DUBLIN Companies considering quitting Britain due to its departure from the EU are likely to start making investment decisions from the second quarter, the head of the agency competing to win foreign business for Ireland said on Tuesday.
Industrial Development Agency Ireland has already fielded Brexit-related enquiries from more than 100 firms, a lot of which have progressed to site visits, its chief executive Martin Shannahan also said at a news conference.
Given the countries' close trading links, Ireland is widely considered the European Union economy most at risk from Britain's decision to quit the bloc. But it is also well placed to draw business away from its neighbour, particularly in financial services.
Shannahan said some companies had already narrowed down their options.
"My expectation is that by Q2 of 2017 we will start to see companies make decisions," he said, announcing that the number of employees of multinationals in Ireland hit a high in 2016.
British Prime Minister Theresa has said she plans to begin the two years of exit negotiations with the EU by the end of March.
"It is not likely that companies will await the outcome of (those) negotiations," Shannahan said. "..I think the political timeline and the commercial timeline are entirely incompatible. That is particularly true in the financial services sector."
Inquiries to the IDA were also likely to rise in the technology and pharmaceutical sectors, he added.
He said North American companies would make Brexit-related decisions first, followed by Asian and lastly by British and European ones, which might be willing to wait longer to see how the negotiations play out.
Ireland, whose economy is the fastest-growing in the EU, is already a major hub for big employers including Apple (AAPL.O), Pfizer (PFE.N) and Citibank (C.N).
Multinational companies added a net 12,000 jobs there last year, bringing their rosters in Ireland to 200,000, or close to one in 10 of the overall workforce.
Some U.S. companies might also put off investment decisions until they saw details of President-elect Donald Trump's taxation policies, Shannahan added.
(editing by John Stonestreet)