Address by the Tánaiste to the 56th Annual Dinner of the Londonderry Chamber of Commerce
Ladies and gentlemen, your Excellency, elected representatives from the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly, the British and European Parliaments, the right honourable Mayor of this fine city, Martin Reilly, I am delighted to join you this evening for this 56th annual dinner of the Londonderry Chamber of Commerce.
I congratulate all who organised this great gathering and I particularly thank Philip Gilliland, President of the Chamber, and Sinead McLoughlin, Chamber Chief Executive for their kind invitation to this prestigious event. I know that this Chamber prides itself on being the “only business representation organisation in the North West of Ireland that is locally based, locally managed, with local focus but national influence” and in speaking to you and looking around at the luminaries present here this evening it is clear that that assertion is well-founded.
I also wish to congratulate my co-guest of honour this evening, a daughter of Derry – Dr. Leah Totton – who overcame fierce competition to win the most recent series of the Apprentice. In winning the Apprentice, Dr. Totton, or Dr. Leah as I believe she will now be known, joins a long line of women from Northern Ireland who have exhibited great inner strength, ingenuity and determination.
It is these same characteristics that women in Northern Ireland brought to the negotiations and agreement of the Good Friday Agreement some fifteen years ago. I know you will all agree with me when I say that the contribution of women in Northern Ireland remains of central importance to its continued development, progress and prosperity.
Derry/Londonderry: A Year of Achievement
Our late Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney once wrote that “I have begun to think of life as a series of ripples widening out from an original centre”. This year Derry has been such a centre, the origin of widening circles of good, an example of what can happen when a city works as one.
When you took on the UK City of Culture, you matched that sense of common purpose to a vision, ambition and professionalism.
Through the Tattoo, Fleadh Cheoil na hEireann, the return of Colmcille and the Turner Prize you have created something wholly new - a Peoples Festival, a programme that grew from the ground up.
In doing so, I believe you have created a bridge to the future, a legacy that will endure, one that has secured this city’s reputation as a vibrant and creative place.
Just as Derry has been awakening towards this point for some time, this year the world has awakened to Derry's presence on the international cultural scene.
Already people are asking “What next for Derry?”
A wise person once remarked that if you are sitting on your laurels, you are probably wearing them in the wrong place! I know you won’t.
The Irish Government has not been sitting on our laurels either. I am happy to report that we have also made progress over two and a half years in preparing to exit the bailout, in re-building our reputation and in creating a platform for economic growth and job creation.
And the work is producing results.
This week we passed a budget that will take us out of the bailout, returning us to the markets and restoring our economic sovereignty before the end of this year.
We are now creating 3,000 new jobs each month – a stark contrast with thirty months ago when 7000 jobs a month were being lost.
Unemployment has fallen to below 400,000 this month for the first time in four years. House prices are rising again in Dublin and construction activity is gaining pace.
Exports are growing. Confidence is growing. Most important, our reputation has been restored.
We have conducted this work conscious that business here has also been severely impacted by some of these issues, not least by the functioning of the banking sector and by NAMA – subjects which Michael Noonan and Simon Hamilton work together closely on.
For many reasons then, this is a good time to reflect on what next – for Derry, for the North West and for North South cooperation.
Derry City and the North West region have outstanding assets. I want to refer to briefly to three – your reputation, your location and your people.
This has been a year when Northern Ireland’s image was enhanced by the City of Culture and by the G8 Summit in Enniskillen but put at risk by the scenes of street violence around parades.
But this city’s reputation has never been higher. Reputations aren’t built over a night or even over a year. Yours has been built up painstakingly over decades.
Last night the First Minister and deputy First Minister attended a dinner honouring the extraordinary work of the GAA towards reconciliation.
Peter Robinson’s presence at this event and the words he spoke were courageous, significant and very welcome. He spoke of reaching out beyond one’s own community, of building understanding, of demonstrating respect.
I welcome the steps that he and Martin McGuinness have taken over recent weeks, which reflect the values and spirit of the Good Friday Agreement. I hope and trust that this will be reflected in the Haass talks process by all of the parties in the Executive.
