Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness has hit out at the Dublin government for describing cross-border shoppers as “unpatriotic”.
Mr McGuinness made his comments before a meeting of the North-South Ministerial Council in Derry last weekend.
An extraordinary price differential currently exists between stores in the 26 Counties and those north of the border in the Six Counties, with prices an average of 50% higher in the 26 Counties.
A decline in the value of British currency has exacerabated the sitution in recent months, particularly at Christmas, when traffic jams built up on roads crossing the border.
An all-party group from the Dublin parliament visited Dundalk this week to see the effects of the shopping exodus on the town, where Superquinn recently announced it was closing its store.
But Mr McGuinness took Dublin’s Minister for Finance, Brian Lenihan, and Dublin’s Lord Mayor Eibhlin Byrne to task for their “unpatriotic” jibes.
“I think there are a number of very tremendous evils in our society. One is racism, the other is sectarianism and I think an evil also is partitionism,” Mr McGuinness said.
“What we need to recognise is that there is a free will of the people.
“For example whenever I heard the lord mayor of Dublin suggesting that it was unpatriotic of people to go to Newry to shop I said to myself how will this go down with people in Dublin?
“In fact it probably boosted the numbers coming north.”
Meanwhile, a recent survey by the National Consumer Agency found that the apparent greed of retailers in the South was the greatest factor in the price differences between the two parts of Ireland.
NCA chief executive Ann Fitzgerald said its research also showed that retailers had made huge efforts to disguise or scratch out the sterling price where this appeared on goods imported from Britain.
Various excuses had been offered. It was always “someone else’s fault”, she said. The first excuse related to hedging costs on advance purchases, but she said this did not “wash” anymore.
Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Mary Coughlan called on retailers to explain the price differentials between North and South. “While clearly the cost environment in the South is having some impact on retail prices, it does not explain the reality of the magnitude of the North-South price differentials that continue to exist.”