Three CAs reveal why Ireland’s mix of big tech and open culture makes it a winning place to work
With the country playing European host to some of the world’s biggest companies, and cross-border trade flourishing post-Brexit, this is a good time to be working in the Republic of Ireland. Christian Koch meets the CAs who have made its capital their home
Wherever tech firms proliferate within a city enclave, the “silicon” prefix won’t be far behind, as the likes of Silicon Roundabout (London), Silicon Beach (LA’s Venice Beach) and Silicon Taiga (Siberia’s digital scene, just outside Novosibirsk) show. But it’s in Dublin’s Silicon Docks that the moniker really sticks. This industrial area by the Liffey river hosts the European headquarters of such tech titans as eBay, Google, Microsoft, Meta (Facebook), LinkedIn and Twitter.
These multinationals – together with Apple, in Cork, and pharma giants Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline, which both have a sizeable presence in Ireland – offer plenty of opportunities for CAs, either working for them directly or for the large accounting practices that service them. All have benefited from the favourable 12.5% corporate tax rate. Although Ireland is now signed up to the OECD’s global minimum corporation tax rate of 15% (due to be implemented in 2023), these multinationals are unlikely to flee, not least because Ireland is now the EU’s only English-speaking country, making it a convenient base from which to access its 447 million inhabitants.
It isn’t just the US multinationals which are helping the Celtic Tiger roar again: cross-border trade between Ireland and Northern Ireland is currently flourishing (it jumped by €2.8bn/£2.3bn in 2021), as trade between the province and the British mainland slumps in the wake of Brexit. We speak to three Dublin-based CAs who explain the attractions of life in the Irish capital.
The quality of Irish education is fantastic – it creates a great talent pool
Samantha Cunningham CA - Head of Business Management and Governance, AIB Investment Banking
In my office, it can take 15 minutes to get a cup of tea – not because of a slow-boiling kettle or shortage of teabags, but because the route to the kitchen takes me past so many colleagues who want to have a chat. Irish people are famously friendly and sociable, something that permeates all areas of life. The office is no exception. I would easily go for a pint with 98% of the people I work with.
The Irish are also extremely generous with money – it has the highest number of GoFundMe donors per capita in the world (800,000 donations in 2021, the third consecutive year it has topped this list). And, in recent months, the number of Irish people I know who’ve taken in Ukrainian refugees to live with them is testament to this altruism.
The warmth of the locals was one of the reasons why my family and I decided to permanently relocate here from London. I’ve worked at AIB [Allied Irish Bank] for 19 years and in 2010 was working in debt restructuring. In the aftermath of the financial crisis, these skills were obviously useful, so I was asked to work at AIB’s Dublin headquarters. The role initially meant commuting to Ireland, catching the 6.30am Aer Lingus flight from Heathrow and returning to my family in London on Friday evenings.
After 15 months of shuffling between the two cities, my husband and I decided to buy a house and move the whole family over. We now live in a lovely home in a small village in the Wicklow Mountains, about 20 miles from Dublin, where we grow our own vegetables. London house prices sadly meant most gardens were too small to do this.
Ireland is great for young families and the quality of education here is fantastic. My two sons have even learned how to speak Irish, which is a compulsory part of the curriculum. The high standard of education has also produced a strong local talent pool, which must be a huge draw for the many multinationals headquartered here. Yes, this can make things competitive, but if you’re a CA who can marry your financial skills with data knowledge, there will be lots of opportunities – not just in Dublin, but also Cork and Galway, which are emerging as hubs in their own right.
Since starting at AIB, I’ve worked in audit, credit assessment, technical accounting and now investment banking and governance – around five banking careers at the same firm! I credit my ICAS qualification with giving me the confidence to work in so many different disciplines: because the course is so varied it means you can talk knowledgeably with bankers just as much as accountants. Whether or not you’re seeking a career in finance, people in Ireland will always make you feel welcome – just one of the many positives of living and working here.
People come from all over the world to work in Ireland – it makes for a more dynamic city
Graham Stirling CA - Director, Grant Thornton Ireland
Before moving to Dublin last year, I’d spent nearly a decade working for Grant Thornton in Singapore. My wife and I loved being there – I worked in a team with more than 25 different nationalities and we both developed a palate for international cuisine. I didn’t think Dublin could match this. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Today, 17% of Dublin’s population are foreign-born. People come here from all over the world to work, strengthening the talent pool – and the food! It makes for a more dynamic city.
