‘I believe a sensible trade deal will be worked out . . . at the last minute’

Brexit Proof: Paul O’Sullivan, managing director of IrelandsEye

Paul O’Sullivan, managing director of IrelandsEye knitwear: ‘Why any country would want to leave a trading block the size of the EU is beyond me.’ Photograph: Lensmen Photographic Agency

Paul O’Sullivan, managing director of IrelandsEye knitwear: ‘Why any country would want to leave a trading block the size of the EU is beyond me.’ Photograph: Lensmen Photographic Agency

 

Paul O’Sullivan is managing director of IrelandsEye, a knitwear manufacturing company based in north county Dublin. The business was established in Sutton by O’Sullivan’s parents in 1988 and employs some 50 people with a number of O’Sullivan’s siblings engaged in senior positions within the company.

IrelandsEye exports 55 per cent of its product to more than 20 countries, including Germany, France, Canada and Belgium.

What was your reaction when you heard that the UK had voted to leave the EU?

Very sad, really. It doesn’t make sense to me on any level. Why any country would want to leave a trading block the size of the EU is beyond me.

How is your business likely to be affected?

IrelandsEye does about 3 per cent of its sales in the UK, so the effect in terms of our turnover won’t be significant. Our largest export markets are mainland Europe, the United States and Canada.

We source our yarns in Ireland and Europe – none from the UK.

What has concerned you most about the process so far?

The uncertainty. It’s very hard to plan for business post-Brexit when you don’t know what set of circumstances to plan for.

And what has given you hope?

Ultimately that I think common sense will prevail. It’s not in the UK or the EU’s interest to set up trade barriers between each other. I believe a sensible trade deal will be worked out at the end of the day, albeit at the last minute as usual.

Are you examining new markets or suppliers? And if so, how practical is that?

We are always open to examining new markets and I guess we were fortunate that we were not overly reliant on the UK in the first place. We export to markets outside the EU where foreign currency risks and tariffs sometimes come into play – for example the US. These issues just serve to highlight how easy and seamless doing business with fellow EU member states is for a small open economy like Ireland.

When do you expect to be Brexit-ready?

We won’t know for sure what being Brexit-ready means for our business until we know exactly what Brexit looks like.

What’s your best or worst case scenario?

The best case scenario at this stage will be to have free-trade agreement between the EU and UK without any barriers to open trade. The worst case would involve the introduction of widespread trade tariffs between the EU and UK.

Does Brexit present any opportunities for you in your business?

I believe it does. Our largest export market is mainland Europe and I believe that our EU customers may find it more attractive in future to source authentic, locally-manufactured premium knitwear from Ireland rather than from competing suppliers in the UK.

Now that we are in the transition phase, how might the government help ease the pain of Brexit for your company’s sector?

The government can help by promoting the development of new export markets beyond the UK.

How confident are you in the Government’s ability to handle negotiations on a trade deal?

To date, I think the Government and EU together have handled the negotiations with the UK very well and I expect that will continue. I have every confidence in the negotiation position of the EU and the Irish Government.

Looking out five years, how do you think that your business or industry will have changed as a result of Brexit?

We are already exporting more than half of our sales beyond the UK and expect that to continue. I hope and expect that a free trade agreement with the UK will ultimately be concluded, allowing us to grow our business freely in the UK without the impediment of trade barriers.