Irish leave picket lines to shop across border

DUBLIN (Reuters) - Irish workers caused traffic jams on Tuesday as hundreds abandoned picket lines to make use of a one-day public sector strike to do some Christmas shopping in the cheaper stores across the border in Northern Ireland.

The exodus of shoppers will be an embarrassment for unions which said up to 250,000 teachers, nurses and other public sector workers were taking part in the strike against the plans of the government in Dublin to cut their pay.

The managers of shopping centres on the UK side of the border said business was like at weekend or pre-Christmas peaks.

“(It) is a direct result of the day of (strike) action,” said Peter Murray, manager of the Buttercrane shopping centre in Newry, just north of the border on the main Dublin-Belfast road.

Shoppers from the Republic of Ireland have caused a mini-boom in places like Newry, cheaper due to the weakness of sterling against the euro, lower UK value-added-tax (VAT) and rents, while adding to the woes of the former “Celtic Tiger” economy.

“There are no strike specials,” Murray added on Irish public radio RTE, which said there were 5-mile (8-km) queues into Newry.

Reporting by Andras Gergely and Padraic Halpin; Editing by Janet Lawrence