Matthews Coach Hire employs more than 70 people from its base at Inniskeen, Co. Monaghan, about six kilometres from the South Armagh border.  A bit over one-tenth of revenues come from bus tours, many into Northern Ireland and Britain. The balance is earned on scheduled  short-distance coach services to and from Dublin. In broad strokes, the currency impact of Brexit has an impact on the touring side and on coach purchases, but the resulting general climate of uncertainty now has a measurable effect on passenger numbers on scheduled services.

Says Eamonn Sherry “We run trips to Belfast markets and the Christmas market there, to the Titanic Quarter and to Derry for Halloween which is a growing event there,” says Finance Manager Eamonn Sherry. “Demand is good because of the currency movement and passenger numbers are up. “It’s also up on trips into mainland UK. But we do a lot of third-party tours for other trip organisers billed in Euros and it is hard to get the per-day rates we want from clients paying with devalued sterling. We do two high-profile trips, to Cheltenham and the Grand National at Aintree. Cheltenham went ahead but we had to pull Aintree.”

Somewhat more surprising and indeed more alarming on the long term was what Eamonn had to say about scheduled services. “We run commuter coaches from the North-east – Dundalk, Drogheda, Bettystown – into Dublin and things have been quite good. After all, 42% of the country’s economic activity is in Greater Dublin and that is hardly going to change soon. So we were predicting growth of 6-7%. What we are getting is more like 3% and to me that is pointing straight at an economic slowdown. When’s the last time you heard of three or four hundred new jobs in Dublin?  To me, it seems clear that the general uncertainty relating to Brexit has already begun to affect the overall rate of economic growth.

Because of the uncertainty, the company cannot undertake the long-term planning that it otherwise should be doing. “Whatever sort of border we get, it won’t be an open one like it is now. At the moment the cross-border commuter flows are north to south. If we get customs checks or any other kind of checks, if we get any more divergence of tax systems or less favourable treatment of border workers who already have difficulties, there will be a negative impact on commuter flows.

“We can’t resume long-term planning until we get sight of the final outcome of this thing, what things will look like between us and the UK including the north.”

He pauses to think for a few moments, and then picks his words with care. “There is a possibility – just a possibility for now – that we will be effectively forced to set up operations in Britain in order to hold a place in the UK market. There are all sorts of things to be taken into account – tax treatment which is generally beneficial in the UK, diesel duty, simple practicalities of taking on employees there. We are talking about some sort of parallel operation rather than a separate one. We can’t know any of that before we see the final deal, however long that takes. But if that is what the business requires, that is what must be considered.”

The  Frontline Project was carried out by Brexit Border Blog on behalf of the British-Irish Chamber of Commerce and Chambers Ireland