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Tánaiste addresses delegates to the Global Irish Economic Forum | Print |  Email
Monday, 21 September 2009

Address by the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Ms Mary Coughlan TD, at a State dinner to mark the conclusion of the Global Irish Economic Forum.

Saint Patrick’s Hall, Dublin Castle - Saturday, 19 September 2009, 8:00 pm

Ladies and Gentlemen, you are very welcome to the old ballroom of Dublin Castle, known as Saint Patrick’s Hall.  It is in this very hall that Presidents of Ireland are inaugurated and where, in another era, the Order of Saint Patrick was awarded to Irish people for their service.  This evening, I would like to thank you for your service as well as your time and enthusiasm for the country you share a special bond with.

I know you have spent the day discussing key economic themes at some length, so I promise not to keep you too long.  There are however a couple of important points I would like to make this evening as our weekend’s deliberations draw to a close.

The Diaspora I think, firstly, that this assembling of the most influential and successful members of our global Irish community has not only been a great success, but it has been long overdue. Though the concept of an Irish Diaspora has existed for as long as there has been Irish emigration, it has predominately found expression as a cultural and political idea. The Irish who were forced to leave these shores asserted it through the preservation of culture and values, and in the nationalist aspirations so many emigrants nurtured for their native island.  The crucial political role of the Irish Diaspora was realised to great effect in recent times with the tireless work of men like the late and irreplaceable Ted Kennedy, who worked for decades to help secure a peaceful political solution to the seemingly intractable problems in Northern Ireland.

The role of the Irish Diaspora continues to evolve however, and it is clear that the Diaspora has the ability to demonstrate the same level of passion, goodwill and capacity for finding innovative solutions to address Ireland’s economic challenges.  Your very presence here this weekend is testament to this.  A taste of this potential has been hinted at over the past decade or so, when Ireland’s prosperity lured home tens of thousands of Irish emigrants.  We have seen how their experiences have enriched this country, and I am confident the Irish Diaspora has more of the same to offer.

Economic Challenge

Though the dual storms of a global economic crisis and an indigenous property bubble have buffeted Ireland of late, the hard-earned Irish prosperity of the past decade has left firm foundations upon which to rebuild.  We are by no means starting from the economic lows of decades ago, when underachievement belied our status as a first-world Western European nation.

Central bankers and economists are now speaking quietly of a gradual, if fragile international recovery, aided by national stimulus programmes.  It will be a challenge to sustain the boosts from stimulus packages and build on this growth.  The IMF recently cautioned that we are now entering the ‘third phase’ of this economic crisis, with rising unemployment and government debt ratios.  No one is underestimating these challenges.

Here in Ireland, robust export trade figures throughout the global downturn speak of the successes Ireland has had in securing first-class foreign direct investment, hand-in-hand with the continued attractiveness of an educated and productive Irish workforce.  In addition, there is now a self-confidence and resilience among our entrepreneurs that reflect this country’s self-belief; we know how to create sustainable economic wealth; we have done so once before, and we have the tools and the know-how to continue doing so.

President Obama’s Chief of Staff once famously suggested that you should never let a serious crisis go to waste.  This wasn’t a flippant remark – it conveys the sentiment that this is a pivotal moment for the global economy. In Ireland too, we must take advantage of the global economic restructuring already underway to reorient our economy and embrace the types of knowledge-based innovations that will drive future economic growth in advanced economies.

Parallel to this, we must rebalance the costs of doing business in Ireland that threaten our hard-won competitive position as a leading merchandise exporter and the 11th largest exporter of services in the world.  After an unprecedented period of economic growth, and accompanying cost pressures, the recent trend has seen Ireland with the lowest inflation, not only in the EU, but globally.  Being part of a currency union with fifteen other countries has played a significant part in sheltering us from some of the turbulence of the global economic crisis.  Nevertheless, rapidly restoring cost competitiveness is Ireland’s most effective method for underpinning our economic recovery and restoring our competitiveness as an open, export-orientated economy.

Our Place in Europe

It would be remiss of me to talk about Ireland’s place in the global economy and not refer to our place in the European Union.  Remaining full committed members of the EU will continue to be vital for Ireland’s economic recovery and active participation in the European decision-making process. I know that for many businesses considering an investment in Europe, Ireland’s commitment to the EU is a key pull-factor in attracting that investment to this island.  Two weeks ago, I again travelled with IDA Ireland to New York to meet a series of client companies and those considering an investment in Ireland for the first time.  It struck me that, at all but one of our meetings, we were asked where Ireland stood in terms of its commitment to the EU.  The question was simple and, in true New York style, to the point – are we in, or are we out?

While it is clear that the intricacies of our national debate on the Treaty are lost in translation across the Atlantic, the message received by our delegation was loud and clear. Ireland’s position and influence within the EU matters to those overseas companies choosing Ireland as their base in Europe. If we are in, they are interested in doing business. If we are out, then it raises a doubt, it raises more questions.

A Yes vote by the Irish people to the Lisbon Treaty will send a clear signal that Ireland is serious about its pitch as the gateway to the EU. Voting Yes will ensure Ireland can continue to fully exploit the global platform which is provided by EU membership. It will also, I believe, give new impetus to an export-led recovery in Ireland.

Conclusion

I’d like to conclude my remarks by assuring you that I, together with all of my colleagues in Government, am convinced of the need to build on the work of this Forum. In the short to medium term we will be feeding the fruits of all your discussions into our Cabinet Sub-Committee on Economic Renewal, where they will impact on how we implement our Smart Economy framework. In the longer term, we hope to build a sustained relationship with you and the wider Irish Diaspora, to enhance the relationships formed and insights gained through this process.

Now, I know that for many Irish abroad, sport has a special resonance – especially Gaelic Games.  I hope therefore that you can find time tomorrow afternoon to attend the Gaelic Football All-Ireland Final.  It promises to be a great match and, indeed, there is no greater showcase for all things Irish than Croke Park on All-Ireland Final day.  It will round off what has been for me, and hopefully for you too, a remarkable and productive weekend.

Go raibh mile maith agaibh.  Enjoy the rest of your evening.




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