Irish Ambassador for Britain Daniel Mulhall visited the North East yesterday to talk to businesses about growing commercial opportunities between Ireland and the region.
Dozens of high profile business leaders and politicians turned out for the breakfast event at Gateshead’s Northern Design Centre, at which Mr Mulhall discussed everything from the influence of the European Union and the Scottish referendum to potential links that could nurture increased trade and prosperity.
The discussion was hosted by Lionra, a professional business networking group for professionals with an interest in Ireland and the North East.
Mr Mulhall began by outlining the “calamitous” fortunes Ireland had experienced during the financial downturn, before pointing out that, with the economy growing rapidly again, there could be knock-on benefits for the whole of the UK, including the North East, where strong Irish connections could be found.
“The fact is it’s hard to think of two other economies that have the link we have,” Mr Mulhall said. “Let me tell that every single week of the year, the trade back and forth between the UK and Ireland amounts to more than €1bn.
“That puts it up there with many of the most important economic links in the world.”
He added that the importance of Ireland to the UK economy was set to increase in the next couple of years, and, with the ease of access from Newcastle, there were great opportunities available for businesses in the region.
Graeme Mason, planning and corporate affairs director at Newcastle International Airport, said he was proud of the links that had been created between Newcastle and Ireland through Aer Lingus, but pointed out the high levels of aviation tax in the UK, compared to Ireland.
Mayor of North Tyneside Norma Redfearn, meanwhile, referred to trade missions Mr Mulhall had been involved with in Manchester and Liverpool, and asked if similar events could be held in the North East.
Líonra was the brainchild of Irishman Maurice Duffy, founder of North East-based transformation consultancy, Blackswan, who wanted to create better business opportunities and connections between Ireland and the North East.
“The issue is how to get more connected when we’re competing with the likes of Scotland, London and Manchester,” he said. “We need to look for greater links and this morning’s event represents a starting point.”
He added that Ireland the North East had many commonalities, including the passion of their people and their highly educated workforces. Both, however, were also hit by people leaving to pursue work elsewhere and both were seeking inward investment.
MP for Newcastle Upon Tyne East, Nick Brown, said: “I am really pleased that the ambassador has come to the North East. There is a real enthusiasm for our region and Ireland to draw closer together and do more between themselves.”
Catherine McKinnell, MP for Newcastle North, said: “I think this morning’s event was just the start of an exciting new journey for both the North East and Ireland. We already have so much in common, including excellent transport links – and there is clearly a real appetite from both sides to do more business with each other.”