses
if they fear losing their jobs, but his sales are good.
Typically, home furnishings will be one of the first sectors to suffer
if there's a recession coming,
because people will have to tighten their belts
and they'll start with things that they can put off.
So they're not going to put off their weekly grocery shop
or filling their car,
but if they have to put off buying a new set of curtains or a new bed,
that's the first thing they'll do if there's uncertainty.
And as things stand, we're seeing a little bit of that,
but not a major dip.
What your order book is telling you
is that the economy's ticking along well?
Yeah, we're up year on year.
Richard Irwin isn't the only one reporting good economic news.
Just a couple of days after this interview,
official figures confirmed
that unemployment continued to fall in July.
Once the UK leaves the EU...
Farmers were given definite promises by the Leave campaign
that their EU subsidies would be matched if we left Europe.
And in August, the Chancellor announced
that multibillion pound promise would be kept.
What we're doing today is giving certainty about funding commitments.
At least until 2020.
During the referendum, some politicians, like Ian Paisley,
even promised farmers would get bigger subsidies outside the EU.
'You'll get more if you're a farmer if you're out of the EU
'than you're currently getting in the EU.'
Are you still as confident now
that farmers will get more money post-Brexit than they did before?
Well, I'm confident for a number of reasons.
I've already met with the new English agricultural minister.
First of all, the money is already there.
And, secondly, there will be additional money.
for some of those guys, their average income was 11,000,
so it's not easy out there.
Ulster Farmers Union president Barclay Bell
is relieved his members' subsidies will continue for now,
but has other, bigger, worries.
EU membership protects farmers here
by placing big charges, tariffs, on imports of food from outside the EU.
Brexit could end that protection,
and that would spell disaster for local farmers.
Certainly if the tariffs disappeared,
that is a risk that we could disappear
with the threat of international imports.
Farmers don't know what the new government policy will be.
There's even a new department to deal with,
called the Department for Exiting the EU.
We have had some discussions
with the Department for Exiting the EU.
Certainly I think they are looking for ideas.
They're wanting us to come up with ideas probably late September...
They're wanting you to come up with the ideas?
-They're wanting us to help with ideas.
-Where are their ideas?
This is what you have to question,
you know, just where their ideas are.
That is a bit alarming, that people who were so keen to leave
actually haven't got a blueprint there.
The Minister for Exiting the EU, David Davis,
was at Stormont at the beginning of September.
There was no sign of a Brexit blueprint,
but there was instead a tough pledge on immigration.
We have to, as a result of the biggest mandate
in United Kingdom political history,
we have to take control of our borders,
we have to be able to control
the number of people coming into the United Kingdom.
But this new UK policy
could be just the thing that Northern Ireland least needs.
We have such a small population.
Nowhere more than Northern Ireland
needs to have access to an international labour market,
and I think it would really damage our future economic growth
if we don't really get this nailed on the head properly
in terms of the negotiations.
Back at the fish factory, staffed mostly by foreign EU nationals,
our two locals are getting down to work.
Will they keep up with their EU co-workers?
What do they expect of the next two days?
I'm hoping for a few surprises. I don't really know what to expect.
I'm just going to take it all as it comes and hopefully enjoy it.
Are you willing to do a bit more backbreaking work
over the next day or so?
Give me a job and I'll happily put myself to it.
Although if I injure myself...
That'll be an issue for the business to deal with, but not me.
Boss Andrew Rooney, son of John, whom we met at the oyster farm,
may need to rely more in the future on locals like Diarmuid and Roy.
But they're in short supply,
and he says Brexit is already causing recruitment problems.
It's even hard now to get staff.
-Even now it's hard to get staff.
-What, just since the vote?
If we look at advertising for foreign workers,
the key issue would be a fear factor.
They don't know what's going to happen, so if they...
sort of pack up everything there and come here,
what's going to happen here?
So it's actually left it very difficult now.
So, are you telling me you find it difficult to hire locally
and find it difficult to hire abroad at the moment?
-Here and now?
-Here and now.
Diarmuid spends his first morning sorting prawns.
He's finding it a bit of a struggle.
So, you can go quicker, and you can use your two hands as well.
It's just the fact there isn't that much space.
