Ev­ery cri­sis presents an op­por­tu­nity

Irish Examiner - County - - News - CLLR PA­TRICK GER­ARD MUR­PHY

I’ ve re­cently wel­comed guests from New­port, Rhode Is­land to Cork and been wel­comed to the Jiangsu Prov­ince of the Peo­ple’s Re­pub­lic of China — all in ef­forts to bol­ster County Cork’s stand­ing in­ter­na­tion­ally. Part­ner­ships with other re­gions are a great as­set to Cork but, some­times, our pres­ence on the in­ter­na­tional stage leaves us open to tough sit­u­a­tions. The fail­ure to date of the Brexit ne­go­ti­a­tions, I think, is wor­ry­ing for Cork.

Cork has long prided it­self on its food and tourism of­fer­ings, two of the area’s most likely to be af­fected by a no-deal Brexit. Cur­rently, agri­cul­tural prod­ucts from Cork have a huge mar­ket in the UK. If tariffs are im­posed on these ex­ports, our goods could be priced out of this cru­cial mar­ket. Cork pro­duc­ers have achieved amaz­ing work in build­ing their mar­ket in Bri­tain but, un­for­tu­nately, this leaves them par­tic­u­larly vul­ner­a­ble in the in­stance of a no-deal Brexit.

In the con­text of a nodeal Brexit, these prod­ucts will strug­gle with no ob­vi­ous other mar­kets for them. A study car­ried out be­tween the Depart­ment of Fi­nance and the ESRI found a hard Brexit, with tariffs im­posed on goods and ser­vices go­ing in and out of the UK, would shrink Ire­land’s econ­omy by 3.8%, un­em­ploy­ment would rise by 1.9% and av­er­age wages would fall by 3.6%. In a soft Brexit sce­nario, where Bri­tain re­mains part of the Euro­pean Eco­nomic Area as Nor­way is now, the econ­omy would con­tract by 2.3% and un­em­ploy­ment would rise by 1.2%.

Fig­ures from Tea­gasc show to­tal Ir­ish mer­chan­dise ex­ports in 2014 were val­ued at €92bn, of which al­most €13.6bn were ex­ports to the UK. Ir­ish agri-food ex­ports to the UK make up ap­prox­i­mately one-third of the coun­try’s to­tal mer­chan­dise ex­ports to the UK.

And that’s in the form of beef, dairy prod­ucts and pro­cessed foods. Tea­gasc has es­ti­mated that Brexit could mean a re­duc­tion in the value of Ir­ish agri-food ex­ports of any­thing from €150m (1.5%) to €800m (7.2%) per an­num. Much of this loss could be to County Cork.

The Gover­nor of the Cen­tral Bank has said that Brexit will be neg­a­tive for Ire­land’s econ­omy; how­ever, Ire­land as a global fi­nan­cial cen­tre will grow as a re­sult of Bri­tain leav­ing the bloc. Fifteen of the world’s top 20 banks now have op­er­a­tions in Ire­land as fall­out from Brexit con­tin­ues. More than a dozen Lon­don-based firms have al­ready agreed to set up or ex­pand in Ire­land due to los­ing their EU fi­nan­cial ser­vices pas sport­ing rights.

Un­for­tu­nately, County Cork has barely ben­e­fit­ted from this. Parts of the IDA seem to favour Dublin and with some good rea­sons. We need to ac­cel­er­ate of­fice sup­ply in County Cork.

We have so much to of­fer for­eign in­vestors in terms of a strong work­force, qual­ity of life and a low cost of do­ing busi­ness – our chal­lenge is get­ting this mes­sage out to the world. Our food and tourism in­dus­try could play a big part in this strat­egy if we play our cards right.

On the tourism side, we al­ready saw less Bri­tish tourists this year be­cause of cur­rency and costs here. With the change in Vat in the bud­get for the hos­pi­tal­ity sec­tor, we could see lower num­bers yet. Hope­fully, ini­tia­tives to en­hance our tourism of­fer­ings and ex­pand our tar­get mar­ket to non­na­tive English speak­ers will off­set some of this loss, but we can­not be com­pla­cent.

The Na­tional Bud­get for 2019 was over­shad­owed by Brexit which has been de­scribed as the cri­sis of this gen­er­a­tion. In the bud­get, mea­sures for Brexit took up a lot of po­ten­tial spend­ing. Cork needs to be pri­ori­tised for the new €300 mil­lion Fu­ture Growth Loan Scheme for SMEs and the agri­cul­ture and food sec­tor, the €110 mil­lion for Brexit tar­geted mea­sures, and the €60 mil­lion in cur­rent and cap­i­tal Brexit re­lated sup­ports to im­prove re­silience in the farm sec­tor.

Ev­ery cri­sis presents an op­por­tu­nity, and we need to take ev­ery­one we can – lo­cally, na­tion­ally and in­ter­na­tion­ally. I be­lieve if the peo­ple of Cork are any­thing, we are re­silient.

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