UCC Commerce Conference: Industry hit before Brexit

Peter Bellew, chief operating officer, Ryanair, speaking at UCC Commerce Society's 37th Annual Business Conference 'A New Éire' today. Photo: Denis Minihane.

Brexit has been "really expensive" for industry so far, while Ryanair has had a significant amount of waste even before Britain leaves the EU, the airline's chief operating officer has said.

Speaking at UCC Commerce Society’s 37th annual conference in Cork County Hall, Peter Bellew said: "The amount of time we have had to waste on it (Brexit) -- we've had to set up a whole other airline in the UK, due to the cost and the difficulty.

"We use the same soap and toilet roll in every place in Europe, but we had a meeting this week where someone asked how we are going to get that soap and toilet roll to Leeds without World Trade Organisation (WTO) tariffs.

"We've just got to get on with it, and blast through. If we started thinking about it at the moment, we wouldn't even get out of bed in the morning. Tough times come, so we have to battle through."

Mr Bellew said car manufacturing had been hit hard by Brexit since the 2016 vote.

"There is a change happening already. The car industry and a lot of manufacturers have had to get EU registration fast-tracked. It's been really expensive...there is a whole lot of very simple trade organisation stuff -- the chartered surveyors are the same with restrictions -- the trade bodies have decided a lot of that already, and it is been kept very quiet."

PepsiCo Ireland general manager David Murray said firms were spending money already on Brexit preparation, and that money was going to be wasted whatever way Brexit ended up.

"That is a big problem. If you spend any time in the UK, like I do, you see Nissan's decision not to go ahead with manufacturing the X-Trail in Sunderland. People in Sunderland are not happy, and pressure is building with these types of stories.

But it is the sovereign right of the people in that jurisdiction to make that call, and we kind of get one version of the story here...Personally I am confident there will be a grow-up outcome. Nobody wants the cliff, but unfortunately, it has got into that space, and with politics being politics, it is playing out that way.

UCC president Patrick O'Shea told the annual conference that applications from international students from outside the EU had trebled since the Brexit vote, while there has also been a spike from British academics applying for positions in Cork.

Diarmuid Cronin, Model Farm Road, Cork; Thomas McElligott, Ballincollig, and Prof. Patrick O'Shea, president, UCC, at today's conference. Photo: Denis Minihane.

However, a shortage in housing in Cork was proving an issue for new staff, which had to be addressed, Professor O’Shea said.

KPMG partner Michael Lynch told the conference that while the organisation was in favour of reducing Vat to 0% on building homes, it would not be the panacea to the housing crisis.

“It is not the entire solution, but it is an important cog in it. The risk you take is that it is just added to the price of a house. However, many people just cannot get on the ladder, so it is at least worth trying,” Mr Lynch said.

Ryanair’s Mr Bellew said “we have to build really high really fast” in order to tackle the housing crisis.

That meant going up 20-storeys, he said.

“We’ve got to knock down three-storey buildings and go up 20 floors,” Mr Bellew said, adding that China and South Korea were “all over the planet building” such entities.

The commerce conference also heard from speakers such as RTÉ director general Dee Forbes; chair of the Marketing Institute of Ireland, Paula Murphy; Cpl Resources chief executive Anne Heraty; and Glanbia group financial controller Gordon Murphy.

At the UCC Commerce Society's 37th Annual Business Conference 'A New Éire' were Dee Forbes, director general of RTÉ, and Jennifer O'Dowling (left) and Elaine Murphy, conference directors. Photo: Denis Minihane.

Conference directors Jennifer O’Dowling and Elaine Murphy said the theme of the conference was a “new Éire”, a play on words, as 2019 marks just over 10 years since Ireland survived the global financial crisis which culminated in the bailout.

“As a society, we feel that the dedication and hard work of Irish businesses to survive this era should be celebrated as we enter “a new Éire” of growth in our country’s economy,” they said in their conference address.

Fellow committee members were Laura Joy, Ciara Dineen, Darragh Cronin and Ger O’Connell on the committee.

The Irish Examiner was media partner for the annual conference, while main sponsors were KPMG, Enterprise Ireland, Port of Cork, ODM Financial Advisors, Janssen, Cork Airport and Musgrave.

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