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Women taking care of business in Ireland

February 14th, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

Emma Rafferty has ‘exported’ a great Australian concept to her new home in Ireland – the meat pie.

Bonza Pies, the company Emma started with husband Colin, has just opened its second outlet in Dublin. Now the couple have their eyes on “a new branch every year, and eventually we would love to set up a franchise,” says Emma, originally from Perth.

The couple was swimming against the tide when they set up their venture just as the Irish economy was taking a disastrous tumble, over three years ago. But with persistence, patience, and, above all, faith in their product, they are succeeding.

‘We’re flat out busy from about 11am to around now, ‘ Emma says at 3pm one weekday afternoon, in the rustic-looking Bonza 2, next to Mulligan’s famous pub in Poolbeg Street. “People come in, try the pies, and then they’ll be back for more!”

But it was Emma’s Irish husband who suggested the business idea. “Colin had been living in Australia for seven years, working in construction, and having pies for lunch every day,” said Emma. “When we came back here, intending just to spend a year, Colin found there was no construction work. And he missed the pies too!”

With Emma’s support, Colin retired to the kitchen for weeks and worked on recipes for pastry and filling. Every time friends or family came round, they found themselves eating – pies. “Colin was so enthusiastic – never got sick of it, always trying new things.”

As a result they have a long menu – 11 different varieties – which surprises the not-pie-savvy Irish, who come expecting one mysterious meat filling, and are impressed with the choice.

Initially the couple had a kitchen only, in an enterprise centre located in Smithfield, near Dublin’s law courts and a famous historic produce market. This is still their bakery, and the pies are delivered to the Poolbeg St café and the other, first, outlet in the Ilac shopping centre just off O’Connell St, the city’s main thoroughfare.

What was it like setting up a business in Ireland? Emma, a cheery, bright woman in her thirties, hesitates slightly. “People are very nice, but sometimes things take longer than you expect,” she says diplomatically.

There is of course a certain amount of paperwork, but it can compare favourably to other jurisdictions. (Some trade organisations in Ireland would disagree!) New companies have to register with the Companies Office, and register for corporation, VAT taxes and for social insurance (PAYE/PRSI) with the Revenue Commissioners. Emma escaped some bureaucratic hoops that would usually affect non-nationals, because Kevin is Irish-born.

The recession helped them in some ways, she says, because it encouraged flexibility. “A lot of people advised against setting up the business at that time, but we found it could work to your advantage. When it came to negotiating leases, terms and conditions, supply agreements, people were more open.”

One great bonus for them was family investment. “We didn’t have to get a bank loan, so that was a big advantage,” Emma says. The difficulty in extracting money from Ireland’s beleaguered banks, for either commercial or residential purposes, has been a staple of current affairs and radio talk shows for the past three years.

Emma and Colin marked the opening of their second café with a ‘special appearance’ at the Ireland-Australia Association’s annual big night, the Gala(h) Ball. The entrée was a full-sized Bonza pie. “A lot of people said it was better than the main course,” Emma says proudly.

Bonza doesn’t have its own website yet, but can be found on Facebook.

Elsewhere, comments on the Irish business scene came from a transplanted American, and an Australian woman working for a large multi-national.

New Yorker cum Irishwoman Margaret E. Ward started her own business in 2006, after more than a decade in financial journalism. “It was something I always wanted to do, a dream come true,” she says. The health of her small son forced her hand, as he had a health problem, now sorted, which meant he and his parents slept very little. “So that made the decision for me, and I have always been so glad.’

She now runs an editing consultancy for large companies. ‘It wasn’t a huge step for me at the start because I had been covering personal finance for the Sunday Times, so I had a fat contact book – I knew everyone in town.”

But the latent sexism in Irish life has been something of a brake, Ward says. “There are still many Irish parties where all the men are in one room and all the women in another. This translates into the business world – men are comfortable doing deals with someone with whom they can play golf, or have a few pints. They don’t want to do that with women so much.”

Her take on the gender conundrum in Irish life goes back to the ‘sheela-na-gig’, figures of women with very aggressive genitalia, depicted in ancient Gaelic art. “The church came along and overturned what had been a matriarchal society.”

As for exporting, do it! she says. Especially in the current atmosphere, where few individual economies in the euro feel they can go it alone.

Ellen Maynes, a vibrant young woman from Melbourne, takes a gentler line but hints at the underlying gender prejudice that still exists. She has lived in Ireland for three years, works in marketing for a large multinational. and enjoys it immensely.

But, she notes, Ireland does not always offer working environments and policies to attract women to take an equal role. “I’ve always worked in male-dominated industries, both in Australia and Ireland,” she said, noting that in the Irish situation the human resources policies are a little outdated. “Only recently did the organisation establish an attractive maternity leave policy – however, we are ahead of many other Irish-based organisations in that respect.”

But there are no women on the board or in senior management – “the few female employees we have are unqualified and work within administrative functions, or are recent graduates”.

As a recent Fianna Fail government said, in a particularly leaden election slogan – “a lot done, more to do”.

Setting up a business in Ireland for new residents

Female entrepreneurs’ monitoring programme, Ireland

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