British Irish Chamber of Commerce Conference calls for urgent action on Brexit fears

Ireland does not have to lose out post-Brexit if a national development plan is put in place involving business and community, the former boss of consumer goods giant Unilever has said.

Niall FitzGerald told the annual British Irish Chamber of Commerce Conference in Dublin that Ireland’s position “midway between Singapore and Silicon Valley, with deeply embedded relationships with both the EU and the US” meant there was much opportunity in the wake of Brexit. 

He said co-operation between Ireland and Britain was key, while also retaining Ireland’s relationship with the EU.

Shared research from Ireland and Britain’s educational institutions and leveraging Ireland’s surplus supply of high quality food would provide opportunity, he added.

He said harnessing Britain’s advanced materials and manufacturing and finance expertise with Ireland’s burgeoning creative technology base, and jointly developing energy sources and building on pharma and medical devices was also vital.

Mr FitzGerald said Brexit and other challenges could be overcome if social inequality was addressed by business as well as political leaders.

The patron of the chamber said: “We don’t have to settle for the status quo. We don’t have to allow ourselves to be carried along on a global wave of alienation, hatred and divisiveness.

“Ireland doesn’t have to lose out to the challenges of Brexit, of Trump, of protectionism or to the loss of trust in politics or business.

He said Ireland could become a “unique beacon of openness, diversity and social inclusion” if there was a “clear and compelling national development plan executed through a real partnership between business and the community”.

Mr FitzGerald was chairman and CEO of Unilever from 1996 until 2004. The Sligo native became chairman of Reuters in 2004.

British Irish Chamber president Eamonn Egan told attendees that too much had been achieved in recent years both in terms of economic recovery and the blossoming of the relationship between Ireland and Britain for things to rewind to the past.

“As representatives of businesses that are the heart of British and Irish trade, it is our responsibility to set out to the two governments – in Dublin and in London, what we see as the areas to safeguard and foster during the negotiations surrounding Britain’s exit from the Union.

“In essence, we must look for opportunities but not seek to be opportunistic,” he said, adding a return to border controls would be “unbelievable”.

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