Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am delighted to be here at Bloomberg Headquarters on this St. Patrick’s Day for ‘Ireland Day’.
My sincere thanks to Michael Bloomberg for his warm words of welcome and for his intiative in organising this event. Thank you to everyone at Bloomberg who made it happen.
St. Patrick’s Day is a time of celebration in Ireland and for all those of Irish descent and affinity around the world. It is a day when we celebrate Ireland’s global reach and our contribution to the wider world, and also the very positive influence that the wider world has had, and continues to have, on Ireland.
In that context, I want to take the opportunity to update you on Ireland’s economic progress and outline why as a globalised open economy Ireland is deeply committed to our EU membership and to international trade.
Turning first to Ireland's economy, I am glad to say that our economic performance in recent years continues to outpace most of our European partners.
Last year our economy grew by 5.2%. All key economic indicators point to continued solid economic growth, despite a challenging global enviornment.
The increase in economic activity is broadly-based, with growth being experienced across all sectors, whether they be export or domestic focused.
The strength of the recovery is perhaps most clearly evident in the labour market. More than 2 million people are now in work – the highest level since 2008. Unemployment has dropped by almost 2% alone in the past 12 months.
And the market reaction to this economic progress is clear – the cost of borrowing is close to historic lows reflecting our continued economic and fiscal improvements. Ireland has regained an ‘A’ grade status from all major sovereign debt rating agencies.
Our plan is to continue to expertly manage Ireland’s national finances. We plan to eliminate the deficit next year and our debt to GDP ratio is also on a firm downward trajectory.
Foreign Direct Investment continues to be a key contributor to Ireland’s economic development and growth. Over 1,300 foreign owned companies have now put down roots in Ireland.
Export growth in recent years has also been exceptionally strong. Last week we published our new trade, tourism and investment strategy, called “Ireland Connected”, in which we have set an ambition to increase our indigenous exports to €26 billion by 2020 - up by 26% from 2015.
Our economic recovery is a testament to the determination, resilience and creativity of the Irish people. We are problem solvers, a nation of creative thinkers, where curious minds live, learn and discover.
In recognition of this the Government has also launched Creative Ireland an ambitious programme which will place our strongest assets – our culture and creative communities - at the centre of public policy. It will showcase the richness of our culture and creativity and promote Ireland in an intensely competitive global marketplace as a great place to live, to invest, to work and study.
Creative Ireland sends a new and very important message internationally about how Ireland values its culture and how the Government is setting out an ambitious plan based on creativity for the next five years.
As part of the Creative Ireland programme, this week I launched the new “Ireland.ie” website. This new portal will further assist in enhancing Ireland's profile and offering here in the US while showcasing Ireland and the best of Irish creativity to a global audience.
US-Ireland economic relationship
While celebrating Ireland Day at Bloomberg I have to highlight the huge strength of Irish American economic relations.
The US continues to be Ireland’s largest source of inward investment, accounting for around 70% of all inward FDI, employing up to 150,000 people in more than 600 operations in Ireland.
The US also benefits very significantly from its economic and trading relationship with Ireland.
The United States is Ireland’s largest trading partner in services with the US running a significant trade surplus. Viewed across both goods and services our overall trade flows are remarkably balanced. Two-way trade in goods and services is approaching $100 billion a year.
And more than 700 Irish companies employ close to 100,000 Americans across all 50 States.
We see this as the key factor to success, a relationship that benefits both sides in a fair and transparent way.
Invest in Ireland
Of course Ireland has also been, and will continue to be, an important bridge between the United States and the European Union. Post Brexit, Ireland will be the only English-speaking country in the EU, at the heart of the Single Market with unfettered access for companies, and in the Eurozone.
We are one of the most competitive economies in the world.
We are a young well-educated people. 40% of the population is under 29, the youngest population in the EU. Our education system ranks in the top ten in the world and over 50% of Irish 30-34 year olds have a third-level degree – higher than any other country in the EU.
We have worked hard to create a business friendly environment, for businesses large and small.
We will compete for all mobile business that sees the value of and need for locating in the EU. We will continue to promote the strengths which make Ireland so attractive to for FDI. And key to this is our strong commitment to international trade.
As a small, open economy, trade and investment represent Ireland’s very life blood.
The more Ireland trades with the world the more prosperous our society becomes. We have seen this very concretely over the last half century, as we opened the Irish economy and in the process transformed our country for the better.
Ireland steadfastly supports an open, rules-based international trading system which promotes and delivers open, free and fair trade.
