Irwin Armstrong is still 100% behind Brexit – and he also says the NI Protocol is a golden opportunity for us in Northern Ireland.
he founder of Ballymena-based medical diagnostics company Ciga Healthcare was one of the few business voices for Brexit here ahead of the 2016 referendum.
Back at a Brexit debate held at Ulster University, which I attended, Irwin went on to say that the EU was “anti-competitive and protectionist”. He is still firmly behind his decision to vote leave.
“I haven’t changed my mind. (Brexit) was 100 per cent the right thing to do,” he told Ulster Business. “I said it would take five years (to sort )…we have a long way to go to sort out wrinkles.
“(The NI Protocol) is a game-changer for Northern Ireland. If only our politicians understood the opportunities available to them and worked on them.
“…move on. Eliminate the piles of nonsense and move on and grab the benefits.
“(There is) bad politics. The one thing you need to remember is that business people usually solve problems, no matter what. We adapt and we live with it.
“We have a golden opportunity in Northern Ireland. We are 1.9 million people – 40,000 (new) jobs will make this place Singapore.
Asked if he would vote differently if there was a second Brexit referendum, he said “absolutely not”.
“I’m 100% more confident now than before. The reasons haven’t changed. The EU has proven itself over the last five years, how centralized it is… I don’t want to be part of it.
In 2016, Irwin said her company, which produces pregnancy tests, had been “effectively withdrawn” from sale in the EU, due to difficulties in dealing with pharmacies in countries such as France.
Irwin says he voted for the then European Economic Community in 1975, but “voted for a European economic union, not a political union.”
And business is good for Irwin and Ciga Healthcare in general.
“Going back to 2020 obviously that was a peak for us with Covid testing in antibodies and then it moved on to antigen testing. We had a good 2020 and we had a pretty good 2021.”
He said the main hurdles in 2021 included issues such as cost and delivery schedules – with items taking six weeks, now taking 12, and shipping costs potentially increasing fivefold.
But in the widespread Covid testing market that has grown alongside the spread of the global pandemic, Irwin says he has made the decision not to focus on that area.
“We have focused all our efforts on expanding our core business – point-of-care diagnostics,” he said.
And although it’s now a household buzzword, the lateral flow test is at the heart of a company like Ciga – from pregnancy tests to other diagnostic devices.
“This has been our core business for 17 years. People have been using them for 17 years and had no idea (about the technology).
Irwin says the company has expanded its ranges in Canada in recent months, as well as South America, as well as working with one of Europe’s largest wholesalers – something he says was run by the NI protocol.
“We suddenly became a very easy company to do business with,” he says,
He said his company was unable to bid for much of the UK government’s Covid testing, and therefore, and especially with hundreds of millions of tests given free to homes, it was not a area to focus on.
And he thinks the recent normalcy of home testing will now be a part of life for years to come – but in a range of key diagnostic areas.
“Diagnostic testing will be part of life,” he says. “We have a lot of tests that we can bring to market – cancer tests, tumors, etc. We see the market looking more like, you go to the pharmacy, they do the testing. We will roll out a program in pharmacies where they use consultation rooms and offer a range of tests to the public. »
The company has a turnover of around £9million, but Irwin is confident Ciga will grow in size and scale this year and next.
But while he is firmly in the Brexit camp and a clear supporter of the NI protocol, Irwin is also strongly in favor of immigration here.
“I am always in favor of increasing the number of people. In the UK we need people,” he says. “Why did we have a massive economic boom from 2010 to 2020, the reason is we had three million immigrants.”