SFA Fortnightly Update

Dear Member, 


Welcome to this edition of the SFA e-zine.


In this edition we take a closure look at moving goods, to, through or from Northern Ireland, as we continue to ready small firms ahead of the end of the transition period on 31 December 2020.


Read about new research on the importance of investment in 5G technology which highlights two thirds (64%) of Irish SMEs believe effective 5G investment will be important to Ireland’s economic recovery.


Our HR article looks at the lawful process of changing contractual terms and conditions. You can also read the recent Workplace Relations Commission report on the importance of having a retirement age and clear and consistent policy in place. 


We are inviting business owners to take part in UCDs "Coping with COVID-19: Exploring Resilience Strategies of Irish Entrepreneurs" research report.


Finally, remember that you do not need to face your business challenges alone - prepare your business for the new year by applying for MentorsWork and get your very own mentor for free. Also, be sure to book on to one of our upcoming webinars, including the SFA Annual General Meeting taking place on 25 November, and check out our most recent press coverage


As always, we’d love to hear from you about any queries you may have, issues you wish to have raised with Government or other stakeholders and your ideas on how we can improve the business environment for us all. Please contact me on tel: 01 605 1602 or e-mail: sven@sfa.ie or tweet: @SFA_Irl or visit our website.


Kind regards, 

Sven Spollen-Behrens

SFA Director


SFA in the media
  • Champion Green | Green Friday
  • Webinar with Ed Sibley
  • RTE Boost My Business
  • 5G Study

Champion Green | Green Friday

On Friday 6 November, SFA Director Sven Spollen-Behrens was interviewed on Q102 and FM104 regarding Champion Green and Shop Local, Green Friday. His interview featured in the news bulletin for last Saturday and Sunday. Champion Green has also been featured in the following outlets: Buzz, Evoke, MSN, Independent, Irish Examiner, FM 104 and Extra.


Webinar with Ed Sibley

The SFA's webinar with Central Bank of Ireland's Deputy Governor Ed Sibley on 4 November was featured on both RTE and Irish Times. Playback the webinar here.


RTE Boost My Business

RTE's Boost My Business initiative mentioned the SFA webinar with Ed Sibley in their November business events listing.



The SFA and Huawei Ireland were featured in the Irish Times an KFM Radio discussing the importance of investing in 5G technology for economic recovery.

Brexit: Northern Ireland Protocol

Take a closure look at moving goods, to, through or from Northern Ireland after 31 December 2020...

At the end of the transition period, the Northern Ireland Protocol (the Protocol) will take effect. The Protocol is a practical solution to avoid a hard border on the island whilst ensuring the UK, including Northern Ireland, leaves the EU. Small firms are advised to familiarise themselves with how Northern Ireland trade will change after the transition period.


Great Britain to Northern Ireland 

Goods will be subject to new declarations, and may be subject to duties if considered ‘at risk’ of moving to the EU (including Ireland). 

Northern Ireland to 
Great Britain 

Moving goods should take place as it does now, with no additional process, paperwork, or restrictions – except in extremely limited circumstances to take account of international obligations or duty suspension. 

Northern Ireland to and from Ireland 

Trade in goods will continue unaffected, with no change at the border, new paperwork, tariffs, or regulatory checks. 

Northern Ireland to and from the Rest of the World 

Trading will continue broadly as it does today. Northern Ireland will benefit from future UK Free Trade Agreements, and the UK tariff regime1 will apply to imports – unless goods are considered ‘at risk’ of moving to the EU.  

Transit routes 

Goods will be subject to specified processes. Transit can be used to move goods from GB to Northern Ireland via Ireland. Transit declarations would apply, and some traders would need to use sealed trucks.  




The UK Government has established the free-to-use Trader Support Service to support businesses, from both sides of the border, with the changes to Northern Ireland trade which take effect on 1 January 2021. The free-to-use service will provide guidance and training, a digital service to support declarations, and support from customs experts.


