Dutch royals told housing crisis holding back Irish tech sector
First day of visit included round-table discussion on immigration and meeting Higgins
The Netherlands’ King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima take part in a tree-planting ceremony, watched by President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina , after arriving at Áras an Uachtaráin. Photograph: Paul Faith/AFP/Getty Images
King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima of the Netherlands, who are on a three-day state visit to Ireland, were told by entrepreneurs in Dublin that the housing crisis is holding back the Irish tech sector.
On the first day of their visit on Wednesday, the royal couple took part in a round-table discussion on immigration and entrepreneurship at Dogpatch Labs, a start-up hub in the CHQ building in Dublin’s docklands.
The meeting was also attended by John Halligan, Minister of State for Training and Skills, as well as immigrants from Iran, Nigeria, Syria, Romania and the US who had set up tech businesses here.
As they discussed a major shortage of tech staff in Dublin, the king inquired about the biggest barrier to attracting foreign workers to relocate to Ireland. John Dennehy, founder of recruitment consultancy Zartis, who also helps asylum seekers find work in the Irish tech sector, told the Dutch monarch the chronic shortage of housing is “the number one problem”.
Mr Halligan interjected to tell the couple that the housing problem is particularly bad in Dublin. He told them the State has a policy of trying to develop regions outside of the capital, where the housing shortage is less acute.
King Willem-Alexander asked Mr Dennehy if tech staff from abroad are prepared to settle outside the capital. Mr Dennehy replied with the example of Fexco, a financial tech company, which he said has attracted a large contingent of Brazillians to work at its headquarters in Kerry.
The round-table discussion with the Dutch royals was chaired by Liz McCarthy of Dogpatch Labs, whose relations founded Fexco.
After hearing each of the immigrant entrepreneurs’ mostly positive stories about setting up businesses in Ireland, the king then asked if Irish people had been less welcoming to foreigners during the financial crisis than they are now.
“Were people worried that [foreigners] would take their jobs?” he asked.
Andreea Wade, a Romanian entrepreneur who moved to Ireland 18 years ago, told him she had good experiences with Irish people.
But she wondered if her experiences had been different to those of Adaku Ezeudo, a Nigerian who runs the PhoenixRize diversity consultancy, who also took part in the discussion.
“I can hide . . . I can blend in [with most Irish people]. I look like most of the people around me and it might be easier for me to be accepted,” said Ms Wade.
Ms Adaku said that Irish people had been mostly positive to her, and described her efforts to integrate and the occasional difficulty she had getting used to Irish cultural norms.
“Sometimes when an Irish person says yes, they mean no,” she joked.
Earlier on Wednesday, the royal couple met President Michael D Higgins and Sabina at Áras an Uachtaráin.
A 21-gun salute was fired outside the Áras while the national anthems of both countries were played. The Dutch king and queen signed the visitor’s book and met Minister for Communications Richard Bruton, the Ambassador of Ireland to the Netherlands, Kevin Kelly, as well as a delegation of Irish and Dutch government representatives.
The couple planted an alder tree in the grounds of Áras an Uachtaráin afterwards.
The three-day visit takes place against the backdrop of intensive moves to forge closer relations between the State and the Netherlands post-Brexit.
The couple visited the CHQ Building later on Wednesday and a State banquet was due to be held in Áras an Uachtaráin on Wednesday evening.
King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima will meet the new Lord Mayor of Dublin Paul McAuliffe at the Mansion House on Thursday before visiting The Long Room in Trinity College.
Later, the royals will host a reception in the Kings Inns, in the north inner city, for Dutch expats living in Ireland .
King Willem-Alexander will then meet the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, and will be present for the signing of a double-taxation treaty between the two governments, focused on tackling tax avoidance and on avoiding double taxation of income and capital gains tax.
The third day of the visit will take place in Cork, where the king and his wife will meet the city’s lord mayor at city hall. The royals will then take a boat to Cobh. They will also visit Crosshaven in west Cork to discuss volunteer initiatives, with the trip incorporating a visit Camden Fort Meagher.