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‘We’re not even using the UK as a landbridge’

18 October, 2019

Ger Brennan, who runs the Irish operation of MSD, is Brexit-ready and focusing on other issues

Brexit doesn’t worry Ger Brennan. It’s a startling take from an industry leader, given how much the relentless uncertainty over the manner of the eventual rupture has dominated the focus of business leaders and policy chiefs. But in a week when it appears EU and British leaders have finally found a formula to allow the UK to leave the trading bloc in a somewhat ordered fashion, Brennan is spending his time worrying about other items in his in tray.

“This is not arrogance but, as of today, it is not an issue for us because we have controlled Brexit,” says Brennan, who runs the Irish operations MSD, the fourth-largest drug company worldwide in terms of market share.

Just a day after the outcome of the UK referendum was announced in June 2016 Brennan was in London where the company’s European leadership team had been convened. “At that time, we made a decision to plan for a hard Brexit,” he recalls.

At the time, about 70 per cent of MSD’s product for Ireland was labelled jointly with the UK.

“We made the decision to decouple,” he says. “And I remember sitting with the Department of Health just before Christmas [2018] and they asked me the question, are you ready for Brexit? And I said yeah, but we had to plan two years ago. So, all our supply now is coming through Belgium. We’re not even using the UK as a landbridge.”

For the first six months of this year, the company ran two parallel stock supply shipments just to ensure that the new system worked. The target date was always March 2019, not October 31st.

“We just could not take the risk. We thought we’d have some sort of resolution by now but I wanted to ensure that no Irish patient will be impacted.”

MSD has five sites in the Republic – Swords, Carlow, Brinny in Cork, Ballydine in Co Tipperary, and in Dublin – employing more than 2,300 people from 40 countries. It has announced 800 additional jobs in the past 15 months. Of those, more than 500 are now filled and the group is comfortable it will meet its target for the remaining roles by 2021.

The recently completed expansion at Carlow and an earlier project to future-proof Brinny, alongside the ongoing redevelopment of Swords will bring to $3 billion the amount invested by MSD in Ireland over its 50-year history here.

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