We continue to believe that a comprehensive bilateral trade and investment deal between the EU and US would benefit both economies and most importantly, the workers and consumers of both blocs.
So I am determined to work with the new US administration and as a committed member of the EU towards this end.
Brexit/Future of EU
In the same vain Ireland’s membership of the European Union has been transformative for our economy and society.
It has been central to the success of our open, competitive economy.
Ireland’s membership of the Single Market and the Customs Union are absolutely fundamental to our economic strategy.
This EU market allows us to sell Irish goods and services anywhere within the Union today of over 500 million people without restrictions. It gives us the opportunity to buy goods of high quality, with the reassurances of proper standards.
It provides the freedom to transact business with strong protections for the rights of consumers and the intellectual property of our artists, scientists and businesses.
It gives us full access to EU trade agreements with other major markets, and a capacity to engage in global free trade that we could not possibly have on our own.
It allows our people to travel, work and live freely in all Member States if they choose to do so.
The EU has also been the cornerstone of much of the social progress which Ireland has experienced over the last generation.
Membership of the Union allows us to address shared problems - such as international peace and security, climate change, terrorism and migration - in an integrated way.
To continue to succeed as an open economy and a welcoming society, we must, and will, remain at the heart of Europe.
Brexit is a British policy and was certainly not what we wished for in Ireland.
It is not a trigger for Ireland to follow suit and to leave the European Union with Britain.
Nor is it the beginning of the end of the European Union.
The European Union is, above all else, a community of nations built on shared values – values that were relevant when the European Union first came into being 60 years ago, values that were relevant when Ireland joined in 1973, and values that are every bit as relevant today when we face so many new challenges in the world.
Those values include human dignity, freedom and democracy, equality and the rule of law.
Values, incidentally, that I believe are shared on this side of the Atlantic.
As those common values come under increasing threat, so we must defend them more strongly than ever. We cannot take them for granted.
I believe these values and ideals will continue to guide us in the time ahead.
Brexit poses unprecedented political, economic and diplomatic challenges. How we deal with it in the months and years ahead will define the future of Ireland for decades to come.
We’re under no illusion about the nature and scale of the Brexit challenge. In response we have a clear and comprehensive plan.
And while we will miss the United Kingdom as a fellow member and ally in the EU, we will be absolutely thorough in protecting and advancing our interests by seeking the best possible outcome from the forthcoming Brexit negotiations.
In this regard, we are absolutely determined to minimise any negative economic impact, protect the Northern Ireland Peace Process, maintain our Common Travel Area with Britain and promote a stronger, more effective European Union in the years ahead.
Key sectors of the Irish economy, such as agri-food and fishing, tourism and energy face particular risks and challengesarising from Brexit as do many of our small and medium enterprises across the economy and across all parts of the country.
All these challenges require and radical and innovative responses and solutions.
We need to negotiate hard for the best possible economic outcome from the Brexit negotiations.
For us, that continues to mean the closest possible economic and trading relationship between the EU and the UK, even if it will not now involve UK membership of the Single Market.
Our negotiations with the UK must recognise the wider, long-term interests of Europe and all of her people.
If we believe in a vision of a bright future for our continent and for our European values, then we must place that vision at the heart of our discussions.
I believe that close relationship is in the interests of not just Ireland, but of all of our fellow EU member states.
I firmly believe that the EU can and will continue to be a force for good on the global stage.
And we in Ireland are committed to playing our part as a European island nation who will always remain open to the world.
In this regard, Brexit also presents opportunities. Many firms based in Britain are already looking at relocating some of their activity into other EU locations, and Ireland will compete strongly for this business.
Before I conclude, I want to acknowledge that in just over two months’ time we will commemorate the one hundreth anniversary of the birth of John F. Kennedy.
His inspiring words and vision continue to offer an example to all of us in public life, and I know this anniversary will be widely marked across Irish America and in Ireland.
In particular these words he spoke to the Irish parliament in 1963 seem just as relevant today, if not even more so, in the context of the global challenges we face:
"no nation, large or small, can be indifferent to the fate of others, near or far. Modern economics, weaponry and communications have made us all realize more than ever that we are one human family and this one planet is our home."
These are times of challenge and change for Ireland as they are for the United States. But in a world facing complexity and uncertainty, Ireland remains a stable, competitive and open economy. We will work as a deeply committed EU member and close friend of the United States with all who share our values to promote and protect human dignity, freedom, democracy and openness to trade and global co-operation.
I want to again thank everyone involved in organising Ireland Day here in Bloomberg and all of you in attendance for taking the time to be here.