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Speech by the Taoiseach Mr Enda Kenny T.D., British Irish Chamber of Commerce/IIBN Seminar, McCann Fitzgerald Offices, London - 25 January 2016


Good afternoon. 

I would like to thank the British Irish Chamber (John McGrane and his team) and the International Irish Business Network (Liz Shanahan and her team) for sponsoring an important conversation today.

Thanks also to McCann Fitzgerald (Barry Devereux and John Cronin) who are kindly hosting today’s proceedings.

These conversations matter.

The issue of Britain’s future in the EU is entering a critical phase. Regardless of the precise date of the referendum, a profound choice for the British people is fast approaching.

Clearly, it is very much a matter for the British people to make that choice. Yes, Irish citizens living here will have a vote. As indeed will voters in Northern Ireland and UK citizens living in Ireland. But the United Kingdom’s future is very much in the hands of its own people.

And yet, in Ireland, we are not disinterested observers. Nor should we be.

Britain and Ireland are more than neighbours; we are friends.

We are rivals at times of course. We compete on the global stage whether for economic investment or sporting success. Yet we work closely together within the European Union as like-minded colleagues.

We share a broadly similar vision for Europe. We want to see a Union that is globally competitive, internally efficient and outwardly coherent on trade, innovation and world affairs, including migration.

A Europe that has sensible social and security safeguards in place. One that respects and draws strength from the differences between Member States.

Britain and Ireland share more than EU membership. We are co-guarantors of a historically significant peace process. The bombs and guns remain silent on the island of Ireland. No small achievement.

Our Governments, officials and agencies work together every day in very many small and big ways to support the social, economic and political transition of Northern Ireland. The trust that enables that kind of close cooperation was forged at least in part through years of working side by side in Brussels since 1973.

We share a rich history and we continue to write its newest pages. We have witnessed Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth speak the Irish language in Dublin.

We have seen President Higgins welcomed in Windsor Castle. The President stood in Gallipoli with the Prince of Wales to commemorate the British and Irish lives tragically lost in that campaign.

I myself have stood in Flanders with Prime Minister Cameron to honour those who fought and died side by side for the freedom of small nations and the future of Europe.

We are deeply integrated in each other’s communities. Ireland is Britain’s only land border with another European country. Yet we travel lightly across our national boundaries to work, holiday and be with family. The London and Dublin air route is the second busiest in the world.

For all these reasons, we want to see the UK remain within the European Union. As the closest of neighbours and as friends, I think it is important that we say so.

And so should you, as business people and professionals. It is imperative for your voice to be heard in this debate.
Many of you have Irish connections but you are also pragmatists. And we know that sentimentality will not win the argument in favour of Britain staying in Europe. It will be a decision based on hard realities and calculated judgments.

In Ireland, we know about hard realities.

Back in 2011, just five weeks after coming into office, I came to London to speak at a conference in Bloomberg. I outlined the massive economic challenges that Ireland faced and my new Government’s plans to get things back on track.

Five years later we are now experiencing steady and sustainable economic growth, alongside significant job creation.

Ireland has been the fastest growing economy in the EU for the past two years. Last year, our economy grew at a rate of around 7% and growth of over 4% is forecast this year.

The OECD reckons that our growth rate is around 4 times the eurozone average.

The unemployment rate in Ireland is now below 9%; down from a high of 15.2% four years ago.

Last year, 1,000 jobs a week were created in Ireland.

This impressive economic growth reflects the determination that my Government has maintained through the recovery years to ensure an economic recovery based on sustainable economic sectors.
The Government that I have led for the past five years has maintained a laser beam focus on job creation, job retention and labour market activation.

Through the Action Plan for Jobs and Pathways to Work, we have put in place whole-of-Government strategies that mobilise all key players and hold them to account for delivery.

The discipline imposed through the Troika years is being maintained now that we are out of that recovery programme.

We have kept our faith in productive investment. We have a new Science, innovation and research strategy.