So, you get quick with your eyes and then quick with your hands.
Meanwhile, Roy is breezing through his work vacuum packing crab.
Run your hand over it so the seal comes down on it, it sucks it.
-What about that one?
-That one's perfect. Yeah.
Diarmuid voted to remain in the referendum.
and has come off Jobseeker's Allowance to take this work.
Employers will need many more locals like Diarmuid to do the same
if Brexit halts the flow of EU workers.
But Diarmuid doesn't believe his lack of work
has anything to do with migrant workers.
If I've not qualified for a job
or I don't have the experience for the job,
that makes sense when somebody else gets it over the top of me.
Roy voted to leave,
but he doesn't think that means sending migrants away.
-I actually voted out.
-One of the very few people my age to do so.
Pretty much the ludicrous legislation,
the lack of autonomy,
and the quite frank undemocratic bureaucracy
that goes on in Brussels.
Was immigration an issue for you in this vote?
To be quite frank, not really.
I think whenever there's people coming here to work,
I think that's superb.
I think there's people come over from all parts of Europe to work,
I think that's absolutely fantastic.
Whether we need heavier vetting of people coming through,
like the likes of Australia and America do, possibly.
Just four days after this filming,
the Prime Minister rolled out an Australian points system.
The fate of EU workers, though, remains unclear.
One big fear associated with Brexit has been the loss of EU funding.
The government has given some guarantees,
but in Northern Ireland, that may not go far enough.
According to Stormont's finance minister,
we could still be short many millions.
My concern is that there's a question mark
over half of the £500 million
which we are due to get from Europe.
It will be a real body blow to the economy,
and that's why I've made it my number one priority
to fight for this 500 million
and make sure we don't lose one single cent or one single penny.
And that EU money turns up in surprising places.
Like this Republican ex-prisoners group
which relies on EU funding.
This Museum of Orange Heritage
was built with millions in EU funding.
And public transport has benefited, too.
Like it or loathe it, the extension at the Waterfront
is the centrepiece of a new strategy
to bring big international conferences
and their high-spending delegates to the town.
Europe picked up half the tab.
The regeneration of this city began with the river.
Do you remember what it was like before any of this was built?
The Lagan wasn't the most pleasant of rivers, especially at low tide,
when the exposed mudbanks gave off their particular aroma.
So they built this, the Lagan Weir.
It keeps the level up and the smell down.
And the EU money helped it happen.
Titanic Belfast is a symbol of our tourism revival.
The EU has delivered millions for local tourism
to spend on marketing and big events.
And next door is home to Game Of Thrones,
the biggest TV series in the world, here at Titanic Studios.
And once again, EU funding plays its part
by channelling millions into the industry body
Northern Ireland Screen.
Many argue that it was not EU money that funded these projects,
but instead our own money recycled back to us.
People miss the point. They call it EU money.
It is UK money
that we end up having to spend the way Europe tells us.
You know what leaving will allow us to do with that money?
It will allow the Northern Ireland Assembly
to assume greater powers and greater responsibilities
on how allocations to Northern Ireland are actually spent.
But there's a problem, and it has nothing to do with funding,
which suggests we could be sailing into choppy waters.
Many TV and film projects are made here
because it means they're made in the EU
and therefore benefit from EU quotas,
which ensure the majority of content on TV in Europe is made in Europe.
A UK out of Europe may not qualify.
That's bad news for local productions
like children's hit Lily's Driftwood Bay.
Somebody stop this thing!
-Use the anchor, Bull.
Losing those widely hated EU regulations could have a downside.
I'm meeting Professor Richard Kennedy.
He's an oncologist at the Cancer Centre in Belfast
and leading cancer researcher at Queen's University.
Thanks to people like him and their work,
Belfast is now globally respected as a centre for cancer research.
He fears that is now under threat.
Northern Ireland's had a leadership role
in a number of programmes, including clinical trials,
and also research consortiums throughout Europe.
I think after Brexit,
there's a danger that we become disengaged from those groups,
we become insular, inward-looking in our research.
In Northern Ireland, I think we're particularly vulnerable
because we're a small area and we benefit very much
from collaboration elsewhere within Europe.
And if we weren't part of that after Brexit,
what would it mean for clinical trials here in Northern Ireland?