This city knows what it is to reach out. The efforts you have made towards reconciliation and a shared approach to tackling difficult issues are also a central element in this city’s reputation. The Unity of Purpose Group, for example, has done outstanding collective work.
On parades, on politics, on pride in your city, on so much you show the way.
These efforts are noticed. They are respected. They can be a blueprint for other communities.
The response from all parts of the community to the recent attack on Ballyarnett Presbyterian Church clearly shows, for example, that the vast majority of the people of Derry reject sectarianism. But it is a reminder of the need for constant vigilance, not least because there are some who are intent on doing harm to this City, its economy and its reputation, not least last week’s murder in Derry City Centre – acts I condemn in the strongest terms.
Last week was a bad week and certainly reminded us all of a past which the city has left behind. Those who are in the frontline in combating this, whether PSNI or political leaders who recognise that the best future, the only future, is a shared one – they deserve recognition and gratitude tonight.
When a reputation is damaged, it takes enormous effort to rebuild it. Those of us who have laboured to rebuild Ireland’s reputation over the past few years know that better than most.
Maintaining and developing this City’s great reputation will require constant leadership – a theme of tonight’s dinner. Not just political leadership but leadership across civil society.
The voice of business is essential.
Over recent months I have spent time meeting civil society and business leaders in Belfast and elsewhere. Tomorrow I am meeting a range of similar groups in Derry.
At these meetings I hear concerns about the political process in Northern Ireland and that some of the decisions taken and things said neither represent them nor reflect their views.
I have listened to these concerns and I am encouraged that Richard Haass is doing likewise by consulting widely with civil society and with the business community.
The enormous wisdom, insight and advice from those outside the talks can be a challenging and constructive influence inside the talks.
The voice of business always challenges and stretches the minds of the political parties.
Make sure that your voice is heard.
The second great asset that Derry has is location.
By reason of geography and history, this city looks outwards. With a border within 10 miles of the city centre, the city is a regional centre for the whole of the North West. In many ways Derry epitomises the ideal that drove the founders of the European project: a place where regional benefits are not constrained by frontiers or natural boundaries. And, of course, Derry is home to one of the greatest Europeans, John Hume.
There are great synergies – real and potential – between Derry and Donegal. The Government and Executive have worked hard to develop these. Since 2006, the Government and Executive have collaborated with local stakeholders, through the North West Gateway Initiative, to take the fullest advantage of the potential for cooperation at all levels with the region.
There has been good progress with the Altnagelvin Radiotherapy Centre as a regional centre which will serve all the people of the North West.
There is also excellent co-operation between the IDA and Invest NI on the North West Business Technology Zone which is providing linkages between industry, the colleges and Altnagelvin.
Project Kelvin has greatly improved broadband connectivity.
There is untapped potential for Derry to be a Centre of Excellence at third level and for collaboration in the fields of innovation and R&D between third level colleges at University of Ulster, Magee and Letterkenny Institute of Technology.
Foreign investments on either side of the border can bring benefits to the other - whether it is Paypal in Dundalk or Allstart or Fujitsu here in Derry. That is why we continue to support efforts by the Executive to reduce Corporation Tax rates. But while these measures may assist economic growth and job creation, they are not game changers. Northern Ireland has to be sold as a good place to do business and has to be seen to be so.
InterTrade Ireland has helped around 70 North/South projects to draw down over €60m from EU R&D support programmes over the last year and a half. This potential will increase when Horizon 2020 is launched in January 2014.
Location also allows this city benefit from the wider, accelerating British Irish cooperation. Prime Minister Cameron acknowledged this at last week’s Investment Conference when he spoke of how Northern Ireland benefits from the booming levels of trade between the UK and Ireland. And of course Prime Minister Cameron’s Economic Pact for Northern Ireland provides another opportunity for cooperation.
This year I had the opportunity, through Ireland’s presidency of the European Union, to help guide European efforts towards recovery and growth.
