BaileNuachtAithisc an Taoisigh

Speech by An Taoiseach Mr. Enda Kenny TD, Sage Debate - Ireland / SME ‘Davos’ event, Smock Alley Theatre, 7 December 2016



Good morning everyone,
It is a pleasure to be here this morning to welcome you all to the second day of this dynamic SME and entrepreneurship event that Sage has organised – especially those of you who have travelled to Dublin to be here.
This is a great opportunity for people to meet, explore new ideas and to help contribute to the goal of making Ireland and Europe a better place for small business. 
I know the IDA have worked closely with Sage in the lead up to this event so I would like to say congratulations to both organisations for a job well done.

It is fitting that this event is taking place in Dublin. Ireland is, and will continue to be, among the best places to succeed in business.
We understand that small businesses are a key part of a social fabric of society. 
Without them life as we know it wouldn’t be possible in communities across our island. In addition to the traditional local services they provide they also are the only source of income and opportunity for many families.
Today the model of a small business is changing rapidly and becoming far more sophisticated. It wouldn’t be out of the ordinary now that in a small town that previously only had traditional local shops, they are now joined by a software engineer, an online retailer or a business consultancy. 
Ever increasing online capabilities are changing the world for SMEs. 
While Ireland joined the European Economic Community in 1973 it is only in recent years that the advantages of the larger single market are opening up to smaller Irish businesses. 
Many of the multinationals based in Ireland are here for access to that market of over 500 million people and they have built up the capacity to operate seamlessly across borders. 
But the single market shouldn’t be just for the big guys. One of our biggest challenges in Europe is to help our small businesses reap the same advantages of EU membership as the bigger companies. 
It is for this reason that Ireland has been a strong proponent of the development and completion of the digital single market. We are currently working with likeminded other European countries to break down the barriers to digital trade that can offer real opportunities for small businesses.
As I mentioned Ireland is a committed member of the EU and for this reason, in addition to our young talented workforce and stable policy environment, we have attracted a huge number of global companies with substantive operations. 
As a result the world is also coming to small Irish companies. There are unprecedented opportunities for indigenous companies to service the needs of these global giants, develop new skills and services, and then in turn to sell them around the world. 
In addition, the longer these huge cutting edge companies are here the more spin off micro companies we are seeing being set up by former employees to exploit a new service or an innovative business solution. Creating a better environment for this risk taking and encouraging people to strike out on their own is essential to build a strong network of modern businesses.
I know that these opportunities are something that our enterprise agencies are keen to help develop further. 
As one of the longest serving Prime Ministers on the European Council I can see the dangers of not continuing our work in Europe to promote trade, enterprise and, most importantly, job creation. 
We cannot tolerate high levels of unemployment across the continent, especially youth unemployment. Governments and the business community need to work together create a better environment for business and for personal opportunity and reward for our people. 
As a small open economy Ireland has done incredibly well in the past fifty years from embracing free trade and we need to better communicate the advantages of breaking down borders, instead of surrendering to protectionist fears. 
For this reason we were delighted to support the provisional application of the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, known as CETA. When fully in force it will remove over 99% of tariffs between the EU and Canada.  CETA covers virtually every aspect of economic activity and the opportunities presented will be especially valuable for Irish SMEs, given that trade barriers tend to disproportionately burden smaller firms, which have fewer resources to overcome them than larger firms.

The top priority of the Government is to continue to help build a strong economy to support a fair society. 
It is no surprise that Ireland recently featured among the top three countries in the EU for Skills and innovation of SMEs and Single Market integration, and above the EU average in Entrepreneurship in 2016.
With the help of entrepreneurs like you the Government has been able to achieve the goals set out in the Action Plan for Jobs back in 2012. 
Our Programme for Government set new more ambitious targets to add 200,000 more jobs to the economy by 2020, including 135,000 outside of Dublin. There are now over two million people working and the unemployment rate fell to 7.3% in November – half the rate at the peak of the crisis. This is great progress, but there is still much to do.
We as a Government recognise the risks and personal sacrifices that entrepreneurs take to start, sustain, and grow their business. 
The most important contribution, we, in Government, can make to support businesses is to ensure a strong and stable economy. 
Our economy is growing at a healthy rate, reflected in strong tax returns, increased domestic demand, growing consumer spending and new jobs. 
We are expecting to grow at about 4% this year – well ahead of our EU partners. 
The public deficit is set to be under 1 per cent this year and we plan to eliminate it altogether in 2018. 
From a high of 120% in 2012, our debt-to-GDP ratio now stands at 79%, continuing to move closer to the new goal of 45%.
It is true that GDP, deficit and debt figures are of little comfort to the person on the street but we need to avoid at all cost the cycles of boom and bust which have devastated businesses. 
We need to plan for steady, reliable growth. 
And we need to do this at a time of unprecedented international uncertainty. 
We also want to ensure the right conditions exist in Ireland for entrepreneurship to flourish.
That is why Ireland’s national policy statement on Entrepreneurship was formulated in 2014 and why the Enterprise 2025 strategy was launched last year.
We aim to secure a top-three ranking of the most competitive small countries in the world; and we want to realise productivity growth across the economy to levels ranking among the top five EU countries. 
This Government is serious about supporting business. While it may not be possible to deliver all we want to do in this space in one go – we will continually improve the conditions for business in Ireland. 
There are over 170 different Government sponsored supports for small business – far too many to go through here today but I will encourage everyone to log onto ‘supporting SMEs . ie’ for an interactive guide for the best supports for your business.
In response to the challenges Irish businesses face in moving into new markets, particular after the Brexitdecision, extra resources have been provided to our enterprise agencies tohelp firms respond. 
We also introduced changes in the recent Budget to help entrepreneurs and start ups through changes to capital gains tax, the start your own business relief, SARP, and the earned income credit for the self employed. As the economy continues to grow we will improve on these types of initiatives in each Budget.
In addition, we have remained – and will remain – resolutely committed to our 12.5% corporation tax rate. It sits alongside our Research and Development tax credit and the Knowledge Development Box as part of our competitive tax offering.

The Sage Forum for Business Builders and today’s event offer an importantplatform to entrepreneurs and SMEs to voice their opinions - both to industry and to policymakers.
Events like this, encourages debate and the exchange of ideas. 
From a Government perspective, it is essential that we hear about the issues most concerning business from those on the ground experiencing them day-to-day. 
My colleague, Minister Mary Mitchell O’Connor, who you’ll hear from latertoday, and her officials have been very active in this regard, meeting with industry figures and businesses of all size for the development of next years Action Plan for Jobs and for the implementation of the complementary regional action plans.  
It is also encouraging that this debate and discussion today is just the first in a series of events that Sage will be hosting around the world. We will do as much as possible to absorb the international insights that will be provided by this series. 
It’s a competitive world and we will try to help our own entrepreneurs and exporters make best use of this knowledge to grow and develop. 
I would like to thank Sage once again for bringing this debate and discussion to Ireland, and to the IDA for their valuable input. I hope to see more events of this calibre in the years ahead.
I would also like to thank every one of you for making the effort to attend this event. I know it can be a big ask to take the time away from your businesses, particularly during the busy December period. 
Enjoy the day.