A new Enterprise strategy is in place and we are customising jobs action plans for each of our regional areas and implementing them locally.

We are investing again in infrastructure in a measured, judicious way through the Programme for Capital Investment published last Autumn.

We are redoubling efforts to support both indigenous and foreign companies to succeed in Ireland. We have improved access to finance.

We are maintaining a competitive environment for investment and we remain fully committed to a transparent, best in class and reputable tax regime.

At the heart of that regime is the 12.5% corporation tax rate that applies to all business, indigenous and foreign owned alike.

We have also introduced a Knowledge Development Box that fully meets all international standards and provides a tax rate of 6.25% on eligible income derived from Intellectual Property.

All of these are positive developments. However much more remains to be done.

We are absolutely clear that our recovery owes most to the strength and tenacity of the Irish people who have endured hardships and uncertainty.

The priority now is to ensure that our growth is sustainable and is felt right across all sectors and regions and all sections of society.

Recent floods have caused massive disruption and personal hardship. We need to do more on infrastructure and flood defence work.

Housing remains a key social and economic challenge. We are tackling this on a cross Government basis but it will take some time to get right.

Work remains to be done. I will be seeking a mandate to lead the next Government in Ireland that will take that work on.

I want to drive the recovery on to its next phase and make sure it is visible in every household, school, hospital and business across Ireland.

I want to build an island economy marked by close cooperation between both North and South. I want an infrastructure that supports and opens up all parts of the island, including the North West.

North-South cooperation is an integral part of the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement. That cooperation is made so much easier when it is conducted between two countries that are both Member States of the European Union.

I also want to see a country that continues to build on its East-West relationships with a Britain that remains at the heart of Europe.

And no, not just for sentimental reasons. We need each other economically.

Ireland and the United Kingdom currently trade over €1 billion of goods and services with each other every week.

That trade directly employs 400,000 jobs, split evenly between the two islands, with many more in the supply chain.

The UK is Ireland's biggest customer for our Food exports. It may not be as well known that Ireland is also Britain's biggest customer for their food exports.

I am told that the new Crossrail Tube project in London is lined with 34,000 concrete panels, each one of them made in Ireland.
This is why, in practical terms, we must concern ourselves to ensure that nothing gets in the way of those trade flows.

It is why we need to ensure that we protect those businesses' long-established right to trade freely within and from the UK.

Recent analysis from our Economic and Social Research Institute calculated that the volume of trade between us could fall by as much as 20% in the years after a Brexit and that average wages could fall by as much as 4.5%.

Our Energy connectivity with the UK is hugely in our mutual interest: strategically, for security, for cost competitiveness and indeed for our commitment to carbon goals. Again we don't need anything to undermine that.

The freedoms we've enjoyed for over 40 years as highly cooperative partners with the UK in Europe may be at risk of being taken for granted by a current generation on both islands.

At risk is the freedom to travel without impediment in all directions between Ireland, Northern Ireland and Britain.

At risk is the freedom to move capital, goods and services without duties or levies or technical barriers.

Yes, of course new arrangements could be put in place with a post-EU Britain, although no one can predict the nature of these.

However, the complexity and time consuming nature of new legal, technical and administrative international agreements would make it a massive undertaking.

And the uncertainty of navigating such uncharted waters would make it fraught.

These are some of many reasons why I strongly support Prime Minister Cameron in his efforts to achieve reforms from which we can all benefit in the European Union.

It is not unqualified support. We await detailed proposals early next month and will consider them, along with other Member States.

I and all other colleagues in the European Council will discuss this in mid-February. I hope that this will iron out residual issues and that political agreement will be forthcoming so that the Prime Minister can settle on a date for the referendum. And that a fully informed public debate, based on the facts, will follow.

I hope that your voices will be heard in that debate.

In Ireland we say "Ni neart go chur le cheile" - nothing beats working together - so let's do everything we can to work together to get the best outcome for all our people.

Thank you.