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IDA boss: Brexit uncertainty may mean firms leave UK

By Colm Kelpie

The head of the Republic's economic development agency has said uncertainty around a Brexit means international companies may leave the UK for the Republic.

Martin Shanahan, the chief executive of the IDA in Dublin - the counterpart of Invest NI in Northern Ireland - said there was "uncertainty" among foreign direct investors in the UK about how they would service the European market in the event of a Brexit.

And he said IDA's conversations with companies had "increased and heightened" because of the uncertainty around a Brexit.

"Certainly, even in the week prior to last week, I met with some financial services companies, and they are absolutely considering their 'what if' scenarios and if there is a leave vote, and companies have to do something to mitigate against that, some of that investment may come to Ireland."

Brexit was coming up in conversations about attracting investment to the Republic, he said. "We're in discussions with companies about future investments and Brexit is part of that context."

He revealed the agency moved its European director from Germany to London last September, but did not openly say it was as a result of the impending vote.

"We are keenly aware of the opportunity," he said. "We are keenly aware of the Brexit context and all of our efforts reflect that. So we are extremely active in the UK market."

He said the agency has had a lot of interest from the financial services sector and that it had had some significant wins in the sector but that they were unrelated to Brexit.

"When I say we are active all the time, we are, but the context has changed. We are clearly not blind to the context. There are more reasons for both investors who are located in the UK and potential investors coming into Europe to look at Ireland than there was before," he said.

But he added: "Brexit alone, while it's a significant issue, it's not going to be a panacea or a tap."

As the head of the state agency tasked with boosting foreign direct investment to the Republic, Mr Shanahan's primary role is to ensure a continued inward flow of foreign companies and employment growth.

And he said that mixing with company chiefs was "one of the nice things" about the role.

As well as Apple boss Tim Cook, he has met Jason Ma (above), the head of Chinese online retailer Alibaba, and Omar Ishrak, the head of Medtronic. Apple is one of the Republic's most important foreign direct investors, and employs around 5,000 people.

But Mr Shanahan stressed that Cook has signalled Apple is here to stay, whatever verdict comes from Europe regarding its tax arrangements with Ireland.

The European Commission is probing Apple and other multinationals to determine whether or not they benefited from unfair and impermissible tax arrangements in countries including Ireland.

Mr Shanahan said: "The company's been clear, there has been no state aid. The (Irish) Government is clear, there's been no state aid," he said.

He added: "Tim Cook was here late last year... (and he) said regardless of the outcome of any investigation, that Apple was committed to Ireland." Last week Business Telegraph reported fears that Northern Ireland could lose out on foreign direct investment. Ex-Allstate boss Bro McFerran warned there was "very definitely" a risk of firms withdrawing.

Belfast Telegraph