There's a danger that the kind of research
or the data we generate in our studies
may not be recognised by the other states within the EU.
So if I was a drugs company where would I do my clinical trials?
I can see how, potentially, we could create disincentives
to do studies within the UK.
In other words, they'd just do them somewhere else...
Because it's easier, yeah.
Wrightbus was, for many,
the corporate face of Brexit in Northern Ireland.
It builds London buses,
and company founder William Wright was also a vocal Leave supporter.
However, even the "Boris Bus"
must still be built to European regulations.
So you either build a bus
to a European standard or you build it to an American standard,
and we obviously, in the future, have to be able to do both.
So from that point of view,
we're still bound by EU regulations, in or out.
Even at Wrightbus, scratch the surface
and the complexities of Brexit are revealed.
The company builds buses for Dublin as well as London.
It has received millions in European funding,
and its chief executive, unlike its founder,
wanted to stay in the EU.
I was in favour of remaining,
but I wasn't 100% in favour of remaining.
-William Wright is a big personality.
So how did the two of you handle this dispute
over your Remain and he was Leave?
We were never in dispute. It was all very jovial, and it still is.
But with key customers in Europe,
could the Brexit vote damage Wrightbus?
Is it going to change things for some of your customers?
I mean, we're walking past a Dublin bus here.
Is there a sense of hurt?
There's been some raised eyebrows. There was a curiosity.
Just that kind of academic interest, really.
Day two at the fish factory for our local volunteers.
Are they the kind of workers that businesses could rely on
if Brexit makes it difficult to hire from the EU?
Diarmuid is hard at it.
But there's no sign of Roy.
He arrives late.
Off-camera, the boss asks him to leave.
Roy's not pleased, as his working day stops before it begins.
I catch up with him that lunchtime at a nearby hotel.
I could have been down there for any time.
I was ready to rock at any time. They said, "Be here at eight."
I thought, "I'll get there as close to eight as possible,"
and I was, again, to be precise, two minutes late.
Do you get what it's like for employers such as Rooney Fish...?
They obviously expect, you know, things to run exactly as they plan.
I can understand that, yes,
but with regards to the two minutes that I missed this morning,
I would have been more than happy to make that up.
He said it was two minutes, but that was two minutes at the gate.
Then he had to go inside, he had to get changed,
he had to leave his lunch in the canteen
and he had to go downstairs, had to clock in,
which would have been ten minutes late.
And the machine was stopped in the meantime, waiting on him to come.
It costs money for a whole factory then to do that.
who got told off on his first day for being too slow,
has picked up the pace.
I've been enjoying it.
I've got properly into the swing of doing the job.
I've been doing a decent enough day.
Somebody said to me to slow down at one point.
I've been enjoying it, I've been working hard.
-I saw a bit of sweat there.
-That's real working labour.
That's actually the reason why I'm sweating.
It had to come from lifting and laying and doing proper work.
Of course, we don't yet know what Brexit really means.
But if it does mean tighter controls on migrants,
as the government now says,
does that mean more jobs for locals like Diarmuid
and a Brexit boost for the economy?
Or if a shortage of workers forces companies to move, or close,
does Brexit actually mean fewer jobs and less money for us all?
We have to keep our factory going,
and it just happened to be to keep the factory going,
it was foreign nationals that were employed.
If that stopped in the morning,
I don't know where I'm going to replace 60 people.
Brexit raises a lot of complex issues for Northern Ireland
But, surprisingly, the one common thread of concern I've discovered,
among the people I've met, even those who voted Leave,
is the potential impact on foreign workers and the local economy.
The freedom of movement of people has been one of the better things
that's come out of the project of the EU.
We do depend on the migrant people, you know.
They are terrific workers.
They are a fantastic part of our workforce.
They are contributing to society as much as you and I are.
So what does Rooney Fish do
if the shutters are pulled down on recruitment in Europe?
Truthfully, standing here now, I don't know.
I don't know.
And that is the only answer, like, you know.
I don't know.
Jim Fitzpatrick dives into the Brexit aftermath, exploring how immigration curbs could affect the NI economy and finding out if two local volunteers will be up to the job in a fish factory that relies on foreign workers.