*Check Against Delivery
Good evening ladies and gentlemen.
Before I begin, I would like to complete some formalities which are very necessary on an occasion such as this which marks the close trading relationships between our two countries.
Firstly, I would like to thank Ambassador O’Neill, and his team here in the Embassy for the hospitality and support in arranging this event in association with the British Irish Chamber of Commerce. This is an important event at the start of a new year to mark the strong and continued trading links between Ireland and the UK our nearest trading partner. It is a networking event which should really happen every year and perhaps I might suggest to Eoin O’Neill and John McGrane to consider making sure it happens on a turnaround basis from here on out.
Having said that I must also thank the British Irish Chamber of Commerce and in particular its’ President Eoin O’Neill and Director General John McGrane and his team, for the significant work that the chamber does to develop and nurture British-Irish trade and economic links and more specifically the work done in preparation for tonight’s event.
Now I would like to welcome all of you who are doing business in Britain, in Ireland, or in both and who appreciate that warm relations between Britain and Ireland are good for business. You are the backbone of Irish/UK business life on which so many jobs and livelihoods depend. We do not take you for granted, and for that reason the Government is happy to collaborate with BICC to facilitate this coming together here this evening. This event is about the positive work of trade in all sectors. It is about how we can best support and grow economic and trade relations between the UK and Ireland, regardless of political developments.
This is the first time that we have taken the opportunity to join up the good work undertaken by disparate networks here in the UK from BICC (British Irish Chamber of Commerce) to IIBN (Irish International Business Network ), TLICN (The London Irish Construction Network), LIBS (London Irish Business Society), LIGN (London Irish Graduate Network), WIN (Women’s Irish Network) and BITA (British Irish Trading Alliance), respecting the different franchises of all these groups but all supporting the important message on trade which is good for us.
We greatly value the strong relationship between the networks and between our two countries. The trading relationship between the UK and Ireland is very significant and every week over €1.2 billion worth of goods and services are traded between us. For Ireland, the UK is our largest export market and for UK companies, Ireland is the 5th largest export market. Both countries also invest significantly in each other’s economies supporting over 200,000 jobs in each country. Tourism between our two countries is a two-way process which brings millions of Pounds and Euros to all the regions of both countries that enables people to live and thrive in regional locations. From this it can be seen that our trading partnership is deep, mutually beneficial and longstanding. We must and will continue to work hard to maintain and grow it, into the future.
Growth has been experienced in almost all sectors over the last year and the challenge now is for us all to ensure that the positive performance of recent years continues. This will not be easy but I am sure that, with the efforts of all in this room working together, we will succeed in making further positive contributions to the well-being of both economies
Ireland’s national success, in enterprise and job creation, relies on our ability to:
(i) trade internationally;
(ii) attract FDI;
(iii) promote and capture top quality research;
(iv) identify and focus on areas of opportunity;
(v) adapt to change;
(vi) grow our tourism product, and
(vii) make Ireland an attractive and competitive business and holiday location.
We have been high achievers under all of these headings in recent years, turning the economy around and once again showing the positive face of Ireland to the world; reducing unemployment from 15% to 6%; and growing the economy in a sound and structured manner to enable us to invest further in necessary infrastructure. From a government point of view this is an ongoing challenge. We must continuously address competitiveness issues and tackle global economic challenges as they arise.
In the context of Brexit, our strategy is to minimise risks and maximise opportunities by ensuring the growth and resilience of enterprise across all sectors of the economy and to ensure that we are seen as an attractive and competitive research location. Market diversification and addressing the competitiveness challenge are necessary if we are to succeed.
IDA Ireland, Science Foundation Ireland, Tourism Ireland, Bord Bia and Enterprise Ireland are working with their clients to ensure that they ready for the array of challenges that are emerging in the world economy not just the threats associated with “the B word”. The range of activities by my Department and its agencies to support the broader enterprise sector has been clearly set out in the publication titled “Building Stronger Business: Responding to Brexit by competing, innovating and trading”.
This publication summarises the impacts of Brexit across key policy areas within the Department and outlines the policy and operational measures underway, and planned, by the Department and its Agencies to respond to Brexit. It notes that strengthening the resilience of Irish firms requires a greater focus on enhancing our trade performance. Working with the enterprise agencies, we are supporting firms to engage in trade and to grow their exports.
