T’S STRESSFUL not knowing how Brexit and any border restrictions will impact on the business and then, of course, there’s the pressure in trying to find new markets.”
So, says Des Goldrick, the owner of the Carlingford Brewing Company. He believes that small businesses such as his, which is exposed to Brexit, urgently need help in finding new markets.
“To be honest, I think SMEs need everything to calm down for a while, so we can get our heads around what is, and could happen, with Brexit”, he said.
The cross-border trade market is worth €3.1bn annually and is the first export market for 74pc of Irish business. One of the targeted aims of Project Ireland 2040 is to diversify trade from the UK to new markets.
“I think I’ve a great business here, and it’s proved to be very popular with northern stag and hen parties, as well as corporate work groups”, said Goldrick, “But I need help to market my business in France, Belgium or Germany. On a practical level, I don’t think I’d even know where to start.”
Francis Carroll, the owner of the Four Seasons Hotels in Carlingford and Monaghan and the Imperial Hotel in Dundalk, also believes that better marketing of the north- east is vital to combat the fallout from Brexit.
“It’s all about the Wild Atlantic Way, and that’s great, but we’ve got the ancient north- east and there needs to be more done to market this region. Think about the great tales of Cuchulainn and the Brown Bull of Cooley, there’s so much that could be done to market this area, on a European and international basis,” said Carroll.
“It wasn’t done before because Dundalk and the border area had a bad name. But people have been working across the border very successfully for the last 15 to 20 years, and suddenly Brexit is bringing the border back, and everything is unclear.
“Any future border restrictions will make the area harder to market, which makes it harder for business, particularly the hotel business”, he added.
Thomas McEvoy, head of enterprise at the Louth Local Enterprise Office (LEO), said LEOs are encouraging clients to mobilise now and prepare for Brexit.
He said the objective of Enterprise Ireland and LEOs, in the context of Project Ireland 2040, was to strengthen business for any kind of Brexit.
“Project 2040 recognises the Drogheda, Dundalk Newry corridor as an economic centre of growth and that it has the largest population catchment in the country, outside of Dublin,” he said.
“It is hoped that encouraging the growth of this area as an economic centre will help drive the economy along the border and act as a counterweight to Brexit.”
McEvoy said the LEOs were focused on helping enterprise to combat Brexit in four specific ways.
“We are helping companies to look at ways they can become more competitive, more innovative, we’re helping to develop new markets and looking at finances, and how to mitigate against currency fluctuations,” he said.
As a start-up business, Des Goldrick said the Louth LEO had been “absolutely fantastic” to him.
“I don’t think I’d be here without Louth LEO, but now, with Brexit, we need someone to go out on behalf of SMEs and map out the places where new opportunities exists. I can sell my business, but in terms of new markets, I need guidance as to where to do it,” he said.
For Francis Carroll, he said it was difficult to prepare for Brexit when it was “all up in the air”.
“No one knows yet what’s happening, and until we know for definite, it’s hard to prepare. How can you prepare? Take us, as a hotel group. We provide food, so, for example, chicken: there are clear EU rules and regulations on chicken. Post-Brexit, what will the rules and regulations be for chicken? Will there be a mix of EU and UK rules? Will they be different? Where will we have to get our chicken? We don’t know. It’s all very vague,” he said.
Carroll said the hope was that the major umbrella groups, such as Enterprise Ireland, Failte Ireland, the IDA and others would resolve these issues on an all-Ireland basis so that individuals wouldn’t have to.
Paddy Malone, of Malone & Co Chartered Accountants and PRO of Dundalk Chamber of Commerce, has noticed that his clients have been thinking about where they will position themselves post-Brexit.
“Businesses are definitely looking for information and assessing what they need to do, and I’d say that there’s an awareness that SMEs may need to keep a foot on both sides of the border,” he said.
In that context, the fact Project Ireland 2040 and the