You may want to sign up for the free Trader Support Service which:

  • will help if you move goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, or bring goods into Northern  Ireland from outside the UK
  • is free to use and will guide you through any changes to the way goods move between Great Britain and Northern Ireland
  • can complete declarations on your behalf

It can help if you:

  • are moving the goods yourself
  • act on behalf of someone
  • send parcels between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, or bring parcels into Northern Ireland from outside the UK

Trader Support Service will not

  • Provide a personalised advisory service to individual traders typically offered by customs brokerages
  • Replace services offered by an existing intermediary market
  • Raise non-standard documentation e.g., health certificates and cover other licenses

Visit here for more information.

To learn more about the UK’s approach to the Northern Ireland Protocol visit here.

To learn about the consequences of VAT post Brexit see here.


To learn more on how to prepare for Brexit visit



New research on the importance of investment in 5G technology

Two thirds (64%) of Irish SMEs believe effective 5G investment will be important to Ireland’s economic recovery...

The “5G Future SME Report”, completed by Amárach Research on behalf of Huawei Ireland, examines the role 5G will have in Ireland’s economic rebound in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic and explores how Irish SMEs view 5G in the context of its critical importance to their future business growth. The report was launched in partnership with the Small Firms Association (SFA) and presented to its members.


Countries that want to stay competitive in the global economy are adapting to 5G technology at an increasingly rapid pace. The study found a delay in the rollout of 5G would lead to a slowdown in technological innovation and a reduction in economic growth in Ireland.  Using OECD predictions of Ireland’s long-term economic growth between 2020 and 2035, Amárach Research calculated the opportunity cost of low 5G adoption in Ireland is a loss in GDP of €6.1BN by 2025, €12.6BN by 2030 and €20.9BN by 2035.


Over 200 Small Medium Enterprises (SMEs) were interviewed for the report, with almost half (48%) expecting some form of 5G to be widely available at the end of 2021. Seven in ten (69%) SMEs believe national 5G investment will support the growth of indigenous Irish businesses, with 67% stating 5G will help develop Irish start-ups and new businesses. Two-thirds (64%) believe effective 5G investment will be important to Ireland’s economic recovery.


5G’s capabilities relating to smart energy grids (69%), smart buildings (48%), telehealth (48%), next generation artificial intelligence (44%), real-time translation (43%) and virtual reality (36%), were named by SMEs as applications important to future business growth in Ireland.


The report revealed 46% of Irish SMEs have moved some or all of their business operations and services online because of the Covid-19 pandemic, with 93% of these predicting they will keep some or all of their operations online after the pandemic has passed.


The survey found strong enthusiasm amongst SMEs to introduce 5G to their businesses.  

  • 57% of Irish SMEs are now willing to invest in 5G technology to improve remote working for their staff, which has become increasingly important since the onset of the Covid-19 crisis.   
  • 59% of SMEs believe the better remote working speeds and capabilities provided by 5G are extremely important for business growth in Ireland. 
  • Four in ten SMEs (41%) noted the higher quality voice and video calls 5G will provide as an extremely important application.

The report found Irish SMEs see 5G as much more than just ‘faster internet’.  Half of the companies surveyed (47%) believe the operational cost savings obtained through 5G are a key reason to invest in the technology.  


You can download the Huawei report

Input needed: "Coping with COVID-19: Exploring Resilience Strategies of Irish Entrepreneurs"

Take part in UCDs "Coping with COVID-19: Exploring Resilience Strategies of Irish Entrepreneurs" research report...

Business owners are invited to take part in the "Coping with COVID-19: Exploring Resilience Strategies of Irish Entrepreneurs" research project run by UCD.


The project aims to understand how entrepreneurs and business owners are coping - both professionally and personally - with the ongoing implications and associated restrictions of Covid-19. The main objective is to learn how business owners develop strategies and draw on support mechanisms to cope and adjust to the new and ever-changing ways of doing business.


