Legal Market Overview
Ireland’s economy has continued to be significantly impacted by the two major trends of Covid-19 and Brexit in 2021. While Ireland’s GDP growth bucked the European trend in 2020, growing by 5.9%, this was predominantly driven by the exports of multinational companies, with the country’s domestic economy being hit hard by the pandemic. While the Pandemic Unemployment Payment helped shield individuals from loss of earnings due to business restrictions and closures, unemployment rose to a high of 7.9% in March 2021. Ireland’s vaccine rollout has been one of the most successful in the world, with more than 75% of the population receiving two doses by December 2021. This has enabled the government to keep the economy significantly more open than in the winter of 2020, though a planned lifting of all restrictions in October 2021 was cancelled due to a surge in cases caused by the Delta variant.
The impact of Brexit on the Irish economy has been evident for several years, with many companies making preparations for Brexit well in advance of the UK’s official departure from the trading bloc. One major trend driven by Brexit has been the further acceleration of multinational companies in establishing footprints in Ireland, with Ireland benefiting from its common law system, use of English, and presence within the single market. These developments have been particularly evident in the technology sector; both Facebook and Google have their European headquarters in Dublin, while TikTok set up an office in Dublin in 2021. The increased presence of technology multinationals in Ireland has driven increased demand for data protection and technology lawyers. Despite these benefits for the Irish economy, the continued issues between the UK and the EU over the Northern Ireland protocol remain a source of uncertainty for Ireland.
Real estate remains a key sector of the Irish economy and plays a huge role in the country’s politics. The high cost of housing in Ireland has been one of the most significant issues in Irish politics for several years, and the development of affordable housing is a priority for the Irish government. As a result, the housing sector was not severely impacted by Covid. Other areas of real estate, such as offices, faced more challenging conditions in 2020 but have since recovered, while retail remains slightly less active than pre-Covid. Despite these favourable market conditions, the construction of real estate continues to face headwinds from shortages of construction materials and labour.
Covid-19’s impact can also be seen in the rapid growth of logistics infrastructure and data centres in Ireland. In particular, data centre growth has dovetailed with the growth of Ireland’s technology centre, and has attracted increasing attention for its energy consumption and the accompanying pressure placed on Ireland’s grid system. Data centres have also drawn attention to the conflict between Ireland’s growing economy and the government’s ambitious renewable energy plans. The country plans to shift its energy mix towards renewables over the next few decades, with wind and solar projects providing considerable amounts of work for Irish projects lawyers. Increased investments in transport infrastructure are also a significant source of activity in this space.
Ireland is home to a mix of large, mid-market, and boutique firms, with names to note including A&L Goodbody LLP, Arthur Cox, Mason Hayes & Curran LLP, Matheson LLP, McCann FitzGerald LLP, ByrneWallace LLP, Dillon Eustace and William Fry. International firms are also increasingly moving into Dublin; in addition to Eversheds Sutherland, Fieldfisher, DAC Beachcroft Dublin, and Maples Group, Hogan Lovells, DLA Piper, and Dentons Ireland have all established Irish offices in recent years, while Addleshaw Goddard entered the market in 2022 following its merger with Eugene F. Collins. This demonstrates the increasing recognition of the important role Ireland’s globally-connected economy plays in Europe.