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Speech by the Taoiseach, Mr Enda Kenny TD, Cork Chamber of Commerce Annual Dinner, City Hall

Check Against Delivery

I regret to say that as we meet this evening, relations between Government Buildings and Downing Street are tense.

In fact, on my way to Cork, I had to make Prime Minister Cameron and Foreign Secretary Hague very clear on our position.

That under no circumstances will a certain fishmonger of this parish his charm or smile be extradited to Great Britain. 

Regardless of how it might delight her Majesty, or raise the happiness quotient of her Kingdom

It’s official: we’re keeping Pat O’Connell all to ourselves.

Until we find a way to bottle him and sell him that is. 

At which point, our country’s fortunes will be restored.

 I’m delighted to be here in Cork tonight.

 As we meet here this evening efforts are continuing across Europe and further afield to bring under control the financial fires that rage across the continent.

In the midst of it all we, Government and business leaders, have been going all-out to rebuild and restore our international standing.

There’s huge international goodwill to Ireland.

Ireland has a terrific place in the heart and imagination of people, of business, all over the world.

To exploit that, we’re undertaking what you might call an international charm offensive at the level of business, politics and diplomacy.

Last week at Davos, leaders in global business and politics were eager to hear about Ireland, impressed by how Ireland is dealing with this crisis.

One evening, I reminded some of them that the city of St Gallen, just up the road from Davos, was called after our own missionary, Gall.

That it was Irish monks like Gall and Colombanus who, in the sixth century, brought Europe out of the Dark Ages.  Pope Benedict himself calling Colombanus “one of the founding fathers of Europe” 

From our small island in the Atlantic, Ireland changed the world.

We must remember we have form. 

 On Monday, Europe took another important step forward.

25 nations reached agreement on the new Treaty on the Fiscal Compact. Finalising the new Treaty is another important step towards restoring confidence in the euro area.

Responsible fiscal policy will bring stability and confidence not only to the Irish economy but to the European economy.

If there are two things businesses like, its stability and confidence. If this country followed a better fiscal policy throughout the boom years the current crisis would not have been as bad.

On Monday, we were also successful in putting growth and jobs firmly onto the European agenda.

Ahead of the meeting, we submitted two papers – one on growth, and one on the digital single market, especially copyright. These were co-signed with like-minded Member States including Finland, Sweden, the Netherlands, the UK and Estonia.

At President Van Rompuy’s request, I introduced the discussion of SMEs, focussing steps we are taking at national level to develop and empower this sector as the engine of growth and recovery. Providing new credit to small business was specifically raised and I briefed them about some Government schemes which are due to be launched shortly.

It is essential that future solutions to fiscal problems start to encourage more growth, more jobs, more exports.

During the 1990s, sustainable economic growth was responsible for reducing our debt-to-GDP ratio from 95% to 35% even though the national debt increased marginally.

Lack of credit for small business has rightly been identified as a real barrier for future growth and new jobs. In the coming weeks the Government will be launching a Micro Finance Loan Fund for small enterprises and introducing a Temporary Partial Credit Guarantee Scheme to help commercially viable businesses that are having difficulty securing credit in current market conditions. 

In addition, the Economic Management Council will be meeting the banks shortly to ensure that they live up their lending commitments to small business, which for the two pillar banks involves lending €3.5bn each in 2012 & €4bn each in 2013.

We recognise that there is an urgent need to increase growth and transform this into real jobs.

This week the live register stood at 439,000 - many of them among our most talented - facing a dole queue or emigration.

I can only say to you what I say to them.

That I, and the rest of cabinet, am working day and night to get them off the dole and into work.

Last May the Jobs Initiative introduced a range of measures to create and protect jobs in the domestic economy and particularly helped Cork and its tourism businesses. Visitor numbers went up 7.4% in the first 10 months of last year. 

Many of you have felt the benefit of the VAT Rate reduction in your own businesses.

Jobs were also a central focus of Budget 2012. We were successful in avoiding income taxes increases as low taxes on labour support jobs.

IDA, Enterprise Ireland and the County Enterprise Boards have maintained their high budgets despite pressure to reduce spending across Government. The capital budget of the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation will hit its highest ever level with €1 billion being provided over the next 2 years.

Just this week the government discussed a major Action Plan for jobs. We’ll publish it shortly. It will play a major role in driving change to make Ireland the best small country in the world in which to do business.

The Action Plan will target a range of sectors that have the capacity to grow such as manufacturing, agri-food, digital games, ICT and tourism. It will also target other national competitiveness issues.

It’s called an action plan because that’s what it is. Unlike previous Government reports, this plan will drive change and progress across Government. I will be taking a special interest in ensuring that it is delivered over the course of 2012.

Following this will be launching the Pathways to Work initiative designed to make sure that new jobs go to people on the live register. It will be at the core of the Government’s strategy for reducing long term unemployment as the economy recovers. 

