Location, Location, Location, of course but sometimes timing and attitude helps too. As we finally emerge from the darkness of our Covid year, Ireland finds itself in a unique economic and geopolitical position which has been precipitated by forces outside of its control rather than a grand diplomatic vision conceived in Leinster House. Three big events have put Ireland back in the spotlight:
- The election of Joe Biden, the most pro Ireland President since JFK, who is revered in portraits alongside the Pope and the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the more traditional Irish households and has already shown his colours in upholding the primacy of the Good Friday Agreement over Brexit through the NI protocol.
- The UK’s decision to leave the European single market and customs union and withdraw from many of the treaties effectively isolates the UK from the trading block and leaves Ireland as the only English speaking member of the EU and Northern Ireland uniquely placed as having a foot in both EU and UK regimes
- The economic resilience of smaller nations like Ireland to the worst effects of the pandemic thanks to their transformation to digital and high value knowledge sectors that can operate remotely and have thrived and accelerated through the crisis
US investment in Ireland continues to surpass expectations with the recent announcement by Stripe creating 1000 jobs adding to a who’s who of the tech, social media and ecommerce giants already here. The UK has historically been Ireland’s biggest competitor for US (and increasingly Asia) originated Regional HQs with a small internal market but with competitive corporate tax, skills and attractive for relocation of international executives. The UK was by far the first choice of venture backed start-ups and scaling SMES with its attractive ecosystem, significant internal market and access to Europe. Ireland is now very well placed to displace some of the EU market seeking investors, and can also offer Northern Ireland access to UK and EU markets. Ireland has the opportunity to become the Hong Kong to China axis for international firms who value the anglo approach to regulation and business, and need to retain access to EU.
This unusual constellation of stars does not happen very often and it will be critical, as we celebrate St Patricks day to recognise and seize the opportunity, while also being sensitive to long-standing political, historical and cultural ties to Britain and the rest of Europe. Although it is potentially attractive to become the 51st State in the Union, Irelands fortunes will be better served by continued neutrality and its high standing within Europe.