Address to Dublin Chamber of Commerce Networking Event
Thank you, Liam (Kavanagh, President, Dublin Chamber of Commerce), for your kind introduction. I am delighted to have the opportunity to welcome you and your members to Iveagh House this evening. I would also like to extend a very warm welcome to Ambassadors and other members of the diplomatic corps who have joined us this evening as well as to representatives of the business community and the State Agencies.
Chambers of Commerce have been a vital force over the years in Ireland’s economic development. They constitute a repository of skill and expertise and provide an invaluable service to business. My Department has hosted this event with the Dublin Chamber of Commerce since 2006 and it has become an important forum for Irish business and resident diplomats to meet and make valuable connections. I am glad to see Ambassadors and representatives from so many Embassies here tonight, and hope that the connections made will lead to lasting partnerships.
More than ever before, Irish businesses are looking overseas for new markets and new opportunities. At the same time, Ireland is attracting more and more high-tech foreign owned multinational companies to our shores. As a Government, we are committed to helping business in every way we can, by pursuing competitive policies at home and providing hands on assistance overseas through our Embassy network and the State agencies.
I know that a number of colleagues are here this evening from the State agencies and I would particularly like to welcome Julie Sinnamon and congratulate her on her recent appointment as CEO-designate of Enterprise Ireland. I worked with Julie when I led an Enterprise Ireland trade mission to Turkey in April with excellent support from our Embassy in Ankara. That mission produced impressive results – with contracts of over €30 million agreed during it. Trade missions are also about establishing connections and during the visit I held a range of meetings with prominent businesses and organisations including the Turkish Exporters Assembly which signed an MoU with the Irish Exporters Association which I hope will lead to increased trade in both directions in the future.
That was just one of a total 18 such missions which have already taken place or are due to take place this year. The number of Ministerial-led Enterprise Ireland trade missions has more than doubled over the past two years – up from eight in 2011.
Trade missions might be the most visible way in which we support Irish companies overseas but it is by no means the only way. Facilitating the promotion and expansion of business is at the core of diplomatic work. Indeed, since the onset of the economic crisis my Department’s role in advancing our economic interests has come to the fore and I have stressed to our network of Embassies that economic promotion work continues to be a top priority.
Last week I read a report from one of our Embassies – I won’t say where. They had received a call from an Irish company to say that several thousand tonnes of Irish meat were stuck at customs because it had been mislabelled and was due to be rejected and returned to Ireland. When the Embassy contacted the authorities they were told that the meat would only be allowed in if an Embassy official would travel to the cold storage warehouse, 5 hours away, and personally witness the relabeling. Not wishing to have the product returned, with the cost that that would entail to the company concerned, our deputy Ambassador made the trip and spent a full day in cold storage – from 7am until 6 in the evening – supervising the relabeling and she succeeded in getting the shipment through. I don’t want to encourage poor paperwork by exporting companies! But it did strike me as a great example of the commitment of our Embassies and our staff overseas to helping Irish companies do business abroad.
Day after day our Embassy network is busy, promoting Ireland as a destination for inward investment and R&D activity, lobbying and negotiating for market access for Irish goods, building Irish business networks, promoting Ireland in the media and to high-level contacts, making introductions for Irish companies and organising high-level visits and trade missions. They work closely with our State Agencies and they get results – working with Bord Bia and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to restore access for Irish pig-meat in Australia; working with the IDA and their client companies to engage with Aer Lingus to secure the restoration of a direct flight from the West Coast of the United States to Dublin; or with Enterprise Ireland to lead the first ever Irish trade delegation to Myanmar. Since the economic crisis our Embassy network and our State agencies have also been at the forefront of restoring our reputation overseas and I want to publicly acknowledge their hard work tonight.
Over the last two years we have restored stability to our economy. We have regained the trust of the markets and our international partners and we will exit, successfully, from our EU/IMF programme later this year. The difficult decisions we have taken and the policies we have implemented are working. We achieved a second successive year of growth in 2012 and, at last, there are some positive signs on the labour market, with 3,000 jobs now being created in the private sector every month. There are significant challenges facing us, but Ireland is emerging from the crisis.
A week ago, I met with Dr Angel Gurria, Secretary General of the OECD, as he launched the OECD’s latest survey of the Irish economy. The survey confirmed that we are well on track to exit the bailout as planned and that our economy is well positioned to return to growth in the second half of this year and on to next year. The report also confirmed that we have more work to do, particularly in tackling long-term and youth unemployment. I am glad that the OECD has agreed to work further with us to produce a study of the key challenges facing Ireland with respect to youth unemployment and inactivity, and on an assessment of the areas in the delivery of Ireland’s employment and training services where particular efforts may be needed to increase capacity and effectiveness.
It is clear that our export performance, international trading links and strong flow of FDI projects will have a crucial part to play in our future growth and job creation. We have some fantastic companies in Ireland, many of which are represented here this evening. Despite the difficulties of the last few years, many of you have continued to grow, to break into new markets and to prosper in Ireland. I can assure you that you will have the full support of the Government and of our Embassies and agencies overseas as you build on that success.