‘Stable’ Ireland to attract more M&A activity this year, says legal expert

The number and value of Irish M&A deals dropped last year compared with 2021

Mark Walsh is head of the Irish arm of UK law firm Addleshaw Goddard

Sarah Collins

A leading lawyer has predicted an acquisitions “push” into Ireland this year as investors and firms seek to release parked cash.

Mark Walsh, the head of the Irish arm of UK law firm Addleshaw Goddard – which bought 130-year-old Irish practice Eugene F Collins last year – said “Ireland is looked upon as very stable”.

While mergers and acquisitions (M&A) over the next 12 months will be “driven” by tech and pharma deals, he said Ireland’s housing and other infrastructure needs will attract more attention as interest rates stabilise.

“There was a pause for a couple of months while people were waiting to see what was happening with interest rates going up and down, but I think now there’s an opportunity,” Mr Walsh said.

He was speaking to the Irish Independent before the rescue of Credit Suisse at the weekend and the ensuing market wobble.

“We can see a top in terms of interest rates. There’s an awful lot of money still there. There is also a lot of money coming from Europe.

"They are looking very actively at Ireland. You’ve got to come back to what’s on offer in Ireland: we’ve got a housing shortage, we need infrastructure, we need all that stuff in terms of wind energy, battery power and renewables.

"They are all things we need. So there is going to be a big push throughout those areas.”

The number and value of Irish M&A deals dropped last year compared with 2021, part of a global trend and after a record year that is now considered an outlier.

Almost two-thirds of Irish company bosses told consultants PwC in a recent survey that they are not planning to delay deals this year.

A year on from acquiring Eugene F Collins, Addleshaw Goddard itself is on a push into Ireland, seeking to double its lawyer headcount to around 120 and create a new energy practice to add to its bread and butter work on tax and financial regulation.

Brexit was not a decisive factor in the merger, but the UK’s impending move away from EU law – particularly on data protection – is one to watch for the legal profession, with Ireland able to act as “a stepping stone of a country between the EU, the UK and the US”.

“There’s a good chance you’re going to have a divergence between the UK and Ireland over time on data laws, as we implement more directives,” he said.

However, he doesn’t see the UK becoming ‘Singapore on Thames’ or engaging in a wide-ranging bonfire of the regulations, and the, yet to be rubber-stamped, deal on the Northern Ireland-Windsor framework is a case in point.

“To date, what we’ve seen is flying the flag. There hasn’t been divergence so far in an awful lot of these areas. Certainly, the UK seems to be moving towards a softer Brexit and maybe some of this might be just rhetoric.”

For companies seeking to invest in Ireland, housing, rather than tax, is now a bigger consideration, he says.

“A bigger priority for those clients is, can you sort out your housing problem? They’re saying: ‘Have you got a good workforce? Is there good education?’”