Comment: Building bridges between Scotland and Ireland

This week, Ireland's minister for business, enterprise and innovation, Heather Humphreys, is leading Enterprise Ireland's trade mission to Scotland, one that we hope will strengthen economic and business ties between our nations.

Deirdre McPartlin is the UK manager for Enterprise Ireland. Picture: Contributed

As long-standing trading partners, Scotland and the UK represent Ireland’s number one export market, translating to around €7.6 billion (£6.8bn) for Enterprise Ireland’s exporting client companies and 34 per cent of total exports. For Scotland and Ireland, exports in each direction have increased by over 100 per cent since 2012 and in 2017 Irish-Scottish trade exceeded £1.8bn, up by 130 per cent over the last five years. Scotland also benefits from the commitment and ambition of Irish companies, the fourth largest foreign direct investor in Scotland.

So, it’s clear that Scotland and Ireland need each other to grow and sustain our mutual economic success. Shared foundations for business allow us a clear understanding of how to engage with each other, to respond to the requirements of customers and overcome business challenges. Of course, our Celtic roots, heritage, sense of identity and commitment to our environment are other factors that bind us closely together.

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Minister Humphreys’ itinerary this Wednesday and Thursday takes in Glennon Brothers’ state-of-the-art timber facility in Troon, a joint event with SSE at the energy giant’s Offshore Wind Centre of Excellence, a trade dinner at Glasgow City Chamber hosted by the Lord Provost, a visit to the University of Edinburgh and meetings with senior politicians.

There are 56 Irish companies also taking part in the trade mission – companies that are already operating here or are planning to introduce products and services in the region – key sectors include renewable energy, construction, fintech, agriculture and digital technology. Irish companies have demonstrated their resilience during the most recent economic downturn and many have emerged stronger from the experience. We have strengthened our export imprint to the extent that our internationalisation record is now one of the best of any small nation. We want to do an even better job of sharing our know-how and expertise with our main trading partners like Scotland. Scotland itself boasts such an impressive profile when it comes to innovation, it has some of the world’s leading universities and in sectors like financial services, food and drink and technology, it punches well above its weight. We believe that closer collaboration will enable Ireland and Scotland to make an even bigger impression and lead to enhanced economic activity for both.

Organisations like Causeway – the Ireland-Scotland business network – the Scottish-Irish Finance Initiative and our own plans to step up activity in Scotland are promising signs for even greater collaboration in the months and years ahead. We are also encouraged by other recent missions, including earlier this year to the so-called Northern Powerhouse of England, which producing a series of exciting outcomes including plans to open an Enterprise Ireland office in Manchester in 2019.

While we undoubtedly have opportunities ahead, we also share mutual challenges and foremost among these is Brexit which brings a degree of uncertainty and concern for both our countries. Again, this is an area we can work with Scotland on as a new trading relationship between both countries evolves. In an Enterprise Ireland survey of our client companies in May of this year, 85 per cent of respondents are now actively taking Brexit actions, against 38 per cent in September 2017. The survey revealed that more than 50 per cent of firms do not see Brexit as impacting their ability or appetite to invest in their business. Ireland and Scotland share so many emotional, cultural, political and business ties and we hope that this week’s trade mission brings us even closer together.

- Deirdre McPartlin, UK manager, Enterprise Ireland