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Brexit: Long-term thinking required to counter the difficulties of leaving the EU: Norbrook boss

By Margaret Canning

The boss of one of Northern Ireland's biggest companies, which employs hundreds of people from the Republic, has said there is "no short-term fix" to the problems posed by Brexit.

Liam Nagle, the chief executive of veterinary pharmaceutical firm Norbrook, addressed the Newry Chamber of Commerce Gala Dinner.

Businesses in the Co Down city close to the border have expressed nervousness about the future of their trading relationship with the Republic, with one businessman telling the Belfast Telegraph that he could see "no silver lining".

But Mr Nagle, who leads a company with around 2,152 staff and a turnover of £216m, said it was determined to look ahead.

"Norbrook has a clear plan and very focused, we are investing, we're customer-focused and we're on a long journey transitioning to the next generation," he added. "On Brexit, we need political leadership - there is no short-term fix, but we have a plan in Norbrook and we will stay focused on it."

Around 80% of Norbrook's sales come from outside the UK and Ireland, while EU member states account for around £50m in annual sales.

Overall, it trades in 120 countries on five continents - and is focusing on companion animals as a growing market sector.

Mr Nagle told chamber members at Wednesday night's dinner at Newry's Canal Court hotel that around 1,700 people were working for Norbrook in the city - with one staff member marking 36 years in the business and more than 90 recently honoured for over two decades' service.

Ahead of the referendum, he told the Belfast Telegraph that the company would prefer a Remain vote, but said it would keep its headquarters in Newry whatever the outcome. And he added at the time that its local facilities were too long-established to move them out of the city.

Mr Nagle succeeded Lord Ballyedmond as chief of Norbrook after the company founder, also known as Eddie Haughey, was killed in a helicopter crash in England in 2014.

Despite the business's huge growth, it remains in the control of Lord Ballyedmond's widow Lady Ballyedmond and their sons. Mr Nagel told the Newry Chamber dinner: "Family businesses are quite different - you are close to the shareholder unlike a plc, and that is a very personal experience."

At a chamber event ahead of the referendum, 100% of members indicated they were pro-Remain. Paul Vallely, co-founder of retailer The Rug House, said he could see "no silver lining" at the prospect of Brexit. "All businesses in Newry just seem to be shell-shocked," he added "The dust will take years to settle and it's a big struggle.

"We ourselves are a net importer since we import more than we export, so this is very bad for us."

But Paul McKenna, head of mac-interiors, which sources most of its work in the Republic, said Brexit could bring opportunities for Northern Ireland.

Belfast Telegraph