The relationship between Europe and Derry is a strong one. European support and funding has transformed this city – the Peace Bridge, Ebrington and the new Science Park in conjunction with Letterkenny which, once opened, will attract high-value investment and jobs into the North West region.
Commissioner Hahn heads up regional development throughout Europe. It is an open secret that he has a model of the Peace Bridge in his office in Brussels. He sees the value of the efforts of all those who reach across communities, who look outward.
I become frankly concerned when I hear voices in Britain advocating greater detachment from Europe. Our joint membership of the EU is fundamental to north south, cross border cooperation. I cannot imagine any scenario where greater detachment could be good for this city, this region or this island.
Since Queen Elizabeth’s visit to Ireland two years ago, economic cooperation between Dublin and London is advanced at astonishing speed in areas like energy, trade and visa cooperation. But even that cooperation is woven so tightly into – and benefits so much from – our membership of the EU that they cannot be treated as alternatives.
Where vigilance is required in some areas, there are extraordinary opportunities in others.
In the agrifood sector, for example. The world’s population is set to increase by 1 billion people by 2030, placing a premium on sustainable, high quality food production. There are tremendous opportunities for our food sector but we need to work together to take advantage of them.
As far as a business owner in China, India or Brazil is concerned, this is a small island off mainland Europe and differences which may loom large here are largely irrelevant. Foreign investors simply want good places in which to do business. They value a safe environment, reliable trading partners, a qualified workforce, innovation capability, good support from Governments and above all political stability.
Here are opportunities to keep more of our talent at home and send more high quality goods overseas.
This brings me to the third great asset: people. The budget that we agreed this week is aimed at ensuring that our recovery is jobs rich, affording opportunities for young people to stay.
Youth unemployment is a shared concern and an urgent priority across this island. You well understand not only the human cost and the cost to families but the related risks around the exploitation of vulnerable youths by those involved in criminality, sectarianism and the illicit drug trade.
I applaud the Executive’s “Together Building a United Community” strategy, but want to see it fully implemented. As Chair of the EU General Affairs Council I worked to secure a new EU Peace programme. I want to see it help break down the barriers that keep communities apart.
We also need to help create opportunities that allow our young people to come home.
It is almost fifty years since Brian Friel wrote memorably about the emigration of a young man from Donegal and the effects on his family in “Philadelphia, Here I Come!”
In the year to June 2012, one hundred and thirteen thousand people left Ireland, twenty four thousand of them from Northern Ireland.
How many from the North West, from Derry and Donegal?
A fundamental policy issue for government, North and South is how we make sure that as the economy grows, it does so in a way that enables those who wish to return to do so and to deploy their skills to the full.
Those who chose to remain abroad should also be given an opportunity to contribute. Just as our diaspora was an integral part of our peace process, it should be an integral part of our recovery economic development.
Two weeks ago my Department hosted the Global Irish Economic Forum focused on opportunities for job creation, especially for the young, and on economic growth. Over 260 of the most influential Irish and Irish-connected individuals from around the globe gathered in Dublin to discuss and advise on opportunities in education, tourism, investment, new technologies, trade and culture. We also spoke about how we can develop a more comprehensive strategy for engagement with our diaspora.
Here is an asset with great untapped potential. It is a potential we should develop together.
This city has shown this year what can happen when ambition and innovation are harnessed together. It has produced great results. Persist and the gains will be even greater. You do so with our whole hearted support.
We have committed to review North South cooperation when Government and Executive meet next month in Armagh when we consider the Saint Andrews Review.
I hope that that review can embrace the issues we have touched upon – opening to new export opportunities in global markets, new approaches to developing our infrastructure, new approaches to collaboration on research, youth unemployment and the provision of services.
I hope it can be guided by the spirit which has guided this city in its finest achievements, bringing ambition and pragmatism to bear on a new agenda for cooperation between the Irish government and Executive – a cooperation that must be continuously renewed according to new requirements and new opportunities.
A cooperation that, to quote once again from Seamus Heaney, is “evermore willable forward, again and again and again”