Ireland’s success is something I see every day working in Grant Thornton’s financial, accounting and advisory services team, where we provide services such as audit, financial statement preparation, outsourcing, payroll and accounting advice, including for many multinationals.
Covid-19 was a major spur for us to move closer to home (my wife is Irish). Lockdown also helped me transition to the new job more easily – many colleagues joined during that time and had had to work from home, so I wasn’t the only newbie in the office.
The transport links are one of the best things about Ireland. Getting to Scotland, where I’m from, is easy – a quick drive to Belfast, then the ferry to Stranraer. There’s also Ryanair, obviously, which flies to dozens of destinations across Europe and has a reputation for reliability. During my training in Glasgow, I used it so often (my wife was studying in Ireland at the time), I credit it with keeping our relationship going in the early years. Pre-clearance for US immigration at Irish airports is also a game-changer for business travellers heading to America.
For family life, Dublin can’t be beaten either. We’ve got a three-year-old daughter and 13-week-old twins, and we’ve explored so many green spaces since arriving, and had lots of walks with the dog on nearby beaches. As a keen golfer, there are great courses, like those in Scotland. And of course, there’s pubs. Everyone has their own opinion of where to find the best pint of Guinness. For me, it’s Kehoes in Dublin.
Dublin can be expensive, though. Plus, after 13 years with my wife, I still don’t have a scooby about some of her phrases, such as her penchant for using the word “yoke” to describe everything from dinner table condiments to the remote control.
I recently co-founded the ICAS community in Ireland with Ewan Dunbar CA – we held our first event at the British Embassy in Dublin. CAs looking to relocate here really can thrive – thanks to its high-calibre workforce and excellent quality of life, foreign talent and investors will always be attracted to Ireland.
Irish people’s have-a-go nature makes it a very entrepreneurial place
Ewan Dunbar CA - Founder and principal consultant, xPotential.ie
Last weekend, a friend of mine was walking down a street in Dublin when he passed Bono and stopped to have a chat. The fact that megastars can walk around in Ireland was one of the first things that struck me when I moved here to work for EY 20 years ago. Back then, I used to find myself sitting next to then Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern in my local pub with nobody batting an eyelid.
I relocated to Dublin in 2002 after meeting an Irishwoman while I was travelling – and she’s now my wife. The Celtic Tiger phenomenon was at its height. I got to ride that boom at EY as well as in my next job at Virgin Media, where I spent 15 years, leaving as Group CFO having helped the firm acquire the TV3 station (rebranding it as Virgin Media Television) and launch a mobile product.
In summer 2019, however, I was diagnosed with colorectal cancer. I went from never having a sick day in my life to having a sick 18 months, when I couldn’t work due to chemo, radiotherapy and operations. It forced me to reflect on the future and what was important to me.
I retrained as an executive coach while undergoing treatment and eventually launched xPotential.ie, which provides business advice and executive coaching to leaders and their companies. In fact, I’ve become quite hippy-ish – stepping back from the daily grind, and focusing on trying to support leaders and launching a podcast, Positive People. During my cancer experience, I also decided to make more of the scenery around me. We live in Dublin Bay, and I ended up buying two kayaks. Now any spare time I can find is spent out on the water.
Today, Ireland is booming. Much of this is due to it being the number one destination for US foreign direct investment in Europe, as well as the high number of tech firms here. But there are also indigenous success stories, such as digital payments firm Stripe. It was set up in 2010 by two Tipperary brothers who started writing software in their teens; today it’s a unicorn valued at $95bn (£79bn). Ireland is a very entrepreneurial place; largely thanks to the hard-working, have-a-go nature of its people, who have a quiet confidence and the tenacity to see projects through. It belies the stereotype that Irish people are laidback.
Traditionally, many Irish companies relied on trade with the UK, but Brexit has caused them disruption in terms of customs and excise, as well as logistical challenges. Meanwhile, the extra checks involved with the Northern Ireland protocol are causing more disruption.
If any CAs in Northern Ireland want to discuss these issues, they should contact the ICAS network – we’re planning an event in Belfast later this year. The network might contain mainly expats, but we’re very Irish in our attitude. Most Irish people are supremely positive when you reach out to them for help – we hope to be the same.