Address by Minister for Foreign Affairs to the Cork Chamber of Commerce Networking Event
Cork Chamber of Commerce Networking Event
20 March 2010
Address by Minister Martin
Lord Mayor, Excellencies, Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen.
I am very pleased to be here with you this evening.
I would like to extend a warm welcome to everyone here this evening and particularly to those who have travelled here from Dublin and elsewhere.
Cork has always been an outward looking city, with strong links to the rest of the world. The city is twinned with Coventry, San Francisco, Cologne, Swansea and Shanghai.
This is an impressive list for a city which started out in the seventh century as a marsh. Indeed, the city motto – statio bene fide carinis – which means “a safe harbour for ships”, is a reminder of our long trading tradition and our reputation as a friendly and vibrant port city.
The harbour and our merchant tradition are still at the heart of the modern city of Cork. As many of you may know, nine of the top ten global pharmaceutical firms in the world have a major regional presence in Ireland and you will find most of them here.
I don’t need to remind you that Cork is, in fact, the real capital of Ireland, and in 2005 we gained European recognition when Cork was named the European Capital of Culture. This was an opportunity to showcase the creative side of our city – a city which has nurtured a broad range of talents stretching from the short-story writer, Frank O’Connor, to the world-renowned electric guitarist, Rory Gallagher.
Cork has been named by the Lonely Planet Guide as one of the Top 10 cities in the world to visit in 2010. I appreciate that I might be open to charges of bias, but I could not put it better than the Lonely Planet people themselves, who said: “Sophisticated, vibrant and diverse while still retaining its friendliness, relaxed charm and quickfire wit, Cork buzzes with the energy of a city that’s certain of its place in Ireland.”
I have no doubt that you will find much of that energy tonight in the members of the Cork Chamber of Commerce. Since I became Minister for Foreign Affairs, I have hosted a number of business networking events in Iveagh House, together with Dublin Chamber of Commerce and other Chambers, for the business community and members of the Diplomatic Corps. However, it gives me great pleasure to have the opportunity to host such an event this evening in Cork, together with Cork Chamber of Commerce, which has played such a constructive part in encouraging the development of business in the city and county. This is the first time this event has been held outside Dublin and I am delighted that so many representatives of the Embassies in Dublin have travelled to Cork for this occasion. We have no less than 33 Ambassadors here this evening which says something, I believe, about the attractions of Cork.
I hope that over the course of this evening there will be an opportunity for everyone to meet and to explore the possibilities for cooperation.
Chambers of Commerce have been a vital force over the years in Ireland’s economic development. They constitute a repository of skill and expertise which can provide an invaluable service to business. Facilitating the promotion and expansion of business is also at the core of diplomatic work. A key priority of the Department of Foreign Affairs is to promote Ireland and advance our economic interests overseas in cooperation with other Departments and State Agencies. This policy objective is delivered through our network of diplomatic missions whose fundamental rationale is to advance Irish interests internationally. Our Missions work very closely with the economic Agencies abroad. In our major markets, the local Ambassador chairs bi-annual meetings with the offices of the Agencies to ensure that their efforts are coordinated as effectively as possible.
A feature of the global crisis is that the world has become a more competitive place, and we have to work hard to protect our share of world markets. That is why it is increasingly important that Ireland’s network of Embassies plays an important role in promoting our economic interests abroad. I have told our Missions that I see this work as their highest priority. Last year we opened a new Embassy in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates and I am very pleased that much of its work since then has been concerned with supporting and promoting Irish business interests in that region.
Our Embassies overseas are now working increasingly closely with Irish business people abroad. The Global Irish Economic Forum in Farmleigh last September demonstrated the strong desire of Irish people abroad to contribute to promoting Ireland and our economic interests overseas. Earlier this year, I set up the Global Irish Network as a means of maintaining contact with the participants at Farmleigh and I am making a practice of meeting with the members of the Global Irish Network whenever I travel abroad. There are other business networks and associations in cities around the world and our Embassies support their activities and use them as sources of information and advice.
Our Ambassadors are not experts on trade or investment but their status, as the officially accredited representatives of Ireland, gives them a degree of access to senior levels of government and industry that none of the economic Agencies can match. A key role of our Embassies is, accordingly, to open doors for the Agencies and put them in front of the senior people they need to meet and influence.
Next week, I will be travelling to China where, in addition to meeting the Foreign Minister, I will be flying the flag for Irish business in four different cities. In Shanghai, I will also be meeting with some of the Global Irish Network members and other Irish business people to discuss what more I and my Department can do for Ireland in China. I’m happy to say that we have a very active Embassy and Consulate in China and many of you here this evening will be aware of the great work that Ambassador Declan Kelleher has done with the Cork Chamber of Commerce.
I am delighted that my visit to Shanghai next week will coincide with the visit by the Lord Mayor of Cork and his delegation. I look forward to helping them to showcase the best of Cork in Shanghai.
One of the most striking features of the present crisis is the importance of national reputation for a country’s economic and financial recovery. We have seen ourselves that negative publicity about our economic performance can have a direct effect on the cost of borrowing.
Early last year, when we were the subject of very negative publicity in the international media, I set up a dedicated Unit in my Department to monitor international press coverage of the Irish economy and to improve the flow of information to our Embassies and Consulates so that they would have the facts and figures with which to rebut inaccurate reporting of our economic performance and strategy.
This Unit provides up-to-date information on the economy to our Missions from key Departments such as the Departments of Finance and Enterprise, Trade and Employment as well as information provided by state agencies such as the IDA, Enterprise Ireland and Bord Bia.
Missions draw on this information in their contacts with journalists and also use it when drafting articles for inclusion in foreign media outlets and as a resource for background briefing material ahead of meetings with key contacts in government and the media.
Generally speaking, there has been a marked improvement in the coverage of the economy in the foreign media since the budget with serious commentators recognising that Ireland is taking the necessary tough decisions and has a realistic plan for economic recovery. There has also been a marked reduction in the cost of our borrowing and the success of the bond auction by the National Treasury Management Agency earlier this week shows that investor confidence in Ireland is growing.
Beyond the immediate fiscal and monetary challenges the Government is tackling, we have set out a plan for our economic renewal into the medium term. The Smart Economy Framework recognises that improved competitiveness alone will not be sufficient to regain the path to prosperity and that we need to become more productive as well. As an exporting nation, the only way to improve productivity is to become more innovative.
Over the last ten years, the Government have invested heavily in research and development in Ireland to build an environment that will encourage the growth of cutting edge industries in Ireland. Since Farmleigh, the global Irish have shown their determination to help in this endeavour. Last December, I approved a grant to the Irish Technology leadership Group in Silicon Valley to demonstrate the importance of close cooperation between their work and the efforts of our Missions and the State Agencies in the U.S.
Innovation, of course, is not just about high technology. It is about working smarter in all areas of the economy, to deliver the goods and services that will enable us to compete and win market share across the world into the future.
The skills and creativity that helped make Cork one of the most dynamic regions in the State are amply represented here this evening. I am confident that those talents working in close cooperation with Government and with our international partners can help build a vibrant economic future, not just for our region but for the country as a whole.
I would like now to ask Ger O’Mahoney, President of the Cork Chamber to say a few words.