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Euros on the punt-pound border

Euro Ireland
Money changing services are advertised along the Belfast-Dublin road near the border town of Newry, Northern Ireland  

By CNN's Tom Bogdanowicz

LONDONDERRY, Northern Ireland (CNN) -- The United Kingdom may not be in the eurozone, but people here along the Irish border are preparing to accommodate both the euro and the pound.

At one supermarket in Londonderry, or Derry, Northern Ireland, the tills are ready to accept the new single European currency. And workers are training for the euro's arrival, learning to identify a euro note and its value.

The Sainsbury's in Derry -- the last town in the UK before entering the Republic of Ireland in this area -- already accepts Irish punts, so switching to the euro made sense.

"Thirty percent of my trade is actually done in punts, and so the move from punts to euros is very important to me, and we have to be ready for that change," says John Fogden of Sainsbury's.

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Some stores in Derry are hoping to encourage cross-border business by pricing goods in both pounds and euros.

Brendan Duddy, whose pub has been printing receipts in both currencies, has been leading Derry's euro education campaign.

"Basically we've got 6.5 million tourists coming into the Republic of Ireland and we want them to come here and spend their money, and we don't want them to have a problem which currency, we want their cash," says Duddy, of the City Centre Initiative.

Sectarian divisions overshadow many issues in Northern Ireland But whether nationalist or unionist, for shopkeepers business is business. At one shopping centre near the Irish border, 43 out of 45 stores will be accepting euros.

A customer from the Republic of Ireland spells it out: "If they are willing to take the euro well spend the euro. If they're unwilling to take the euro, its their loss." Mildred Garfield, the unionist mayor of Derry, is emphatically pro-euro. She would like to see the euro used officially throughout Northern Ireland alongside sterling.

"It probably would be better if it was legal tender across the whole of Northern Ireland," says Garfield.

That willingness to be flexible on currency issues in the region is widespread.

Just 10 minutes out of Derry is the UK-Irish border. There are no customs, no guards. A road is all that separates the eurozone from sterling country.

There's another twist: At the nearest garage across the border, much if not most of the business is in sterling. About 95 percent of the customers are from Northern Ireland, taking advantage of cheaper fuel, alcohol and tobacco.

So for several weeks there will be three currencies in the till at McKenna's garage.

"At the minute we're completely ready for the euro," says owner Dermot McKenna. "All our cash registers are equipped to deal with euro, sterling and punts until the punt disappears on February 9."

Likewise, customers at local pubs will be receiving change in euros whether they pay in punts, euros or sterling.

The experience of customers and retailers here could prove useful if Britain decides to join the euro. The government has promised to hold a referendum on eurozone membership, but only if several key economic tests are met.




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