My office at the Irish International Business Network (IIBN) is a stone's throw from Westminster. On a sunny morning, it makes for a nice start to the day, surrounded by the history of the House of Commons, walking past the statues of great leaders and politicians on Parliament Square.
These days I take a detour. The scenes on the day of the first vote on the prime minister's Brexit deal were farcical. There was hysteria in the air, particularly around the group of Leave supporters who had carefully chosen their red, white and blue outfits for the occasion. Their efforts were rewarded by a press photographer who snapped them in front of the Winston Churchill statue. I wonder what he'd make of the pantomime outside and inside the Westminster gates.
Like most Remainers, and indeed most people, I’d just like to know what’s going to happen next.
It’s a long way from the London of the late 90s that I arrived to when it was all Cool Britannia and New Labour. Property was booming and positivity was endless. It was cool to be Irish in London and although the Celtic Tiger was roaring next door, London still had much more to offer.
Everyone will tell you that London can be a lonely place, but a lot of my long-standing friendships were formed on the London Irish networking scene. When IIBN was established in 2007, it was the first of its kind in London, established to facilitate the introduction of Irish entrepreneurs and business professionals for the purposes of doing business. But it also created a place for professional Irish people to meet, prior to a social media age.
I have now gone full circle from IIBN member to staff, and it continues to be a rich source of like-minded people, who make business introductions, share knowledge through our mentoring programmes, and support each other through the highs and lows of business, particularly in uncertain times.
With more than 3,000 members in London, there is no one clear opinion on Brexit. IIBN held an event at Lords Cricket Ground last month for hundreds of our members ahead of the historic first Test match this summer between Ireland and England. Brexit was a hot topic of conversation.
We have members who voted Leave and believe Britain will thrive as a result. For those who voted Remain, the impact on London’s status as one of the leading financial centres in the world and the prospect of a future decline in the City of London is concerning. They worry about the consequences for the UK as a whole, but also for the thousands of Irish professionals who work there.
There is anger at the farcical way the situation has been handled by politicians, their actions fuelling an uncertainty in consumer spending, investment and expansion that is ultimately damaging the economy. In addition, they feel the UK’s standing in Europe and indeed the entire world is being undermined.
We have members who have lived for years in Britain who see Brexit as a fundamental shift in the psyche of the nation - and a shift in the wrong direction. There is concern too that a health service staffed with medical talent from around the world will be impacted.
And of course, there is astonishment at the lack of understanding about the importance of the peace process, and the consequences of a hard border.
There is also determination to get on with the job in hand and deal with whatever happens next. I’ve never met an Irish entrepreneur who didn’t spot an opportunity in adversity, and this will also throw up a raft of new opportunities for professional services firms like bankers, venture capitalists and lawyers.
It is now more than ever that Irish expat entrepreneurs and business professionals need to be tapping into wider networks to source new opportunities and introductions. IIBN has a key role to play in that, and it’s why we’ve become so successful at attracting high calibre members here in the UK, the US and across Central and Eastern Europe.
We expect to see an increase in membership this year as people look to expand their network and seek out new business opportunities. For decades, the Irish in Britain have come together to form strong welfare, cultural, political and business groups. Regardless of what happens in the year ahead, that will remain unchanged.
IIBN now has more than 3,000 members in London so if you’re an Irish expat entrepreneur or business professional in London and you want to meet others like yourself, we’d love to hear from you.
Angela Sammon is chief commercial officer for the Irish International Business Network. For more information, see iibn.com