Remarks by the Tánaiste
to the Invest in Ireland Forum (Global Irish Network)
9 February 2012
We are very fortunate in Ireland to be able to call upon the reservoir of goodwill, expertise and support of so many people and communities right across the United States. Your presence here today is a further powerful demonstration of this commitment and I would like to extend my own deep appreciation to all of you for making yourselves available for this event.
As we continue to deliver economic recovery at home, we are thankful to be able to call upon the membership of the Global Irish Network in the United States as well as our wider network of friends and allies represented here today. Together, you constitute an invaluable resource of which the Irish, at home and abroad, are proud.
I would also like to strongly echo the Taoiseach’s expression of gratitude to President Clinton for convening this morning’s investment roundtable. As you have heard, the meeting provided an invaluable opportunity for the Government to make our case to a number of major US corporations who do not yet have significant investments in Ireland. I am confident that it will make an important contribution towards our efforts at job creation and economic recovery.
In following through on a specific commitment made by him at the Global Irish Economic Forum, President Clinton has once again demonstrated his remarkable personal commitment to our country and its development.
General economic situation
The story of Ireland now, early in 2012, is one of a country growing again, with stability provided by a Government with a large majority and with economic stability and certainty now in place. Our programme is on track and in some areas ahead of target. Indeed, Ireland has retained its ratings in two recent agency reviews.
Our turnaround now underway is quite simply a story of determination and sacrifice by the Irish people, together with prudent management by the Government.
Despite the uncertainty in the eurozone and the global economy, for the first time since 2007 the Irish economy did return to growth in 2011 despite a difficult last quarter globally. This gradual recovery is forecast to continue into 2012 and subsequent years. We are making competitiveness gains fast while last year saw the first current account surplus since 1999.
This growth is driven primarily by the exporting sector. As a small open economy Ireland has had to adapt quickly and positively to the severe economic downturn. Our recovery is export-led, and on the back of increases in export levels of 6.3% in 2010 and an estimated 4.6% increase in 2011, exports are at record levels.
The pharmaceuticals, software, financial services, business services and food sectors all performing especially well; this is good news for the many US companies in these sectors that have Ireland as their European base.
The tourism sector grew also in 2011, by almost 7% in the first eleven months. Ireland has a world class product to offer overseas visitors and we anticipate that this level of growth will continue into 2012.
Our objective is not to bring us back to where we were just before the crisis – but instead to return us to the kind of sustainable, disciplined and innovation-driven economic model we had in the late 1990s.
We are determined move out of the EU/IMF programme and return to the markets at the earliest opportunity. My colleague, Minister for Finance Michael Noonan, will be in a position to brief you in more detail on our specific financial targets.
In our discussions this morning, we were also able to highlight a strong impressive inward investment story. As many of you will be aware, Ireland continues to be a destination of choice to many of the world’s leading companies, including:
New and established multinationals continue to invest and re-invest in their operations making Ireland one of the global locations of choice. Our value proposition continues to be based on a number of fundamental attractions that have successfully driven inward investment for many years. Specifically, we continue to have:
I am delighted that my colleague, the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Richard Bruton, is with us today. As the Minister responsible for attracting investment into Ireland, Minister Bruton, will be pleased to discuss our priorities in more detail.
Follow up to the Global Irish Economic Forum
The Global Irish Economic Forum held in Dublin Castle last October was an important milestone in Ireland’s relationship with leading business and cultural figures from among Ireland’s Diaspora. Building on the success of the inaugural Forum at Farmleigh in 2009, the meeting at Dublin Castle brought together some 270 members of the Global Irish Network for detailed exchanges on 15 key topics with leading Irish political, business and cultural leaders.
The energy and commitment to Ireland evident at the Forum were graphic reminders of the importance of our Diaspora as a source of soft power.
As a result of the Global Irish Economic Forum and the establishment of the Global Irish Network, we now have some 350 highly influential individuals from 40 countries who have committed themselves to work with the Government in promoting our economic and cultural interests around the globe.
Many of those present today made an important contribution to our deliberations at the Forum. Some of you were not in a position to attend, but continue to work very closely with us in promoting Ireland and its interests in the United States.
The Report of 2011 Forum, published by the Government in November, outlines an ambitious agenda through which the Forum and the Global Irish Network can contribute a significant way:
In order to deliver early progress on this agenda, the Government identified 12 initiatives highlighted in the Report of the Forum for priority action and will issue a detailed progress report in March on post Forum implementation. Of course, the Investment Roundtable convened today by President Clinton is one of the flagship outcomes announced at the Forum. However, I am pleased to report that we have achieved real progress across a number of other key areas.
A Register of Advocates in a number of specific sectors has been established. A considerable number of Network members have signed up to assist the Government in each of the following sectors: Foreign Direct Investment; Tourism; promoting Irish businesses abroad; and the promotion of Irish culture. Working with Irish Government Departments and the State Agencies, these Advocates will play a key role in facilitating high level access for the Government and Irish companies; spreading our key messages in influential board rooms and media markets and undertaking specific project work. I would like to emphasise my deep appreciation to those who have agreed to serve in this capacity.
The Government has also announced a number of important changes to our visa regime to make it easier for those who want to invest or establish businesses in Ireland to do so. This was a specific proposal made by many participants at the Forum.
We have taken forward the proposal that there be a formal programme to enable leading members of the Global Irish to provide mentoring services to Irish companies in key international markets.
A new Award by the Irish State for individual members of the Diaspora who have rendered distinguished service to the nation has been progressed and the details will be announced next month.
Plans for The Gathering- a year-long series of events in Ireland in 2013 targeted specifically at the Irish Diaspora- are well advanced and will be formally launched during St Patrick’s week. As the United States will be a key market for The Gathering, we will be looking to many of you to assist Tourism Ireland in raising awareness of and promoting this exciting celebration.
The Government has also significantly increased it support for small and medium sized enterprises, including a new micro-financing and credit guarantee scheme. This was a key area highlighted by many at the Forum and I am pleased that we have been able to make significant progress in a short period of time. We are also supporting plans for a credit guarantee scheme led by the private sector and financed by leading members of the Diaspora.
Building on the success of Imagine Ireland in the United States in 2011, the Government is also strongly supporting the convening of a World Actors Forum, ‘a Davos for the arts’, in Ireland starting in 2013.
A more comprehensive account of post Forum implementation will be released in March by the Government. However, it is already clear that the follow up process has been robust and focussed on delivering practical value added outcomes. I am particularly pleased that we have also been able to increase our level of direct engagement with members of the Network through regular communications from the Taoiseach and myself. I can assure you that this will continue in the period ahead.
I would like to conclude by thanking you for your support and engagement over many years. Together, the people of Ireland and our friends and allies in the United States have delivered enormous achievements.
The successful delivery of the peace process in Northern Ireland should be a constant reminder in challenging times of what we can achieve by harnessing the best talents and resources of the Irish at home and abroad. The progress that the Government has achieved over the past 12 months in restoring our international reputation and building recovery have been due in no small part to the assistance provided by our friends in this country. I am certain that if we maintain this engagement and focus, we will deliver an Ireland that is prosperous, prudent and fair.