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Speech at a lunch, hosted by Enterprise Ireland, at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York


Ladies and Gentlemen, I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak at this lunch here in New York.  I would like to thank you for being with us today and to pay tribute to the growing business relationship with Ireland and the US. 

I want to begin by offering my deepest sympathy and that of the Irish Government on the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina in the southern United States.  We were deeply saddened and moved by the loss of life, destruction and suffering caused by the Hurricane.  Our condolences and prayers remain with the victims, their families and friends. There will be very difficult weeks and months ahead but I know that there is a strong spirit in America which will rise to the challenge of rebuilding cities, homes and livelihoods.  

Ireland has an exceptionally close and warm relationship with the United States. It is a home from home for many Irish people. Indeed it would be hard to find an Irish person who does not have a relative in one of the great cities of the US.  Our bond with New York is particularly strong and is evident from the displays in Ellis Island, the St. Patrick’s Day Parade on 5th Avenue and the bars on Second Avenue!  However, our relationship with the US has changed enormously over the years and I am delighted to be here today to speak about that.

 Over the past decade, Ireland has been transformed.  For the first time in over 150 years, more people are coming to Ireland than are leaving and the population is increasing steadily. Many Irish living in America are now moving back home because of the opportunities that have been created by a vibrant, enterprising economy. For the first time in the history of the State, more business visas are issued to US people seeking employment in Ireland than Irish people emigrating to the US. 

Ireland continues to have one of the fastest growing economies in the world. This performance is driven by our ability to meet the requirements of international customers. Over the last ten years, we have averaged annual rates of export growth of around 9%, the highest in the EU & OECD. In the same period, Irish export growth outpaced world trade growth by a rate of three to one. The most recent Globalisation Index study has named Ireland as the world's most globalised country – for the second consecutive year.

 We are all familiar with the outstanding contribution that US companies such as Microsoft, HP, IBM and Intel have made to the Irish economy.  Their presence has played a key role in the transition of Ireland to the strongest economy in Europe. There are over 600 US companies now operating out of Ireland.  These companies have invested over fifty-five billion dollars in Ireland - this is some five times as much as the United States has invested in China. These companies played a role in the growth and expansion of our indigenous sector. It is that sector that is now playing a pivotal role in the continued growth and expansion of the Irish economy.

These days, investment flows in both directions across the Atlantic.  Irish companies have become key investors in the US with over 270 offices located throughout the US including over 70 in this area alone.  At an increasing rate, these companies are opening new offices, expanding their operations, hiring US employees and investing through acquisitions.  Employment by Irish companies in the US stands at over 45,000.  Compare this to less than 50 Irish companies with offices in the US in 1997.

In 2004, imports from Ireland to the US exceeded $27billion.  In terms of ranking, we are listed as the 12th importer to this market ahead of such large countries as Brazil, Israel, India, Singapore, Spain and the Netherlands.  This is quite an achievement for a country with a population of 4 million. The US has now become the most important export market for Irish industry overtaking the UK, our closest and previously largest export market.  Our Exports to the US have doubled since 1999 and increased 5 fold since 1997. 

Irish companies such as CRH, Glanbia, Kingspan, Elan, Skillsoft, Smurfit and Glen Dimplex have led the way and grown their business in the US through acquisitions and strong domestic growth.  The new breed of Irish exporters is just as impressive.  Today, I am joined by over 40 Irish companies representing industries as diverse as giftware, software, biotechnology, materials handling, utilities and entertainment.

Earlier today, I was delighted to have witnessed and further launched deals by Irish companies and their US partners.

This is indeed a remarkable achievement by Irish industry and one the Government of Ireland continues to support.   But what is driving this success?  Allow me to give you two reasons – innovation and customer focus.  

Ireland is committed to delivering innovative solutions to a global market and our drive to foster innovation is paying off.  This support is underlined by the Irish National Development Plan. 

The NDP is committed to spending some $3.5 billion on innovation and technology investment.  We want to foster clusters of world-class technology-based companies that work in new knowledge areas.   The investment made by Irish companies in research and development and the licensing in of new technologies will continue to increase. The Irish Government and in particular Enterprise Ireland remain central to this.

US corporations are very focused on issues such as governance, compliance, fraud detection, consumer privacy protection and competitive position.  Irish companies continue to innovate to develop appropriate solutions for these needs.  Companies such as Fidelity, Wachovia & Lehman Brothers have all acquired solutions in these areas from Irish vendors.  I would encourage those present here today to follow their lead and look to Ireland for innovative, leading edge products and services spanning many industry sectors.  

Irish companies have a business culture that has a lot of affinities with the United States.  The presence of so many U.S. corporations in Ireland has taught us the virtues of American enterprise and management style and confidence - making this a very natural market for us to operate in.

Enterprise Ireland works closely with these companies in their growth and expansion in international markets and also with the next generation of Irish industry.  Start-up business activity in Ireland is one of the strongest in Europe. These companies are the future for Ireland and investment in these leading edge product and service firms is being made by investors in Ireland and overseas.  In 2004, over 15% of new start-ups in Ireland were established by returning emigrants where they acquired key technology and business skills.   I know a number of our guests here today are ex-pats who have built successful careers for themselves in the US.  If you have any interest in returning to Ireland, I would strongly encourage you to do so and speak to Enterprise Ireland about the new business landscape and the supports available.

The future success of the Irish economy will be influenced by many factors – not least the strong ties between Ireland and the US and the emergence and growth of upcoming Irish high tech businesses. These Irish companies have capability, commitment and resources in information technology, telecoms, financial services and the life sciences.  Through Enterprise Ireland, we can connect you to dynamic Irish companies.

In conclusion, I am delighted to be here today. Given the strength of Ireland’s business and trade presence in the US, I believe that there is very substantial potential for an accelerated expansion of our trade partnership in the coming years.  I thank you for being with us and the continued support you give Ireland here in the United States.