More than 100 years ago, the saying “Britain’s difficulty is Ireland’s opportunity” had much currency as our then rulers fought a bitter, long war in Europe while the independence movement grew apace on this island, writes Conor Kane.
Who could have predicted — even 18 months ago — that such a maxim could become relevant again, although this time there’s no pleasure to take at the UK’s Brexit-begat problems, such are the difficulties they could present on a wider scale for Ireland and the rest of Europe.
And yet, there’s no doubt that there are opportunities for Ireland, and others, to benefit from Brexit. We might not have won the vote to secure the European banking or medicine authorities recently, but gaps are still opening in the market.
And this coincides with an upsurge in job creation all over Ireland which has us nearing the revered status of “full employment”. Dublin has gained a lot of quality jobs as multinational tech giants like Google, Facebook and Amazon compete for prime office real estate in a large population centre.
However, situations such as the housing crisis in our capital mean employers must also look elsewhere. The south east, with its ever-improving infrastructure network, educated population thanks to the presence of cutting-edge third-level institutions, and relatively affordable office and living space, is a classic example of a beneficiary.
Throughout all regions in Ireland, the broader health sector, for instance, has been exploding in the last couple of years, both in the fields of research and development and manufacturing. The south east is certainly a case in point.
Waterford city, Wexford, Clonmel, and Kilkenny all enjoy significant levels of employment across the health area as the likes of American-headquartered multinationals recognise the talents, education and flexibility of the local populace.
Larger job announcements in the south east since 2015 have included those in health manufacturing such as NuVasive, Nypro Healthcare, West Pharma, Bausch & Lomb, and MSD.
Other sectors thriving in the region are financial services (KBC Bank, Zurich, Sun Life Financial); ICT (Netwatch, ThreeCare, Evros, Cipher Techs Inc), as well as general services (Prim-Ed Publishing, Lites Group, Agora Publishing).
Very recently, Kilkenny received a major shot in the arm with two companies in the financial services sphere announcing a total of 130 new jobs between them; Taxback International is adding 80 employees locally to its existing worldwide payroll of 1,200 employees; and Carne which is creating a centre of excellence in Kilkenny which will eventually have 50 highly-educated staff for its international fund management solutions business.
It was at the latter announcement that Carne’s founder pointed out the level of opportunity that exists in this sector because of Brexit, with UK-based companies aiming to “future-proof” their operations in a bid to maintain trade into continental Europe.
“We’re working with a lot of them to come up with solutions,” said Carne’s John Donohoe. “Some of them will set up in Ireland themselves but a lot of them will decide to use Carne as their solution going forward.”
Irish-based global provider of “fund management company solutions to the asset management industry,” Carne, currently employs 150 people in a number of countries and is recruiting 50 more at its new centre of excellence in Kilkenny city.
The positions will be in the areas of regulatory compliance and risk management and will be technology-centred and Carne are looking for graduates and people with experience of this sector to boost its staff profile, according to founder and CEO John Donohoe.
Asked at the jobs announcement about the challenges or opportunities presented by Brexit, Mr Donohoe said: “A lot of our UK clients are looking for Brexit solutions to future-proof them so they can continue to sell their products into Europe, so we’re working with a lot of them to come up with solutions. Some of them will set up in Ireland themselves but a lot of them will decide to use Carne as their solution going forward.”
A key point made by John Donohoe, who founded Carne in 2004 and now sees the company employing 150 people in Ireland, London, New York, Chicago, the Channel Islands, Switzerland, and Luxembourg, was that “the talent that’s available in the region” is the main reason Kilkenny was chosen for the new base.
The approach of Brexit “presents opportunity for Ireland, and Carne is scaling up in part to ensure it is sufficiently prepared to meet market demands dictated by Brexit,” he pointed out.
CEO of Enterprise Ireland, Julie Sinnamon, said Ireland now has a “signifcant presence” in the international financial services industry: “Enterprise Ireland is committed to working with Irish companies with global ambition in this sector, providing innovation supports and helping to grow their businesses in overseas markets.”
It’s good news for regional job growth, with the likes of Carne leading the way. “Choosing regional locations as part of expansion plans allows businesses to access a wider pool of talent and creates jobs locally,” she added.
This point was echoed by several government ministers who attended the Carne jobs announcement, with the Minister of State for Financial services Michael D’Arcy pointing to the 90,000 jobs located in Ireland in the financial services industry, spread around the country and not just “on the docks or by the river in Dublin”.
While there may be concern globally right now about different jobs being replaced by automation, that wasn’t the case in this sector, the minister said. “What Carne do for financial services and fund management really hits it on the head. They join the dots.”
Michael D’Arcy referred to the “huge growth” in Kilkenny in recent years, “with an influx of impressive businesses establishing a presence in the county, including in the area of financial services. Given the availability of talent and its proximity to Dublin and other key Irish cities, it is no surprise that the south east was the location of choice for Carne when it came to setting up its new office”.
Meanwhile, the minister of state for trade and employment as well as the EU digital single market and data protection, Pat Breen, said all of the jobs created will have “a positive knock-on effect” for the wider community in Kilkenny and throughout the region. “A key priority of the Government, through our Regional Action Plan for Jobs, is to create jobs across all the regions of Ireland,” Mr Breen said.
This priority was accentuated early in the decade when Waterford city, in particular, was hit by a high number of high profile job losses, prompting the government to establish the south east jobs task force to replace the likes of TalkTalk and others who had just pulled out with the loss of hundreds of well-paying positions.
That was the nadir for the region, it has been up and up all the way since then.