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Minister Mitchell O’Connor tells Retail Consultation Forum their challenges will feed into Government’s Brexit response

Members of the Retail Consultation Forum were reassured by Minister for Jobs, Enterprise & Innovation Mary Mitchell O’Connor today that the challenges of the retail sector will feed into the Government’s response to Brexit.

Minister Mitchell O’Connor was speaking at the quarterly meeting of the Retail Consultation Forum which she chairs.

Following the meeting Minister Mitchell O’Connor said “As Chairperson of the Retail Consultation Forum, I am keenly aware of the importance of the sector to the economy and the challenges the sector faces. One in every eight people going to work every day is employed in the retail and wholesale sector. The retail sector plays a vital role in the Irish economy, supporting jobs in every city, town and village in the country.”

The retail and wholesale sector is the largest private sector employer in the country, employing 280,000 people, 12.5% of the workforce. The retail sector suffered greatly in the recession, as employment figures fell by 50,000 between 2008 and 2012 to under 270,000. While the sector has been showing a slow and steady recovery since 2014 in terms of employment figures, as well as retail sales growth figures, the uncertainty resulting from the outcome of the British referendum on the EU has impacted negatively on retail sales growth in the past seven months.

Minister Mitchell O’Connor said: “I understand the concerns that the retail sector has with regard to the uncertainty resulting from the outcome of the British referendum. Brexit has become a standing item on the agenda of the Forum. At today’s meeting, my Department officials updated the Forum on the structures that have been put in place across Government and within my Department to respond to the outcome of the referendum and prepare for the negotiations which will commence once Article 50 has been triggered by the UK Government. We are committed to supporting Irish businesses in this period of heightened uncertainty. In recognition of the high level of import exposure and the importance of the sector to the economy, my Department is working with retailers on a pilot study into the firm-level impact for Enterprise of Brexit. This study will assist the Government in informing our position during the Brexit negotiations.”

The Retail Consultation Forum was established in 2014 as a response to the challenges experienced by the sector during the recession. It provides a space for engagement between the sector and Government bodies to identify practical actions which could be taken by Government, or by industry itself, to support the sector. Membership includes the main retail representative bodies, retailers themselves and representatives from relevant Government departments and public bodies.

Four Working Groups have been examining issues such as energy costs for the retail sector, the digital economy and town centre renewal and skills challenges. At today’s meeting, the Town Centre Renewal Working Group presented a draft Framework for Town Centre Renewal to the Forum for its approval. The Framework sets out an action plan for town centre stakeholders to implement with the objective of making their town a vibrant and attractive place to live in, invest in and to visit.

The Minister had a key message for the members of the Retail Consultation Forum. “I am greatly encouraged by the reports from the Working Groups today. It is clear that the collaborative nature of the work of the Forum is bearing fruit and I would like to encourage members of the Forum to continue to work together to ensure that we address the key challenges facing the sector. I would also like to assure the retail members of the Forum that their voices are heard around the table and that I will also bring their key messages to the Cabinet table.”


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