Remarks by Minister Martin at Breakfast Reception with the Irish International Business Network (IIBN), London, Thursday 4 February 2009
Remarks by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Micháel Martin T.D.,
to the Irish International Business Network (IIBN),
London, Thursday 4 February 2010
I am delighted to have the opportunity to meet with you this morning. The IIBN is a glowing example of successful Irish business networking with the objective of supporting Irish people at home and abroad.
I am also reliably informed that its unwritten motto is "all things equal, the Irishman gets the deal”.
I want to commend the IIBN on its efforts to expand its own network, with chapters currently running in Dublin and New York, as well as in here in London. In challenging times, such as we currently face, it is heartening to see projects like this being driven forward through private initiative.
Great praise is due in particular to Conor Foley for his vision in
developing the IIBN and to Fionuala Pender who single-handedly
makes the IIBN networking work.
Your concept - connecting Irish entrepreneurs globally - is one that makes practical sense and ultimately results in viable business opportunities.
Indeed, central to the success of any good business venture is the quality of relationships - relationships that work well and evolve into real and sustainable partnerships.
I speak with some authority and even greater conviction when I tell you this morning that the relationship between Ireland and Britain has never been better. It is an equal relationship that is both strong and friendly and operates on the basis of genuine partnership.
On the political front, the past week has seen our two Governments standing shoulder to shoulder in support of the efforts of the parties in Northern Ireland to reach agreement on the issue of devolution of policing and justice.
The Taoiseach and Prime Minister Brown launched these all party talks when it became clear that the parties themselves were unable to break the deadlock. Although the talks have taken over ten days, I can report that significant progress has been made.
The constructive engagement and political will being demonstrated by the parties in these talks will hopefully provide the momentum for the Executive to get back down to business addressing the economic and social needs of the people of Northern Ireland.
I believe that a deal is very close and we will have positive news soon. An agreement reached between the parties will be warmly welcomed by both Governments in the knowledge that it provides confidence that the Executive and Assembly will continue to discharge their responsibilities on behalf of all the people of Northern Ireland.
A deal struck by the political leaders of Northern Ireland and facilitated by the Governments, is also an important demonstration that Northern Ireland is open for business.
In these difficult economic times it is imperative that the world
sees the North as a politically stable and increasingly normalised
society which has considerable investment potential.
Most importantly, a political agreement sends a clear message to those few who still want to undermine peace that they cannot and will not succeed. The spirit of leadership and mutual respect demonstrated by the parties is to be commended.
I want to also acknowledge that the Irish community in Britain has
played an important role in removing the mistrust that existed
between our islands during the Troubles.
British Irish Relationship
It is true to say that today we are positively recognised for our contribution to modern British society and we should be proud of the part we have played. We have enriched the economic, political, social and cultural development of this country.
As close neighbours, we also enjoy a considerable level of cultural compatibility. We each have first-rate education systems, and we have ambitious populations, the best educated ever in our respective histories. The role of education and entrepreneurs in turning that potential into prosperity is very well-illustrated in this room today.
From an economic perspective, Britain continues to be Ireland’s largest trading partner with trade in 2008 worth over €32 billion. It is the most important export market for our products, and the most important source of tourists to Ireland.
Although adverse exchange rate changes in the last 18 months have certainly created difficult trading conditions for many Irish companies exporting to Britain, our bilateral trade amounted to over €20 billion in the first 10 months of last year.
While Britain remains a key economic partner for Ireland, it is also important to acknowledge that ours is a mutually beneficial relationship, evidenced by the strong flow of investment in both directions.
Furthermore, our shared membership of the European Union is an integral part of the British-Irish relationship. For over thirty-seven years now, Ireland and the UK have worked intensively with our EU partners on the EU’s wide-ranging agenda.
The strength that membership of the Union brings to all of us has never been more necessary than at this time of global economic and financial turmoil. We have seen that countries cannot face this storm alone, and this is true whether they are large or small.
