THE digital space can provide West Cork businesses with a way to reduce their exposure to Brexit by selling into new markets, an Irish businessman has suggested.
The UK’s vote to leave the EU had an immediate, devastating economic effect on many Irish industries, said David Curtin, the chief executive of IE Domain Registry.
‘By the end of 2016, six months after the referendum, around 10% of all Irish mushroom farms had gone out of business. Their total reliance on the value of sterling, which nosedived, meant their profit margins vanished almost overnight,’ he said.
Since then, other UK-dependent Irish businesses have either scaled back investment plans or, along the border, folded completely.
Mr Curtin noted that many firms – including several in West Cork – have long-established, hard-won relationships with British customers, suppliers and retailers built up over decades.
Digital, he says, provides businesses with a way to reduce their exposure to Brexit by selling into new markets within the EU single market and customs union.
‘The global power of the internet means that Irish businesses are no longer limited by the natural or political borders of Ireland or the UK. A small business in Timoleague can sell and ship to customers in Tokyo, Toulouse and Tel Aviv,’ he said.
But the data suggests that even though most of us are online and buying products, few Irish businesses are turning this ‘new normal’ to their advantage. The latest IE Domain Registry Digital Health Index shows that just 30% of SMEs in Munster allow consumers to purchase products, make appointments or book a service online.
E-commerce is worth over €12bn to the Irish economy every year, but the majority of that ends up in the wallets of international retailers. Mr Curtin added: ‘Now is the perfect time to reverse this trend and begin a mass digital activation of Irish SMEs. Indeed, Brexit can be the jolt needed to accelerate positive and long-lasting change.’
Mr Curtin continued that, for SMEs that have no online presence whatsoever (a surprising 15%) or only a limited one, now is the time for change.
‘Websites, social media profiles and online shops can be set up in a matter of hours using affordable software. This software is designed to be used by people without any knowledge of coding or advanced computer skills.’
In 2018, IE Domain Registry recognised Gorey, Co Wexford as Digital Town 2019. Bringing high speed broadband to the town was an enabler for business, the community, education and employment, he said.
‘Skibbereen, via the Ludgate Hub, has 1 gigabit broadband, which allows local businesses to operate in a remote part of Ireland to connect with customers across the world. The most innovative SMEs are investing in digital and experimenting with new technologies,’ he said.
IE Domain Registry is working with representative organisations and local government to create more intuitive ways for SMEs and local communities to access digital skills training and funding.
‘With the right backing and access to resources, Irish towns and businesses can power through Brexit to the global digital marketplace.’