The project is led by Dr Orla Byrne and Dr Julia Backmann, Assistant Professors of Entrepreneurship and Organisational Behaviour at UCD Smurfit School of Business.


To participate in the project, please take part in the survey.


From here you can opt in/out for our follow-up longitudinal studies.


All participants will receive a copy of the findings and a personalised report showing your coping strategies in comparison to other business owners. You will also be invited to participate in our dissemination workshops in 2021. 



Age Discrimination – WRC Case | Mandatory Retirement Age

A recent WRC case highlights the importance of having a retirement age and clear and consistent policy in place, as well as treading carefully when seeking to enforce the mandatory retirement age...

In the case of employee V Radio Teilifís Éireann (“RTÉ”), the respondent, RTE failed to justify their actions of making an employee (the complainant) retire at its retirement age of 65 which amounted to discrimination under the Employment Equality Acts 1998-2015. The court found in favour of the employee and awarded them €100,000 in compensation for age discrimination.


Background to the case 
The complainant commenced employment with RTÉ in 1988 and had been working as an Executive Producer at the time they turned 65 years of age. The employee was not aware that the mandatory retirement age was 65 as it was not outlined in their contract. RTÉ had invited them to attend a retirement planning course in anticipation of their retirement. The complainant notified the HR department of their request to remain at work after the age of 65 for a period of approximately 18 months. After their request was declined and consequently appealed, they raised a formal grievance through RTÉ's grievance procedure which was not resolved. Their employment was terminated with effect from their 65th birthday.


The complainant argued that the decision to terminate their employment upon reaching the age of 65 was unlawful because it discriminated against them on the grounds of their age in that she was treated less favourably than other employees which was a breach of the Employment Equality Act 1998 -2015.


Objective Justification
Mandatory retirement ages must be objectively justified by a legitimate business aim. The WRC issued a Code of Practice on Longer Working in 2017 which sets out the following legitimate business aims that employers could rely on to justify a mandatory retirement age: 

  • Intergenerational fairness (allowing younger workers to progress). 
  • Motivation and dynamism through the increased prospect of promotion. 
  • Health and safety (generally in more safety-critical occupations). 
  • Ensuring a structure of balanced age. 
  • Personal/professional dignity, or 
  • Succession planning.  

The company failed to meet the demands of the employee to make reasonable or proportionate accommodation by transferring the employee to another role on a Fixed-Term contract. The WRC were not in favour of the company’s justification for requiring mandatory retirement at 65 as being to ensure "inter-generational fairness" to enable younger employees to progress and enable RTÉ to "produce programmes that are of interest and relevance to a younger audience". The WRC concluded that Inter-generational fairness was an issue which was confined to the department in which the employee had worked. The company’s objective justification defence failed as they did make reasonable accommodation for the employee continue working for 18 months as requested. The measure of forcing the employee’s retirement was not necessary and could not be objectively justified.


What should employers do now?


Employers should review their current process of handling requests from employees to work beyond any compulsory retirement age. Not only should employers implement a policy, but they should also engage with the employee and consider their request to work longer. It is insufficient to rely on inter-generational fairness and Health and Safety as objective justification for forcing an employee to retire. In practice, this means that you must have a legitimate business aim that justifies the retirement age. You must also provide evidence that the retirement age is an appropriate and necessary way of achieving that aim.

An employer should regularly review its Retirement Policy and demonstrate that its aims are lawful and there are no other more appropriate means of achieving them. (i.e. temporary or fixed term arrangement)


Employers should put in place a clear and comprehensive retirement policy that unambiguously sets out both the existence of any mandatory retirement age (which should be mirrored in staff contracts of employment) and the objective justification for same. This policy should be regularly reassessed and updated to ensure that the identified "justification" continues to be appropriate and necessary.


Consistency is crucial when enforcing a mandatory retirement age, particularly when considering and consulting with employees on their requests to work beyond such an age on a fixed-term basis or otherwise. Employers should consider the effect the mandatory retirement age will have on the employee against the impact of the organisation.


