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Ballymena pregnancy test-maker led by Brexiteer Irwin Armstrong says NI Protocol has helped its exports soar


Irwin Armstrong and Ellen Erskine

Irwin Armstrong and Ellen Erskine

Irwin Armstrong and Ellen Erskine

A Co Antrim maker of pregnancy tests led by a prominent Brexit supporter has said the Northern Ireland Protocol has enabled it to double turnover and hit £4m in exports in 2021.

Irwin Armstrong, the founder of diagnostics company CIGA Healthcare in Ballymena, was one of the few businesspeople here to publicly back the Leave campaign in the run-up to the 2016 EU referendum.

Now Mr Armstrong has said the Protocol, which has maintained Northern Ireland in the EU single market for goods following Brexit, has helped his business expand.

The company, which makes over the counter tests for pregnancy, blood pressure and diabetes under the SURESIGN brand, said it has won new export deals worth £4m around the world.

It has also grown sales to EU and Great Britain wholesalers and retailers.

Those exports are double what was achieved in 2020, chief executive Mr Armstrong said.

However, he said there had been some problems at the start of the year, adding: “We could see difficulties arising in supplies of certain components from China and elsewhere.

“Transportation networks began clogging up and delivery delays brought about by some confusion surrounding the NI Protocol, shortages of containers and a recruitment crisis in the haulage sector meant we were profoundly concerned.

“But the second half of the year saw enough resolutions to these challenges and CIGA Healthcare was able to successfully implement its international marketing strategies and significantly grow the business.”

Staff numbers have grown by seven to reach 32 as a result.

“The quality and diligence of our staff across all sectors of the business has made much of this progress possible and I am very proud of what our small company has achieved in the face of economic instability and uncertainty,” he added.

Mr Armstrong says he attributes the continuing growth of exports to the NI Protocol.

“It may be controversial in some quarters, but I have no doubt that the NI Protocol, despite the issues in importing from Great Britain, has placed the Northern Ireland business community at a distinct advantage in terms of competitivity,” he said.

He said the firm was grateful to economic development agency Invest NI for helping it establish new markets.

He added: “Now is the time for Northern Ireland’s firms to consolidate their positions and fully exploit the advantages of being in both UK and EU single markets because we will soon see an influx of foreign direct investment and the creation of potentially thousands of jobs which will paradoxically make life harder for us as recruiters.”

The Ballymena firm was established in 2005. In 2012, subsidiary CIGA Healthcare LLC was set up as part of the company’s expansion into the American market. CIGA Healthcare now exports to more than 60 countries across the globe.

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