The Minister of Finance has bluntly told a gathering of local business owners that the “management” of Brexit for the Irish economy is focused on “damage limitation”.
Minister Paschal Donohoe made the comments at the first in a series of workshops dealing with Customs procedures at Cootehill's Errigal Hotel last Monday.
Almost 30 attended the one-day seminar covering export and import procedures that apply when trading with countries outside the customs union and single market, as well as how tariffs work and at the classification of goods being shipped.
“It is very unlikely that into the future we will have the status quo that we know surviving in its current form,” said Minister Donohoe, who was joined at the event by Minister for Business Heather Humphreys, Cavan Cathaoirleach Madeleine Argue, and Marcella Rudden from the Local Enterprise Office.
The sessions are being facilitated by LEOs around the country, with information delivered by customs experts from business advisory and consultancy firm BDO.
Minister Donohoe conceded that Brexit will pose challenges for businesses but said it would also bring opportunities and he urged more businesses to become Brexit ready as the deadline for securing a deal on Brexit draws closer.
“It's so important with the imminence of Brexit that you make sure that you have the right type of change within your business, and appreciate the kind of challenge Brexit will bring,” he advised
Present at the workshop was Graham Tully of Sean Tully Animal Feeds outside Cavan Town.
The business manufactures ruminant and pig compound feeds and imports an estimated 80% of its raw materials from the UK at present. Brexit therefore presents a significant challenge. “It's a big deal for us. There is a big challenge and a hard Brexit is bad news.”
Mr Tully is hopeful that a deal on Brexit can be done “sooner rather than later”.
“The practicality of filling out forms, [the workshop] has been quite valuable in that we're going to have to engage with software or third party providers to get us over the initial hump and make sure the paperwork is in place to get the lorries into the country,” added Mr Tully.
Mary Renihan of Bailieborough-based Renihan Refrigeration was also in attendance. For the past 30 years, Renihan Refrigeration has been supplying, installing and servicing cutting-edge refrigeration equipment, including an exceptional range of bulk milk tanks to the agri sector.
Much of their business sells across the Border, and Ms Renihan says the challenges facing them are typical of the majority of SMEs in the region, particularly feeding into the agri-sector.
“It's very complicated. The paperwork is one thing, and it will be for a long time to come,” says Mrs Renihan, who is meanwhile looking for a delay on Brexit if only “to get our heads around it. There is a lot to take on in a short space of time.”
However, as Minister Donohoe alluded to, there will be opportunities.
Denise Walsh acts on behalf of a number of businesses across a variety of roles. She expects to be busier than ever as a result of Brexit.
“The best outcome would be [Brexit] didn't happen at all, but ultimately there is a need now for businesses to prepare for the future. As Minister Donohoe says, it's the implications arising from that that a lot of businesses need to begin dealing with regardless of what form it will take.
“I think anyone who has any knowledge is well positioned, but we do need to help one another. That will be crucial, businesses sticking together,” says Ms Walsh.
The 'Prepare your Business for Customs' workshops will also take place in Cork, Dublin and Portlaoise in the coming days, before being rolled out elsewhere around the country.