By Padraic Halpin
DUBLIN (Reuters) - Ireland's multinational sector will have a "good" 2021 if firms can post another year of net job gains in the teeth of the coronavirus pandemic, the head of the state's foreign investment agency said on Friday.
Ireland's large multinational sector has shielded the economy from the worst of the COVID-19 crisis, with firms adding more jobs than they cut in 2020 at a time when on-off lockdowns left one in five workers out of work at the end of December.
Employment at foreign-owned firms grew by 4% or almost 9,000 last year, a better outcome than investment chief Martin Shanahan had expected in July, when he said holding onto the same number of foreign direct investment (FDI) posts would be a very good result.
While the jobs market remains uncertain with Ireland and many other countries back under a strict lockdown, the outlook for the next couple of months is "not too bad", Shanahan told Reuters.
"There is stuff in the pipeline and there will be announcements in the coming weeks," the IDA Ireland chief said in a telephone interview, pointing to 250 new jobs announced at three technology companies this week.
"At this point I don't think we've seen all the impact on the portfolio from the pandemic. If at the end of 2021, we are looking at a similar level of net job creation, it will be a good outcome."
The resilient performance of the sector, which counts Apple, Google, Facebook and Pfizer as major employers, meant FDI firms accounted for 12.4% of Ireland's workforce at the end of last year, up from 10.7% in 2019.
COVID-19 restrictions will make the next six months "very challenging" -- Shanahan has not boarded a plane to meet prospective investors since March -- however he believes the vaccine rollout has created a new level of optimism.
"I do think we're coming back to an even keel but there is so much dependent on the path of the virus that it's difficult for some of those companies to say with any certainty what they're going to do next," Shanahan said.
(Reporting by Padraic Halpin, Editing by William Maclean)