Cork will be well placed to benefit from these new Government initiatives to help Irish businesses and getting Ireland back to work.

I speak about what the government is doing so that all of us, together, can get Cork and Ireland back on its feet.

Because despite what some would have you believe....

This is our journey we’re in this together, we must travel forward together.

 Not in anyone’s shadow, but in the shelter of each other. 

Cork is a tourism and transport hub.

It’s vital to our economic recovery.

So, we’ll be building on all those extraordinary images that went around the world during the last year’s State visits.

It showed Ireland at its most dazzling – heart, craic, magnificent scenery, topped only by the warmth, the welcome of the people.    

In this context, yesterday’s announcement on the Fastnet Ferry service was very disappointing, for both the staff and the region.

I know there was lot of hard work by a lot of people in this room to get the business up and running. Local businesses, the tourism agencies, along with local councils did Trojan work to get the company off the ground originally.

But we must keep moving. Finding the next opportunity. Building the next business.

As for the wider docklands I know there have been lots of plans. The Cork Docklands Economic Report group is examining the best way forward. Getting those who own the land, those who live in the city, government departments, the Port of Cork, all working together for the best possible outcome.  

One fantastic positive for the area will be the clean up of Haulbowline Island.  Simon Coveney, who is here today, has secured the additional funding needed for the clean up. When it’s complete it’ll be a great day for Cobh, visiting tourists, Spike Island and the Navy.

I’m also aware there is a desire to bring certainty to the future of Cork airport.

In October, Minister Varadkar ordered a report on options for the future ownership and operation of both Cork and Shannon airports.

The authors of the Report consulted widely with the interests in the region, including the Cork Chamber.

That report is now complete and Minister Varadkar is engaging with key stakeholders on its findings and proposals.

The Government recognises the importance of Cork airport to this region.

We know Cork Airport is performing well. 

But we know, equally, that the current situation whereby Cork and Shannon have their own boards, but have limited autonomy from the Dublin Airport Authority, is not in the best interests of developing and ensuring that these airports reach their full potential.  

As soon as we’ve considered all the report recommendations, we’ll make a firm decision on the future of Cork and Shannon airports. 

Over the past few weeks, €90m has been allocated to Cork roads projects. €22m of this has been made available for the continuing work upgrading the Cork South Ring Road Interchanges.

I’m sure there was a positive response from the recent announcement by Minister Varadkar that there are to be no new tolls to be introduced over the course of the next number of years.

This was on foot of consideration of a wide variety of issues, and in particular the views of representatives from Cork who highlighted their concerns about the potential tolling of the Jack Lynch Tunnel.

Improved transport links have helped Cork attract new investment by foreign multinationals.

Right now, I’m happy to report that there are 133 IDA-supported enterprises in Cork City and County, employing 21,522 people.  That’s an increase of over 1000 jobs from 2010. 

Last year saw 11 new, IDA-supported projects announced for Cork City and County.

During my last trip to Cork I managed to see some of the amazing frontier research being conducted in GlaxoSmithKline out in Carrigaline. Earlier today I dropped by EMC in Ballincollig to see some of their operations.

Cork’s success can be partly attributed to its fast growing reputation for innovation and research.

Cork is doing well with over 30,000 full and part time students at UCC and CIT and of course the Tyndall National Institute visited by the Queen.

Plans are also under way for the development of a Science Technology and Innovation Park near Cork Institute of Technology.

My last trip to Cork brought me to the National Maritime College of Ireland. The experience and reputation in maritime research separates Cork from other centres of innovation. I’ve no doubt that future maritime businesses will be borne out of the research conducted in Cork.

I recognise the value of the sea to Irish economic recovery. It is a wasted opportunity that our ocean economy only about 1.2% of GDP compared with a world average of 2%.

Given our ample resources we must embrace our seas and no longer turn our back on it. For this season the Government will publish an integrated marine plan for Ireland later this year. Yesterday we launched a public consultation where everybody can have their input into the drafting of the strategy. It will point the way for a new chapter in maritime research, food, energy and tourism.

The seeds of a brighter future are here. This Government is determined that, now, the necessary decisions and changes are made to ensure that we, as a country and a people, can move together to that brighter future.

Government alone can’t do it. We need your help too. We are in this together.

Whether its regional manager of a multinational fighting for new investment, a local small business exporting to new markets, or the corner shop hiring one more assistant, we all have a role to play in the national effect to restore Ireland’s economy.

When we get there we’ll ensure that the economic calamity inflicted on the Irish people is never allowed to be repeated again.

The current crisis presents us with a great opportunity to change things in this country for the better. To make the reforms this country needs to achieve economic recovery and, most of all, to make Ireland the best small country in the world in which to do business.

Thank you all.


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