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Brexit – Opportunity has started to knock

Link Blog | February 10, 2017

Opportunity Has Started to Knock

I must admit I find those ubiquitous “Keep Calm and Carry On” memes irritating at best, but given the events which have unfolded since Britain voted to leave the EU, I might not object to them being plastered on every lamp post in Europe!

“Brexit” came as something of a surprise, though not a total shock as polls had swung wildly in the lead up to the referendum. The mass media and various commentators initially reported the fallout with a more then a hint of hysteria, however, more recently events have taken on the air of a phoney war. In the 8 months that have passed since the vote, Britain has still not formally decided to leave the EU, and though negotiating teams have been assembled, things are in a holding pattern. Yet, while governments play the waiting game, large international companies are making plans to move. In the last week, Barclays, Standard Chartered and Almac have strongly indicated that they will be moving jobs out of Britain and into Ireland in order to, among other things, “maintain a presence in the EU”. Many more companies are putting together contingency plans for a “Hard Brexit”, and indeed, I have been in contact with British based operations in relation to these plans. Companies want to know what salaries and benefit packages they need to offer staff to attract them to Dublin, what transport links are like here, and what the availability of commercial and residential property is.

Opportunity is knocking for us, but are we prepared to realise the potential? Dublin is not the only big city that Brexit averse companies are evaluating as a potential new home. Paris, Frankfurt and Amsterdam are all laying out the red carpet for these same companies, so we must make ourselves as attractive a location as possible to do business. We have a highly educated workforce, we are the only English speaking country (firmly!) in the EU and we have a favourable tax environment. However, we need to do better in terms of providing the office space, homes, and top class public transport infrastructure that will attract investment and workers to our country. To this end, the rumours that the construction of Metro North may be brought forward to 2019 and the reality that the Luas link up is finally here are welcome, but we simply have to do more in this area and particularly the area of housing to make sure Dublin and Ireland aren’t overlooked. What’s more, we need to be quick about it, because there are literally tens of thousands of well paid jobs at stake.

What the referendum result made clear is that making predictions is a tricky business. If and when Britain does leave the EU there will still be challenges for Ireland in terms of remaining competitive, however, we can’t legislate for what will happen, so we must deal with what we do know. Brexit equals uncertainty and uncertainty is not good for business. Ireland needs to move quickly to make sure we are an attractive place to do business, and we shouldn’t be afraid to be vocal when looking to attract jobs here.

The next two years will be important and eventful. Our government, state bodies (especially the IDA) and our people should be smart about how we react, but more importantly we should be proactive. As with all disruptive events, those who come out on top are the ones who stay calm and think clearly. Let’s keep calm and grasp our opportunities!

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