Address by Minister Micheál Martin, T.D., to the Dublin Chamber of Commerce, 23 June 2009
“the entreprenEUr– Ireland’s success in Europe”
Thank you very much Peter Brennan, [VP, Dublin Chamber of Commerce] for your words of introduction.
I would like to thank you and your colleagues in Dublin Chamber for taking this most timely initiative in gathering together entrepreneurs to celebrate Irish entrepreneurial success in Europe. I am very pleased that this seminar is one of the business projects being funded under my Department’s Communicating Europe Initiative.
The Economy and Europe
The difficulties Irish entrepreneurs face as a result of the most recent economic crisis are very real. Jobs are being lost, businesses are scaling back and many are finding it difficult to remain viable. It has been clear throughout though that our position within the EU and our possession of the euro has been an invaluable asset to us.
There was no way that Ireland, as a small and open economy, could
have escaped the truly unprecedented developments in the global
financial system and in the global economy. Millions of
hard-working people across the world have lost their jobs - and
we've seen the tragedy of unemployment rising in our own
If ever there was a time for Ireland to confirm our commitment to the European Union, this is that time. Our future well-being requires that we copper-fasten our position at the heart of the European Union.
Our position within the EU and our possession of the euro has been an invaluable asset to us. The unfaltering support and solidarity of our EU partners and the various institutions of the Union, including the Commission, the ECB and the European Investment Bank, have been enormously, indeed critically, important to Ireland.
By virtue of our Eurozone membership, we have had access to remarkable amounts of liquidity which the ECB has made available to our financial system, including most recently through its decision to buy European bank bonds on a large scale. Interest rates are now at a record low. The EU stimulus package will make €110 million available to us for our electricity inter-connector with Britain. It will also assist the roll out of broadband internet. We have worked closely with the EU institutions in putting together the measures urgently needed to stabilise the banking sector.
The EU’s ongoing role in supporting and shielding us is a story that really needs to be told more forcefully and more often, especially by those in the business sector.
In recent months, we have seen clearly what the EU can achieve when we work together to address global challenges. We did this at the G20 summit in May and in the months ahead we will attempt to give leadership to the international community in dealing with such existential challenges as climate change and energy security.
The Member States of the EU remain by far our largest trading partner. Inward investment from other EU countries has boosted our economy. Investment from the US and Japan has been attracted to Ireland on account of our position within the EU.
Even at this time of severe economic challenge, when the Government has been compelled to take the toughest of decisions, we have not altered our 12.5% Corporation Tax rate, nor will we.
Since June 2008
It is now just over eleven months since the referendum on the Treaty of Lisbon. The context in which that decision was taken has altered radically. Ireland’s economic circumstances and the environment in which business operates have changed and become more testing for Irish entrepreneurs.
The Lisbon Treaty has come to be seen as a vital part of Europe’s
ability to cope with the much-changed economic environment in which
we now find ourselves – it is our platform for prosperity.
Since June of last year, we have painstakingly sought to identify and address the concerns that people had about the Treaty. Our goal has been to deal with those concerns, while also securing our position at the heart of the Union.
We began by analysing the factors that influenced the outcome. The independent research we commissioned told us that the people want Ireland to remain fully involved in the EU. At the same time, lack of accessible information was a real problem for a large segment of the electorate.
The research also pointed to a number of other issues that gave rise to real concerns and uncertainties in the minds of our electorate – among these were: the composition of the European Commission, corporation tax, defence/neutrality and ethical issues such as the right top life and the protection of the family and education.
The all-party Oireachtas Sub-Committee on Ireland’s Future in the European Union, examined the various issues that arose during the campaign. The Sub-Committee’s report unequivocally states that Ireland’s place is at the heart of the European Union. It recommended that the key concerns of the electorate be addressed and that public understanding of the EU should be improved.
At the European Council last December, the Government secured an
agreement that, if the Lisbon Treaty enters into force, all Member
States will retain a Commissioner. This was a very significant
concession by our partners, some of whom strongly favoured a
The other Member States also agreed that Ireland would be given legally binding guarantees in the areas of taxation, defence/neutrality and on certain provisions of our Constitution relating to the right to life, education and family. EU leaders further agreed that the high importance which the EU attaches to certain issues, including workers’ rights and the provision of social services, would be confirmed.
We have spent the last number of months working actively to give formal shape to these guarantees.
The European Council
This work came to a head at last week’s meeting of the European Council. We asked our partners for firm legal guarantees. We got them. We wanted a commitment to a protocol. We got that.
The EU is a body that is founded on consensus. When we run into difficulties, we always look for solutions. In our case, the Member States have taken account of our referendum result. They have listened to our concerns and offered us a range of concessions.
I wish to acknowledge the spirit of solidarity shown to Ireland by our Partners at the European Council. Together we have agreed a package of legally-binding guarantees that respond positively and decisively to the concerns of the Irish people.
As you know, we already have agreement that each Member State will keep a Commissioner.
And now we have agreement that legally binding guarantees will be attached to the EU Treaties after the entry into force of Lisbon.
The doubts that were raised about certain issues have been
clarified and put to rest once and for all. The guarantees
make crystal clear that:
• Ireland remains in control of our own tax rates;
• Ireland's traditional policy of military neutrality is unaffected by the Treaty; and
• The protections in the Irish constitution on the right to life, education and the family are not in any way affected by the Lisbon Treaty.
And we have also agreed a solemn declaration making clear the importance of workers’ rights and public services to the Union.
Small countries like Ireland cannot afford to go it alone. Membership of the European Union enables us to shape issues with global impact. And it provides us with stability in difficult periods - such as that we are currently experiencing.
The deal we have just concluded shows the Union at its best, listening to Member States, big and small, and arriving at consensus.
I am confident we now have a solid basis to go to the Irish people and to ask them again for their approval for Ireland to ratify the Treaty so that Europe can move on.
This is why the Government will be putting this new package - the Treaty and the legally binding guarantees - to the people in a referendum in the autumn. Supporting the package will send a powerful message to our neighbours on our commitment to the European project and confirm our place at the heart of Europe.
The case for ratification is compelling. I know that everyone here recognises that Chambers Ireland were among the first to welcome Friday’s breakthrough. The active support of all Chambers of Commerce during the campaign will be vital.
The European Union is the platform for much of our prosperity. And it is essential for very many of our jobs. Ireland’s place is at its heart: that is where we plan to remain.