Ireland’s membership of the Eurozone is crucial to our weathering the storm, and, for businesses in both our countries, the European Single Market offers opportunities on a scale which far exceeds the combined markets of Britain and Ireland.
In facing global challenges, whether economic, environmental or political, we find that membership of the Union gives Ireland a voice on the global stage and an ability to punch above its weight. Even the largest member States can exert more influence where the EU acts together than they could ever do alone.
Ireland’s commitment to the EU was strengthened by the firm knowledge that we could never have come as far as we did if we had tried to go it alone.
Our renewed commitment to the EU is fortified by our conviction
that economic recovery lies in a pro-active engagement with our
European partners, including our nearest neighbour.
For two decades now, since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the European Union has been debating its institutions and procedures. All too often, the debate has been obscure and at times exasperating for people and businesses that looked to Europe for effective action.
The Lisbon Treaty was never recommended as bedside reading, unless you were seeking a cure for insomnia, but it does embody a new institutional framework that is stable and lasting. The EU can now move on from its institutional debates. It can use its new instruments to tackle the great challenges of our age.
EU 2020 Strategy
Against this backdrop of the most severe economic and financial crisis seen in generations, the need for a renewed approach on the part of the EU and its Member States cannot be overstated.
The EU’s Lisbon Strategy on growth and jobs, which has nothing to do with the Lisbon Treaty, been in place over the last decade.
The Strategy is a useful basis on which we can build, as over the coming months the EU sets about agreeing a successor strategy, which is currently being referred to as the “EU 2020” Strategy.
Putting in place the right strategy has been identified as a key priority, both by the new President of the European Council and by the Spanish Presidency. Ireland strongly supports this focus and will continue to work with partners to ensure that the most practical and effective strategy emerges from our discussions.
Ireland is of the view that any new Strategy must be effective in steering the comprehensive exit strategy from the financial and economic crisis in the short term, while also equipping the EU towards a higher sustainable growth potential, accompanied by job creation, in the medium to long term. In short, for us the primary focus for the EU 2020 Strategy should remain firmly on sustainable jobs and growth.
The EU now needs an ambitious vision, while the experience of the Lisbon Strategy, over the last ten years underlines the need for a new strategy to have a sharp focus and concentrate on a limited number of key objectives which should include; competitiveness, R&D, innovation, completion of the Single Market, employment activation measures and training, the sustainable use of resources, including the development of agriculture and food resources, as well as global trade.
In relation to the economic challenges we have had to face over the past difficult eighteen months, the Government has made a concerted effort to bring on board the experience and expertise of our greatest global asset – the Diaspora.
In an effort to harness their knowledge and abundant goodwill, the Government convened the Global Irish Economic Forum, held at Farmleigh on 18-20 September 2009.
The Forum had two broad objectives: to explore how the Irish at home and abroad, and those with a strong interest in Ireland, could work together and contribute to our overall efforts at economic recovery; and to examine ways in which Ireland and its global community could develop a more strategic relationship with each other, particularly in the economic sector.
It was marked by a high level of enthusiasm among the participants, who widely regarded the event as a very significant success. I was deeply heartened by the spirit of generosity so evident among participants and by their willingness to support and assist Ireland’s efforts at economic recovery.
Global Irish Network
During the event, I proposed that a new Global Irish Network be established to maintain and build upon the work begun at the Forum. The suggestion received an enthusiastic response from participants and featured as one of the key recommendations contained in the Report of the Forum, published on October 13. We have moved quickly to implement this key proposal.
Late last year, I wrote to some 360 individuals around the world
inviting them to participate in the Network.
The list of recipients included those invited to Farmleigh and a number of additional individuals identified by our network of Missions around the world as suitable for inclusion.
I am pleased to tell you that following a recommendation from the
London Embassy, I have appointed Conor Foley, along with Andy
Rogers, who is also very active in IIBN, as members of the Global
Those invited to participate are all individuals who share a strong connection to Ireland and a record of high achievement in international business or culture or who have strong connections with the wider Irish Diaspora.