Firms are receiving assistance to ease market volatility impacts through the funds made available by Government in the 2018 Budget through the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland (SBCI). Assistance is being given to companies in the areas of market insight and consumer engagement. Market reach is being extended and firms are being encouraged to address risks arising in the domestic market. All these positive interventions are designed to address challenges and make companies match fit for global markets.
As I mentioned Ireland continues to be deeply committed to the U.K. market and in preparation for Brexit, Enterprise Ireland is working with Irish companies to help them to deepen their presence in the UK market. The Irish Government is also taking decisive action by putting extra resources and expertise into the UK in support of our companies. This includes additional staff and expertise in the UK to support businesses to maintain sales, to develop new sales opportunities and to diversify into new opportunities and market sectors.
We are conscious of the challenging and uncertain period ahead. In spite of the challenge and uncertainty Irish companies have continued to grow their exports, supporting strong job creation across Ireland. 2017 represented another year of strong performance by Enterprise Ireland client companies who now employ over 209,000 people and are, I believe, a barometer of the robust health of Irish businesses.
For Irish companies engaged in the UK, business has only been established following rigorous due diligence. It was built-up over a number of years, and in some cases decades. This hard-won business will not be sacrificed in the current exacting climate. When I speak with Irish companies and agencies such as Enterprise Ireland, I am impressed by the commitment of these Irish companies to continue to invest in this most important market. The success of Irish companies here is also testament to their innovative products and services, the competitiveness of their offer, and the confidence UK companies have in Irish companies who understand their business needs and challenges.
Enterprise Ireland is focused on strengthening clients’ ability to sustain and grow exports to the UK. The agency is prioritising clients who are significantly exposed to Brexit and has had substantial engagement with these clients since the Brexit referendum. They have developed a website “prepare for brexit.ie” to assist clients to examine their exposure to Brexit across nine key areas, with options to address that exposure. This contains a scorecard which has proven to be a useful tool for clients to prepare for every Brexit scenario and is available to all companies in all segments of the economy. I believe it is being very extensively used.
In the first months of 2018 there will be a series of Brexit Clinics in all regions focusing on addressing the challenges Brexit may bring including company finances, supply chain, transport and logistics. The message for firms is to be prepared on tactical matters. Companies can then focus on the strategic issues which will ensure their continued success – driving innovation, competitiveness in operations and focus on customers and markets, diversification of their product range and reach where appropriate.
While we are now be seeing stronger domestic economic activity and Ireland may again be approaching full employment, the Government of course won’t lose sight of how important the lifeblood of Foreign Direct Investment continues to be for our country.
FDI has been of key importance to Ireland’s development and economic growth for decades. And the level of FDI in Ireland has also never been better. IDA Ireland recently announced that the number of people employed in its client companies has reached an all-time high. The strong job creation performance shows the resilience of the Irish offering where investors continue to value talent, track record and a stable regulatory environment. I know that Niamh Breslin will give a good read out of the IDA view in the Panel discussion.
Turning to Tourism
Visitor numbers from GB to Ireland have increased significantly over the last few years. GB is the biggest single market for tourism on the island of Ireland. Maintaining this performance will not be easy given recent moves in the sterling/euro rate. However, I am aware that the recent successes of “Game Of Thrones” and the latest Star Wars episode has made Ireland an attractive location for a whole new cohort of visitors – a younger generation with very different interests. Tourism Ireland and the sector in general is up for this challenge and I am sure that along with the traditional visiting friends and relations group their hard work will generate new and exciting opportunities for the sector to address the real challenges being faced by global tourism markets.
In conclusion ladies and gentlemen I can assure you that the Irish Government will continue to foster a positive relationship with our nearest trading partner. We will generate an environment for companies to do business in, export from and conduct world class research in. We will continue to work to assist Irish companies to sell their goods and services in large global markets such as the UK.
Notwithstanding the particular challenges which Brexit poses, we will continue to foster the trading the relationship between Ireland and the UK and, with the help of you all in this room, grow this relationship to new heights. You are key influencers and decision makers who will shape future business relationships and opportunities between the UK and Ireland and in this aim I wish you well.
In closing I would once again like to thank the Ambassador for his generosity in hosting us and wish you all a pleasant evening.