Foreign direct investment into Ireland bucks trend of 3% decline in global FDI flows

Trayc Keevans 11.01.2018

Current status of FDI in Ireland

Foreign direct investment (FDI) flows into Ireland, continue to buck the global trend of a 3% decline in global FDI flows, reported by OECD for the first half of 2017. On the converse, IDA Ireland reported a 21% increase in jobs announced between the first six months of 2016 and 2017. Most notably, the job content of the investments have been of a higher value than before. This is reflective of the size and scale of the investments declared.

‘Winning’ in 2018

We are now at the midpoint of IDA Ireland’s 2015 - 2019 ‘Winning’ FDI strategy where 61% of the 80,000 new jobs target had been reached with the creation of 48,610 new FDI jobs and the highest level of FDI employment in the history of the state at over 200,000 people. IDA Ireland also conducted further research which revealed that 76% of FDI companies located here intend to increase their headcount over the next 18 months. This bodes well for future FDI career opportunities being available in Ireland for talented professionals.

Importance of education

Education continues to be a key foundation pillar on which Ireland’s success at attracting and retaining FDI investments over the past number of years is built. Diversity and inclusion plays its part in our education system with students represented from over 160 countries accounting for more than 12% of the student population.

The Irish government's international education strategy targets a 27% growth in the number of international students coming to study here by 2020, in contrast with the declining number of  EU applicants by 5% in 2017 to study in the UK as free movement of people comes under threat as a consequence of Brexit.

Continued investment in R&D needed to drive further innovation

Irish research has ranked within the top 1% globally across 18 research fields with all of the country’s universities featuring in the top 3% of worldwide rankings. There has been a doubling in the number of PhD graduates in Ireland over the last 10 years. Today, Ireland has more than 28,000 PhD graduates, and has had more than 31% growth in the number of enrolments. This is the result of a successful government strategy to escalate high-value research. In Reuters' second annual ranking of Europe's most innovative universities in 2017, Ireland boasted more top-100 innovative universities per capita than any other country in Europe.

Manufacturing in Ireland accounts for 24% of GDP, far exceeding the EU average. Innovation 2020; Ireland’s national strategy for research and development, science and technology, recognises the need for greater R&D support in the area of advanced manufacturing. This means meeting the research and development needs of the manufacturing sector in a range of emerging areas such as robotics, Internet of Things and additive manufacturing. The opening of the Irish Manufacturing Research Centre in May 2017, heralded a strong response to this need. 

Ireland added a further four new research centres in the latter half of 2017, elected through a competitive international peer-review process, representing a co-investment by government and industry of €114 million. This brings the number of research centres to 16, under the Science Foundation of Ireland’s Research Programmes.  This investment from government and industry will support 650 research jobs over the next six years.

Attracting experienced international talent and skills utilization

In a recent ESRI report (December 2017), Ireland ranked third in the EU at 57% in its share of attracting high-skilled migrant workers with third level qualifications. In May 2015, Ireland introduced the Trusted Partner Initiative (TPI), designed to ease the administrative procedures for registered trusted partners who wanted to hire migrant workers by streamlining the process for almost all types of employment permits. This TP initiative has been an important component to the ease of doing business here, with organisations benefiting from a reduced turnaround time of several weeks to just under ten days to receive an employment permit for their migrant hires.

While Brexit represents a significant challenge for Ireland, one of the bigger opportunities has been to attract the highly-skilled EU workforce currently residing in uncertainty in the UK, while also seeking to attract back our own diaspora who have forged successful careers in London and the larger cities of the UK. Evidence has suggested that this has already begun to take shape. The same report signals a high percentage (46%) of full-time Irish employees reporting that their skills are greater than those required to do their job which represents the fourth highest underutilization out of the 28 EU countries.

Expanding our FDI footprint in the Regions

As our capital city faces capacity challenges and rising property and rental prices, the cost competitiveness of the Regions has come to the forefront, appealing to both employers and employees alike. Significant new regional investments such as Northern Trust (400 jobs in Limerick), MSD (330 jobs in Carlow & Cork), Wasdell Group (300 jobs in Dundalk), Janssen (300 jobs in Cork), Metlife (200 jobs in Galway), Abbott (€10m investment in Sligo site), are evidence of the highly-skilled opportunities for experienced professionals and emerging talent that exists outside of Dublin and the success and ability of companies to scale in the regions. We have seen over the last 12 months a significant increase in returning diaspora looking to move to the regions in the first instance as they see career enhancing opportunities that offer a better overall work-life balance without the lengthy daily commute.

Emerging sectors in Ireland

The dominance of digital and technology across every business sector is shaping the type of FDI Investments Ireland has been successful in attracting. Data and artificial intelligence are at the centre of innovation globally and the speed at which companies are seeking to hire talent in this space is challenging. Ireland was recently ranked first in the EU for the quantity of science and technology graduates per capita.

Where AI, IoT and robotics will continue to be the key drivers of business transformation into 2018 and beyond, the key FDI opportunities tipped to grow roots and expand in Ireland over the next year are autonomous drive, advanced process engineering and automation, cybersecurity, data analytics and data management and digital transformation in insurance and financial services.


There remains significant geopolitical risks for Ireland going into 2018 including Brexit, instability in Northern Ireland, future direction and stability of the EU and uncertainty on the future direction of US policy.  Each of these come with great risk and great opportunity and Ireland must be vigilant in walking the fine line between both to ensure continued strong alliances within the EU and capitalise on new prospects coming from the likes of CETA, the new trade agreement between EU and Canada.

Accolades such as Ireland featuring in the top 10 safest countries in the world to live (Global Peace Index 2017) are not insignificant against a growing threat globally from terrorism. Such tributes position Ireland favourably to grow it’s highly-skilled workforce through returning diaspora looking to set down family roots in an innocuous environment and an international community who wish to experience the neutral feel of a country that is soon to become the only English-speaking country of the EU in a post Brexit world.

We must not become complacent about our track record of success in winning FDI investments and the need to address infrastructure needs, contain inflation while continuing to fund and invest in our education should be high on our political policy and business agenda. All will serve to ensure we continue to deliver best in class career opportunities that attract world beating talent to drive ongoing high value FDI investments into Ireland.

Trayc Keevans's picture
Global FDI Director