FALLOUT from the Northern Ireland Protocol is having a devastating impact on one local business.
Martin Gallen whose bespoke Uilleann pipes business is being badly affected by the protocol described it as ‘Monty Python but not funny’.
“The problem is simply that my English suppliers just don’t want to deal with Ireland anymore. Almost all the materials I use, like wood, polish and metals, come from England but the hassle of sending those materials to me is becoming far too great. Larger businesses, which have the capacity and money to implement the changes, are fine. However, it’s people like my supplier, and by extension me, getting bogged by red tape.
“For instance, one of the main components of the pipes is wood and I use African Blackwood, which gets imported from Africa to England and then exported from England to here. The importation and exportation licences required take a long time and must be applied for in advance. I still have no word on whether the licences I need to get the wood from England have been granted and won’t for three months.
“Furthermore, African Blackwood is protected under CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species), further complicating things. I have an exemption which allows me to bring in up to ten kilos which wasn’t an issue pre-Brexit. That was usually enough to keep me going with the orders. It now becomes an issue because of the costly paperwork and import licences required. I can’t afford to bring in ten kilos every time I need it, as every shipment will require the same paperwork. I may be forced to bring in enough wood to keep me going for a couple of years, and that’s if I can find someone willing to import that amount not to mention the fact it breaks my exemption with CITES.
“Orders have gone down as a result and my business has really been hurt, but it is beginning to slowly return.”
Martin says going with any other suppliers or materials is also a non-starter.
“The same supplier goes throughout the EU and as for materials, I pride myself in only using the best and anything else wouldn’t do for myself or my customers. The native wood doesn’t have the density required.”
Outside of his own troubles, Martin says that Brexit and Covid has had a damning effect on businesses in Strabane in general.
“Local manufacturing is on its knees. I’ve spoken with other Strabane businessmen who say their supply chains have also broken down. We have done everything asked of us in terms of Covid, some struggling to reopen throughout the pandemic, only to have the protocol set us back further.”
Asked what the solution to the impasse is, Martin says, “The simplest thing for the British government to do is to unify Ireland. This gets rid of the protocol and cutting us off from Britain would make life easier as Westminster doesn’t seem to care.”