Mixed feelings over firm’s Belfast move

CITY insurance specialist Kennedys is moving into Northern Ireland, setting up a strong insurance presence in response to client needs.

But the historic move has met with some reservations from established Belfast insurance practices, which say they are already advising non-local clients.

The office, opening this week, will be run by four partners and one assistant – a large practice by Belfast standards.

Partner Sean Craig, who is from Northern Ireland, and assistant Nina Gaston, will be resident in Belfast and are qualified in England and Northern Ireland.

The other partners, Nick Thomas (who heads the office), James Shaw and Andrew Coates, will visit the office on a regular basis.

Coates said of the move: “We have been prompted by clients over the years to think about it and it was really brought into focus when Sean Craig said for family reasons he would like to go back to Belfast.”

He said the setback to the Northern Ireland peace process from this month’s explosion in London’s Canary Wharf did not affect the decision because Kennedys had planned the move for some time and it was based on commercial reasons.

The firm says it can make the most of lower overheads and can offer a “London service at a rate comparative to that of leading Belfast law firms”.

Paul Tweed, partner at Belfast insurance specialists John Hohnson & Co, said he was surprised by the English firm’s arrival.

“There are many areas where London firms have expertise over us local firms but we would have taken the view they can best supply that expertise in London and I don’t see the need for them to set up here.”

C&H Jefferson partner Gareth Jones said: “Competition is healthy and, of course, already exists between established defence firms here acting for local and English insurance clients.”

But he added that there was already a long history of Northern Irish firms working closely with their mainland clients.