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Shellfish farmers blast plans for post-Brexit open border in Ireland as 'deluded'

Oyster farmer and owner of Killowen Shellfish, Darren Cunningham has ridiculed the open border plan (PA Images)

Plans for an open border between Northern Ireland and the Republic are “utterly deluded”, shellfish farmers say.

The threat of dissident republican terrorism at checkpoints, delays to cargoes of delicate seed stock and live produce, and the potential for expensive trade tariffs are playing on the minds of firms in Northern Ireland.

Some farmers in the North fear trade levies which could be imposed on exporters in the event of a hard Brexit could add 20%-30% to the price of oysters – with businesses in the Republic trading for free.

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Darren Cunningham, who runs Killowen Shellfish on the shores of Carlingford Lough in Co Down, said he just could not see the post-Brexit open border plan outlined earlier this week working.

“It just can’t be done unless they go and look in the back of every lorry, the way it was in the past,” he said.

Darren Cunningham fears post-Brexit tariffs could decimate the shellfish industry (PA Images)

“And I remember those days. Unless they do that it’s a lot of old rubbish.

“Sure, you could have three or four old pallets out the back to say it’s one thing and a truck full of something else. And they think they can do all this with a few cameras in the sky?”

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Carlingford is regarded as one of the most pristine shellfish producing regions in Ireland. More than 1,000 hectares is farmed.

It is a somewhat disputed territory with both Dublin and London claiming ownership of the lough.

In Northern Ireland last year, 3,438 tonnes of shellfish worth about £4.3m was produced.

In the Republic, that figure was 26,218 tonnes worth 56m euro. Some 4,450 tonnes of oysters and mussels worth almost 7 million euro are harvested from Carlingford. Hundreds of people are employed north and south.

Killowen Shellfish sells 30 to 40 tonnes of oysters every year to France and Holland and Cunningham remains unconvinced of a solution.

“I think they are completely and utterly deluded,” he said. “I can’t see any positive outcome of Brexit for the UK in general and it’s especially going to hurt us here (in Northern Ireland).”

Brothers John and Mark Doran, of Cahir Linn Oysters, warned expensive oyster seed coming into Ireland and valuable cargo for export is under threat of being wiped out if delayed at ports for as little as a day.

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John Doran said: “We are not dealing with tins of beans going across Europe. We are a niche product.”

The Dorans, in their first year of business, have 7.5 million oysters in beds and hopes of a harvest in 2019 – a nerve wracking coincidence as their timetable runs alongside Brexit.

Mark Doran raised concerns about moving shellfish north-south across the lough and vice versa to avoid predation or disease.

He said: “At the minute we have a paper trail. We tell the authorities what we’re going to move – that is as frictionless as it gets.

“There’s no definitive line that north is north and south is south. Where is the border? It’s a constitutional issue.”