If you have a concern about retirement for an employee you can contact Emma at SFA on 01 605 1668 or at emma.crowley@sfa.ie or visit our HR and Employment Law advice section on www.sfa.ie    

Changing Terms and Conditions of Employment

As an employer, you must ensure you fully understand your obligations and responsibilities when amending an employee’s employment contract...

Since the onset of Covid-19, employers have been getting to grips with making the necessary changes to maintain their businesses. In many cases, difficult decisions are required to secure competitive advantage, or even just to remain in business.

Employers are having to engage with their employees to seek ways in which could bring savings to the company, but also benefit the employee, e.g. career breaks, additional unpaid annual leave and flexible working arrangements which previously may not have been possible when the business demands were greater. Where sufficient savings can be made with such changes, it avoids the employer making variations to a contract on a compulsory basis.


Unfortunately, given the current economic circumstances, the above solutions may not be enough, and an employer may have no other option but to make a change to their contract. The company may require an employee/s: to work different hours or days, to change their job titles, duties, and responsibilities or even reduce their salary or benefits. These changes might benefit both parties as the employees keep their employment, although on lesser terms and conditions, and employers retain key skills and experience.


For an employer to legitimately add, remove or modify terms to their employee’s contract, they must reach an agreement with the employee and obtain their consent for making such change. An employment contract comprised of the agreed terms and conditions between both parties and therefore a change to these terms must be bilaterally made.


If an employer makes the change to the contract without obtaining the consent of the employee/s, there are possible risks to the employer such as:  

  • Claim of constructive dismissal under the Unfair Dismissal Acts 1977-2007. (The employee left employment because they were unable to endure a situation at work caused by the company) 
  • Claim for damages for breach of contract. (Where an employee’s contractual terms were altered without their consent)  
  • Claim in respect of an unlawful deduction under the Payment of Wages Act 1991. (For an unlawful pay cut) 
  • A trade dispute under the Industrial Relations Acts 1964 -2004. (The employee’s minimum rates of pay, holidays, working hours, working conditions could be improved upon) 

When it comes to changing terms and conditions, much depends on how the issue is communicated. This issue should be announced collectively and discussed in a transparent manner. The employer should encourage employees to come forward with their own suggestions as they have a right to negotiate this change. The employer should provide the employee with as much information as possible (i.e., their purposes for requesting such change, for example, sales, turnover, profit and even a possible reversion to this change).

By starting this process of consultation early, the employer has time to consider options, meet with staff individually and most importantly, listen to the employee’s concerns and preferences. Any change to an employment contract requires mutual consent, therefore consultation on this change is imperative.


As outlined under the Terms of Employment (Information) Act 1994 to 2001, the employer must provide the employee/s with written confirmation giving one months’ notice to the change. It is crucial that an agreement has been reached before the change is made.


Employers should continue to make necessary decisions to secure the future of their companies, but appropriate consideration should be had where changes to employment contracts are essential. 

If you have a concern about drafting or amending an employment contract you can contact Emma at SFA on 01 605 1668 or at emma.crowley@sfa.ie or visit our HR and Employment Law advice section on www.sfa.ie    


GDPR two years on – A webinar with the Data Protection Commission
  • 12 Nov

Compliance with the data protection rules and their transparent application creates trust between businesses and consumers when it comes to the use of their personal data. This webinar will recap on the application of the General Data Protection Regulation 24 months since it was introduced and update members on how to remain GDPR compliant.

In November, Deputy Commissioner Graham Doyle and Elaine Edwards, Special Investigations Unit of the Data Protection Commission will join us on a webinar to recap on the General Data Protection Regulation 24 months on. This webinar will focus on:

  • Complaints
  • Data Breaches
  • Accountability – the controller and processor relationship
  • Transparency requirements
  • Third country data transfers
  • Consent
  • New guidance – cookies and other tracking technologies
  • Steps small firms can take to remain compliant

For small business owners and Data Protection Officers, this event is not to be missed.
Register for this webinar here.

