Ireland: our nearest EU neighbour

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With £1.6 billion of exports in 2019, not only is Ireland Wales’ closest EU neighbour, but it’s also Wales’ fourth largest export market. Both Celtic countries share deep historic, social, and cultural links. It’s indeed believed that St Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, was born in Wales. Even our head office, at Capital, is built on a part of Cardiff that used to be known as Little Ireland!

Everyone knows that Ireland is famous for Guinness, and Dublin’s Temple Bar being great craic during the Six Nations, but Ireland is a lot more than that. Ireland is famous for producing poets, playwrights, and musicians.  There have been four Irish winners of the Nobel Prize in Literature: William Butler Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, Samuel Beckett, and Seamus Heaney. This list doesn’t include the likes of James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, and Bram Stoker. It’s also little known that Temple Bar in Dublin is where Handel’s Messiah was first performed in 1742.

With a population of 6.7 million (Ireland 4.9 million and Northern Ireland 1.8 million), Ireland is a small island which punches well above its weight on the global stage. This population is still well below the pre-famine population, which saw millions of Irish people emigrate to Britain, the USA and farther afield. This mass migration has led to a global diaspora estimated to 50-70 million claiming Irish heritage. Its influence, especially in the USA, is of huge benefit to Ireland on the global stage. The Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) has an annual invitation to the Whitehouse on St Patrick’s Day and President Elect Joe Biden is a very proud Irish American, who speaks regularly of his fondness for Ireland.

As the UK leaves the EU, this close relationship with the USA, and the support which the EU has given Ireland during the Brexit process, will see Ireland heavily involved in trade discussions between the EU and the USA. The relationship will also have an impact on any trade deal between the UK and the USA.  Not only is there a fondness in the USA for Ireland, but Ireland is also the European HQ for several of America’s largest companies including Google, Facebook, Pfizer, Intel, Apple, and Microsoft to name but a few. The USA will not agree a deal with the UK that is detrimental to the Irish economy which would have ramifications for some of the USA’s biggest companies.

Ireland’s relationship with the UK has been a turbulent one since Ireland’s independence, but there is strong cooperation between both countries. There is a common travel area which predates EU membership, and which will survive post Brexit. Citizens of both countries can work, live, learn, and access healthcare and social welfare as if they are citizens of the other country. Cross border political bodies like the British Irish-Parliamentary Assembly and the British-Irish Council promote co-operation between political institutions and facilitate consultation between the two countries.

The UK, and Wales in particular, is extremely important for Ireland’s trade with the rest of Europe – and reversely, Wales should look to Ireland as an example of how a small country engages effectively with the rest of the world. There is a high level of foreign direct investment in Ireland and the economy focuses on sectors which align nicely with the areas that the Welsh economy can grow internationally – such as technology, financial services, life sciences and agriculture.

It’s important to remember all of this in the context that it is still less than 100 years since Ireland seceded from the UK and became the Irish Free State. This June, Ireland was elected to the UN Security Council for 2021 and 2022. This is something which the country is very proud of, having campaigned on the themes of partnership, empathy and independence. It is also quite poignant that this term as a member of the security council aligns with the centenary celebrations of independence.

The recent re-opening of the Irish Consulate in Cardiff and the Welsh office within the British embassy in Dublin highlight the desire of both countries to strengthen cultural and economic ties. Yes, there will be some initial complications from 1 January 2021 but the common travel area, and the fact that both countries have overcome a lot more in their complicated past, will ensure that Brexit has a limited impact on their relationship.

So, Welsh businesses looking for a European base should look no further than Ireland. Not only does it have almost the same legal system as England & Wales, a favourable corporation tax rate, and a light touch regulatory regime. It’s also an open and welcoming English-speaking country, with a young, highly educated workforce and a high quality of life.