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Speech by An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar T.D., at Team Ireland Business Dinner, 1 November 2017 at Rosewood Sand Hill Hotel, Menlo Park

 

Introduction
Good evening Ladies and Gentlemen. It is a pleasure to be here in Menlo Park on my first official visit to the United States as Taoiseach. Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedules to join us this evening.

In one of the earliest histories of this region, this place was described as ‘a beautiful park set amidst a grove of trees’. And of course it owes its name – and its origins – to two Irishmen in the 1850s who were inspired the small village in Co. Galway which they had left. Today the friendship between the two Menlos is as strong as ever, and the warm feeling of connection and kinship extends to the rest of Ireland.

So given the historic connections, it is appropriate that we are meeting here tonight to celebrate all that has been achieved, and all that we are determined to do in the future.

Before I begin, I want to acknowledge the work that our State Agencies and Consulate have put into organising this event. And in particular my thanks to Martin Shanahan and his IDA Ireland team, who do such good work in attracting foreign direct investment to Ireland.

Many of you here this evening represent US companies with significant operations in Ireland.

I want to thank you for your continued commitment to Ireland. And I want to assure you of Ireland’s ongoing commitment to you.

In the face of economic and political uncertainty around the world, Ireland is a stable, competitive, secure, pro-business economy.
I like to see Ireland as an island at the centre of the world - at the heart of the common European home we helped to build - confident about our place in the world at a time when so many other countries are not.

Ireland as a location for Investment
For over 70 years, Ireland has been a bridge to Europe for US companies. Flows of Foreign Direct Investment from the US into Ireland remain at record levels. And it does, of course, go in both directions.

We pride ourselves on our competitiveness, and we are determined to protect and promote all that underpins our success in attracting FDI.

Our highly skilled workforce, our competitive tax offering, and our strong focus on innovation are significant elements of our investment offering.

We have very favourable demographics, with a young and growing population and a quality education system that ensures a plentiful supply of highly-qualified people.

We are also fully committed to maintaining our 12.5% corporation tax rate, which is the constant in our competitive tax offering. Ireland continues to engage with international tax reform proposals, and the renewed importance of substance in tax planning dovetails well with Ireland’s policy objectives.

Following the withdrawal of the UK from the European Union, we will continue to offer multinational companies a unique gateway into the European Union and its single market. We’re also English speaking; we are a founder member of the Eurozone and we are culturally attuned to America.

Silicon Valley and the Bay Area
In 1984 a former governor of this great State, Ronald Reagan, visited Ireland as President. At a dinner held in his honour in Dublin, one of my forebears as prime minister, Garret FitzGerald, paid tribute to the considerable American investment in Ireland and its future.
And he predicted that Ireland was on its way to becoming the Silicon Valley of Europe. Thirty-three years on that prediction has become a prophecy fulfilled. We owe so much to Silicon Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area for being our partner through those years, and we thank you for your friendship and support.

In that same period, IDA Ireland has had a presence in the Bay Area. During that time companies like Intel, Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon and many others have located and expanded in Ireland.

Today, there are over 220 West Coast headquartered companies operating in Ireland, employing in excess of 46,000 people.

Investment from this part of the world has never been stronger. In the last two years a new company from the US West Coast has set up an operation in Ireland on average every two weeks.

That’s an incredible statistic, and it includes the next wave of exciting and fast growing companies like Looker, Slack, AirBnB, and others.

Ireland’s Economy
Today Ireland’s economy is on a strong and sustainable footing.

GDP Growth of 4.3% is expected this year, the highest rate of growth in the Eurozone, with 3.5% growth forecast for 2018.

We have eliminated our budget deficit, our debt continues to decline steadily, we are increasing capital investment in infrastructure and our employment levels are at their highest in a decade.

But these statistics don’t tell the full story.

The real story is that Ireland has a sense of optimism about the future, which is founded on the way we have met with the challenges of our past. We are now a land of peace and prosperity, a place of opportunity where aspiration is rewarded and innovation is promoted. We have an unshakeable belief in what we can achieve.

Competitiveness & Innovation
We have seen significant improvements in competitiveness, due largely to the country’s improved public finances, a high rate of productivity growth, and improved cost competitiveness.

We have an open economy with a multicultural, international, mobile and diverse workforce. Seventeen per cent of our workforce is international, the third highest in Europe. Progressive immigration policies ensure that Ireland is a magnet for the best talent from all over the world.


The most forward-looking and innovative companies have already chosen to locate in Ireland – amongst them some of the biggest pharma, med-tech and online household names in the world. Some of them are represented here this evening. You have come to Ireland to find people of the highest calibre to work for you, and you have also found a second home.

In the years to come, we look forward to continuing to work with you, and providing a business-friendly environment in which you can, and will, succeed in today's globalised society.

This is even more important given the UK's decision to leave the European Union.


Brexit
Brexit is one of the great challenges of our generation. It is one we are meeting, and we are confident in our approach.

Ireland’s overall priorities in the Brexit negotiations are clear: we must minimise the impact on our economy; maintain our strong bilateral trade with the UK; maintain the Common Travel Area between our two countries; and preserve the hard-won achievements of the Northern Ireland peace process.

We are determined that there cannot be any new barriers to trade or the free movement of people on the island of Ireland – North and South.

We place great importance on our close links with the UK, and will continue to work for the best possible outcome in what are very difficult negotiations. But, no matter what, Ireland will always stay an active, influential and committed Member State of the EU.

We believe our interests and values are best advanced and protected in a union of hundreds of millions of people – a Union which is deeply committed to the rule of law, to human rights, to global trade and to international co-operation.


While the departure of the UK from the EU brings real challenges for businesses, large and small, it is also creating new opportunities. Multinational firms from the US and elsewhere are making new investments into Ireland as a direct response to Brexit. Our team at IDA Ireland is working hard to ensure that companies like yours know about the opportunities that Ireland can offer.

Conclusion
One of Ireland's greatest strengths is our natural inclination towards new ideas, and our ability to be dynamic in the face of a changing world.

We are reaching out far and wide to deepen our relationship with countries and businesses that share our values and our business ethos.

I would like to ask you all to raise a glass, to toast our friendship, to recognise what we have achieved together and all that we will achieve in the future.