An Evening with Prof John Fitzgerald & SFA AGM
  • 25 November

SFA AGM, 25 November 6.00pm – 7.00pm

We are delighted to invite SFA mebers to an evening with Professor John Fitzgerald who will share with us his views on Ireland’s road to economic recovery and opportunities from transitioning to a low carbon economy. This evening will mark our first ever virtual AGM and members will hear from our Chair Graham Byrne about the SFA’s activities in 2020 and will also get the opportunity to elect 3 new Council members and Professor.


6pm                    Welcome

6.05 – 6.20         Report of SFA Chair Graham Byrne

6.20 – 6.30         Report of Sven Spollen Behrens, SFA Director

6.30 – 7.00         Keynote address, Professor John Fitzgerald

We would be delighted if you could join us - register here.

Brexit Webinars

Prepare for Brexit and watch some past Brexit webinars

Preparing for the end of the Brexit transition period: Customs Readiness


On 1 January 2021, the Brexit transition period will end, ceasing the participation of the UK in the EU Single Market and Customs Union. Regardless of the outcome of the ongoing negotiations between the EU and the UK on their future relationship, the end of the transition period will bring substantive changes for companies importing or exporting to Britain, or who have supply chains transiting through the UK.

In this webinar, Gerry Harrahill, Commissioner, Revenue Commissioners, provides a briefing on customs readiness and procedures from 1 January 2021, including important advice for companies in the event there is no agreement between the EU and the UK.

Playback the webinar here.



21 October: Brexit webinar Transferring data between the EU and Britain

On 1 January 2021, the Brexit transition period will end, ceasing the temporary participation of the UK in the EU Single Market and Customs Union. Regardless of the outcome of the ongoing negotiations between the EU and the UK on their future relationship, the end of the transition period may bring substantive changes and create new barriers for companies transferring data between the EU and Britain.


SFA/Ibec is partnering with the Irish Data Protection Commission (DPC) to highlight this data protection issue and to present guidance in the absence of an EU data adequacy decision. The briefing will be addressed by Assistant Commissioner Nicola Coogan, Head of International Transfers with the DPC. Ibec Director of EU and International Affairs Pat Ivory will host the session alongside Erik O’Donovan, Ibec Head of Digital Economy Policy, which will include opportunities for your questions to be addressed. As this webinar is exclusively for Ibec member companies, you must register with your company email address.

Our Presenters

  • Pat Ivory, Director of EU & International Affairs, Ibec
  • Erik O’Donovan, Head of Digital Economy Policy, Ibec
  • Nicola Coogan, Assistant Commissioner and Head of International Data Transfers, DPC


Playback the webinar here.


8 October: Preparing to Trade with the UK Post Brexit – how to prepare for Customs

Whatever the shape of the future trading relationship with the UK post transition, trading conditions with the UK will change and businesses need to prepare for that change.  If your business is planning to move goods to, from or through the UK after the transition period ends then this webinar is for you.

In this 30-minute webinar, Carol Lynch, Partner, BDO Customs & International Trade Services looks at how Brexit will impact the import and export goods and the actions small firms will need to take to prepare for after the transition period.  
1. What will be different in terms of moving goods as opposed to how they move today? 
2. What is a Customs Declaration? 
3. What information do you need to provide to complete a Customs Declaration? 
4. What supports are there to help you with this? 
5. Where can you get a clearance agent? 
6. Can you complete these declarations in house? 
7. What supporting documents are required? 
8. What is the impact of customs tariffs if there is no Free Trade Agreement? 
9. What is the impact of a Free Trade Agreement? 
10. Case study 

Goods moving from a factory in Ireland through Dublin Port to Liverpool to  
a) sale and delivery to customer 
b) storage in a warehouse pending sale and delivery to customer 
           and the same in return 

Playback the webinar here.