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Walk-out hands Ireland a massive tech advantage

By Adrian Weckler Reporting from Dublin

Published 28/06/2016

Adrian Weckler
Adrian Weckler

In Ireland, most of us would have preferred Britain to stay in the European Union. But the walk-out leaves Ireland with a historic opportunity to corner the European market in digital-technology investment. With ambition and resolve, we can clean up in the next 24 months.

And it's more than being the only English-speaking, overtly pro-American country left in the EU, or our low-tax base. Here are three specific reasons why Ireland can reach the next level in tech.

1 Make-or-break data laws

Utter the phrase 'data protection' and some business analysts will glaze over. But for big business, international data protection movements are tier-one issues.

Whether it's the demise of 'Safe Harbour', the struggle of 'Privacy Shield' or increasingly powerful decisions from the European Court Of Justice, few big decisions are now made by cloud giants without considering the area. In this, Ireland has a huge new advantage over the UK.

By walking out on the EU, Britain will now have to pass severe tests on whether we should be allowed transfer data there. In particular, it will face scrutiny as to whether its security agencies routinely engage in mass surveillance of communications. We know they do this through GCHQ. So now Britain faces scaling back its security services (how likely post-Brexit?) or restrictions from the EU on transferring data.

2 Access to high-level staff in an English-speaking EU country

When the sales software multinational Hubspot looked at where to locate its European headquarters, the choice was Dublin or London.

"EU membership opens things up so enough people from Europe can come in to fill gaps," Hubspot founder Brian Halligan told me. "Now recruitment is really competitive, we can get people from other countries coming here. This is really good for Ireland."

Halligan, like other tech CEOs, isn't crazy about setting up its headquarters outside the EU.

For Britain there may now be no more easy fluidity with hot developers or product managers from Stockholm, Berlin or Paris. If there's one issue anti-EU campaigners have seized on, it's immigration control. Even if the UK has special exceptions for highly-skilled workers, there's no guarantee the EU will reciprocate.

3 A new tier of EU political influence

There are some huge decisions, critical to tech firms, on the legislative horizon in the EU. From privacy, ecommerce and copyright law to the threat of standardised taxes for tech-centric industries, Europe could make or break the prospects of some tech companies.

That leaves Ireland in a much more powerful position as an instrument of influence with policy-setters in the world's second-most important market.

For start-ups, it won't matter. But for globally-minded tech firms such as Apple, Google and Airbnb, Ireland might become a far more important place to be seen and heard.

We know that these firms have lobbied the Irish government in recent years on certain issues, but it has largely been a sporadic, piecemeal process. That will surely be stepped up post-Brexit.

Belfast Telegraph

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