Pat O’Neill is Chartered Accountants Ireland’s new President

The incoming President of Chartered Accountants Ireland has highlighted the need to tackle the continuing capacity constraints facing the profession at the Institute’s AGM in Dublin city centre today. Members of the longest-standing professional accountancy body on the island of Ireland elected Pat O’Neill as President at the Institute’s 134th AGM.

O’Neill noted, “Despite the recent and current challenges of the pandemic and the re-emergence of significant inflationary pressures, the economy continues to grow. Our economic pillars of large foreign direct investment and successful domestic businesses require appropriate levels of accounting talent; however, several structural factors are causing very real supply side issues in this regard.

“The accounting syllabus at secondary level, introduced over 25 years ago, does little to introduce young people to the breadth of the modern accountant’s role, so it is imperative that the syllabus is made fit for purpose in the 21st century. Otherwise, students will be deterred from a career in accounting, and we won’t have the “bench-strength” to support businesses on this island.”

President of Chartered Accountants Ireland

The Institute, under the auspices of the Consultative Committee of Accountancy Bodies-Ireland last year made a submission on this matter to the Department of Education, including the findings of its accounting syllabus review.

O’Neill continued,  “The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment has published its report on its Senior Cycle Review and whilst we are heartened that reform of the senior cycle is now recognised as necessary, the pace of change is just too slow. It will likely be 2027 by the time we see change, and during this time, the impact of a lack of supply of accounting talent is only likely to worsen.”

Accountants are on the Department of Enterprise’s Critical Skills Occupations List, professions with a shortage of qualifications, experience or skills required for the proper functioning of the economy, and the NI Executive has also listed accountancy as an in-demand skill in Northern Ireland.

In addressing the capacity issue, O’Neill also referenced the need to ensure that the needs of business and the profession are met through the recognition of qualifications, stating,

“In the Republic, a substantial amount of the work required for the audit qualification must be statutory audit work, so despite students spending a significant amount of their training supporting US FDI businesses with their US reporting requirements, with much of this controls work also used in the statutory audits of Irish subsidiaries, it will not count towards qualification. The same goes for experience gained in auditing UK subsidiaries by students based in the Republic. The Department of Enterprise Trade and Employment and IAASA must be involved in finding a solution.”

Finally, O’Neill noted that, as a growing economy, if we cannot source sufficient accounting capacity from home grown talent, we must ensure we attract the required talent into the country from elsewhere, saying,

“It is my steadfast belief that people and businesses achieve great things when they come together and diversity of background and thought is key to any profession. As an Institute, we have been working closely with government in the last few months to promote the need to reduce the required Critical Skills Employment Permits application processing times for accountants from outside the European Economic Area, who have already been hired by businesses and the profession to come and work here. The improvement now coming through in the processing time for such permits as a result has seen wait times reduced to 6-8 weeks from as high as four months. We must retain and even improve upon these shorter processing times to attract the right talent.”

Leveraging the Northern Ireland Protocol for business

Pat O’Neill highlighted the need for certainty and stability in the wake of the Assembly Elections, amid ongoing disagreement on the Northern Ireland Protocol.

He concluded,  “The Institute was an early advocate for the unique benefits of the Protocol for businesses located in Northern Ireland. We have almost 5,000 members there, and it is incumbent on us to convey the positive feedback that the Institute has received regarding the unique market access into both Great Britain and the EU that they enjoy. The Protocol remains a subject of debate this week more than ever, and there is no doubt that challenges exist, but predictability and certainty are key for business and the economy in Northern Ireland.”

Pat O’Neill has over 30 years of experience as an audit partner with EY. He has significant involvement at Board level with many plcs providing insight and best practice around Boards’ risk and corporate governance agendas. O’Neill has served on the Council of Chartered Accountants Ireland since 2014; is a former Chair of the Institute’s Audit, Risk and Finance Board; and former Chair of its Leinster Society. He holds a Bachelor of Business Studies Degree (Hons) from the University of Limerick.

At the AGM, Sinead Donovan was elected Deputy President of Chartered Accountants Ireland and Barry Doyle was elected Vice-President.

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