I have been deeply heartened by the response to my letter of invitation. To date, almost 300 from 37 countries have agreed to participate, including some forty individuals based in Britain.
Later today I will formally launch the Global Irish Network here at
the Embassy and I will outline in more detail the background,
purpose and remit of the Network.
Following the launch, I look forward to participating in the first formal meeting of the British based members of the Network.
I intend this to be the first in a series of regional meetings of the Network that will take place around the world in 2010. I want to emphasise that the Network is intended to complement and bring added value to the outstanding work already being undertaken by Irish business and sectoral networks around the world, including the IIBN.
I am pleased to report that the broad economic policy and call for
leadership advocated by many participants at the Farmleigh Forum
was reflected significantly in Budget 2010. Substantial
progress has been made in relation to the public finances, the
banking sector and increased competitiveness.
The emphasis in the Budget on encouraging innovation, maintaining Ireland as a friendly and supportive environment for international business, and highlighting emerging strengths in areas such as renewable energy, green technology, scientific research and innovation, all reflect the concerns and views put forward by those present at Farmleigh.
An aggressive effort has been made by the Government to highlight
these actions to the international business community and media.
Comprehensive briefing has also been provided by Irish Diplomatic
Missions and State Agencies to those who attended Farmleigh and the
wider business sector abroad.
Key Economic Message
Taken together, these key post Budget 2010 messages constitute a substantive and forward looking brand that Ireland can project to the world market. Such coherence was a key suggestion of Forum participants.
Our message is simple. We have taken tough and decisive action to stabilise the public finances.
We are repairing the banking system with the establishment of the National Assets Management Agency (NAMA) and we are in the process of reforming our financial regulatory structures.
Competitiveness is key and we are making progress on the proposals set out in the report on “Building Ireland’s Smart Economy.”
Unit labour costs in Ireland are improving and productivity should grow by 3% this year. Energy prices are coming down. Our capital programme is - at about 5% of GNP – proportionally the highest in Europe.
I should also emphasise that the key factors which facilitated
Ireland’s economic success in recent years are still in
place. Ireland continues to be one of the most prosperous
countries in the world.
We have one of the most open and flexible economies in the world with one of the world’s most highly skilled, highly educated and productive workforces.
It is not surprising, therefore, that we are the European hub for companies such as Microsoft, Google, Intel and Facebook and, of course, we continue to maintain a consistent, transparent and pro-business corporation tax regime.
It is easy to overlook the progress we have made since the financial crisis shook the world in September 2008.
In a matter of months, we have secured the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty.
We have set up NAMA and we have passed one of the most stringent budgets in the history of the State.
Our work is not complete but it is reassuring to see our endeavours
beginning to bear fruit in the context of a more optimistic global
Our recovery will be export led and fortunately our exports have been relatively stable.
They fell by just 2% in the first 10 months of last year at a time when exports from most European countries fell by about 20%.
Obviously, the exchange rate with sterling remains an issue but with the latest figures showing the UK is officially out of recession and countries such as France and Germany revising their growth forecasts for 2010 upwards, this is good news for Ireland and good news for our customers in the UK and elsewhere.
Indeed, the IMF reported last week that “the global recovery is off to a stronger start than anticipated earlier.”
This is welcome news for us all and only serves to encourage those of us involved in making difficult decisions that the policies we are implementing are the right ones and that they are yielding results.
I believe that there is much room for optimism as we look
I want to conclude this morning by wishing the IIBN every success in its efforts.
I believe it is my onerous honour and duty to declare the IIBN website officially re-vamped and re-launched. The new website will facilitate even greater networking between Members and hopefully, as a result, many more Irishmen – and Irish women – will “get the deal”.
I have no doubt that this network will continue to go from strength
to strength and I wish you success in that very valuable endeavour.
04 February 2010