Good evening ladies and gentlemen.
Thank you for inviting me to your Annual Dublin Dinner.
Next year we will mark a number of milestones in the history of this State. The centenary of the meeting of the First Dáil. The start of the War of Independence. And your members will also mark a significant anniversary – the bicentenary of your foundation.
Over the past 200 years your Chamber has championed Cork and its businesses. Your leadership and initiative has underpinned the economic success and prosperity of Cork and, in doing so, has contributed to the development of our country.
Over the years you have had many committed and dedicated Presidents and leaders – although I was surprised to discover that not all have been from Cork! In the 19th century Charles Stewart Parnell was elected your President, and your forbears clearly believed that no geographical boundary should set the limits on the march of a Chamber.
Cork and the Ireland of today would be unrecognisable to Parnell and his contemporaries. However, I believe they would be proud of the distance that we have travelled as a nation and impressed by the role that Ireland plays today on the global stage. Work that is continued today by Simon Coveney as Minister for Foreign Affairs, by Deirdre Clune in the European Parliament, and by our other elected representatives.
To begin with some positives. Unemployment has fallen to 5.3% and total employment is at almost 2.3 million, a record high. Over 360,000 new jobs have been created since 2012, with many of them in the Cork region.
Now is the time to build on our achievements in a sustainable way, thinking long-term about how we can ensure that individual and every business can reach their full potential. And how we can prepare ourselves for enormous challenges such as Brexit.
Our approach to this is based on six principles.
The first is prudent management of the public finances and reducing our national debt and establishing a Rainy Day Fund.
Budget 2019 was the first fully balanced budget since 2007, an important milestone.
Second, we want to continue to raise living standards in a sustainable way for all our citizens.
Through Budget 2019, we have continued to reduce the tax burden on middle-income earners, helping families.
We are increasing pensions and driving pension reform. We are lowering income taxes in a sustainable way; and working to reduce costs when it comes to public services: childcare, GP visits.
However I know that in your most recent Economic Trends Survey your members identified taxation as one of the barriers to encouraging domestic entrepreneurs and persuading international mobile talent to come here.
I share those concerns. I believe that people on average incomes should not pay the highest rate of income tax.
It is holding our country back.
It is something I want to change in future budgets by continuing to raise the threshold at which the higher rate comes into effect.
I also want full equality for the self-employed when it comes to income tax. There’s no reason why someone who’s self-employed should pay more income tax than those of us who are PAYE.
We’ve made a good start already through the Earned Income Tax Credit and the extension of more PRSI benefits to the self employed and entrepreneurs.
The third principle is achieving full employment with good jobs, improving employment rights and ensuring access to a pension plan for everyone. We want to help you create and sustain good jobs no matter what future challenges and opportunities arise.
We have many strengths in our economy such as our track record in attracting FDI, our skilled workforce and our business friendly environment.
We also know we must adapt to a future of low-carbon and greater digitalisation and automation. Shifting to a low-carbon economy will tackle climate change and create new jobs and opportunities for enterprise, in particular in rural Ireland.
The revolution in automation and digitalisation means that today’s school children will be employed in jobs and industries that don’t exist yet. Technology will also eliminate or transform existing occupations.
We need to prepare for these challenges.
So, with our Future Jobs initiative, to be launched on Thursday, we will work to enhance productivity; increase labour market participation; drive innovation; create the skills and talent for the future; and help us move to a low carbon economy.
This will be a national plan. And it will enable us to prepare for the working world of the future.
The fourth principle is reforming and modernising our public services. Better value for money for the tax-payer, for patients, for students, for families.
The fifth principle relates to our role internationally, as an island at the centre of the world.
We see ourselves not as an island at the edge of a continent, but an island at the centre of a connected and globalised world, committed to EU membership, the UN, free trade and free enterprise.
Our ambition is to double the scope and impact of Ireland’s global footprint over the next seven years.
Under the leadership of the Tánaiste, we are opening new embassies and consulates; giving more resources to the IDA, Enterprise Ireland, Tourism Ireland and Bord Bia; and we’ll do more to promote Irish culture around the world.
In your most recent survey you highlighted increased international promotion of Cork as a priority. So I know this resonates with you and your members.
Cork’s economic story is one that we should be proud to tell worldwide.
Cork is set to be the fastest growing city region in the country over the next 20 years. With over 150 FDI companies here you are leaders in the areas of: Pharma/biopharma; manufacturing; ICT; financial services; and food and maritime industries. These are five areas employing over 35,000 people.
That’s the same number as the number of of students in UCC and CIT, and you benefit from having two leading third level institutes at your doorstep.
No wonder the Financial Times ranked Cork as the No. 1 European small city for business friendliness. And no wonder you are one of the top 25 European Cities of the Future next year.
The sixth, and final principle is an ambitious programme for investment in infrastructure.
To build a better future, we have to invest in it now.
Our Project Ireland 2040 Plan, now being implemented, provides for massive increases in investment in our public infrastructure – housing, transport, broadband, education and healthcare. An investment of €116 billion over ten years to remove bottlenecks, modernize our public services, reduce congestion, and ensure that economic development is brought to all parts of our country.
At its core, Project Ireland 2040 is a commitment to balanced regional development.
For Ireland to succeed we need Cork to succeed. We want to unlock the potential of Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford and other regional growth centres to grow twice as fast as Dublin for the first time in generations. Catching up instead of falling further behind.
Cork will be enabled to do this by investment in transport infrastructure, unlocking development lands close to your core, expanding universities and healthcare facilities.
We envisage the population of Cork City and suburbs growing by up to 125,000 people over the next twenty years. In keeping with our vision of compact smart growth, half of new city housing will be within the existing Cork City and suburbs footprint.
This requires better healthcare facilities, so a ambulatory elective-only hospital will be built in Cork. Replacement and additional radiation oncology facilities will be provided at Cork University Hospital, as well as CUH paediatric phase 2.
We are also investing in large-scale regeneration projects for the provision of new employment, housing and supporting infrastructure in Cork Docklands - City Docks and Tivoli.
We have other ambitious plans for the city.
· Cork Events Centre;
· Crawford Art Gallery - transforming the Gallery into a fit-for-purpose, state of the art public museum, for Cork City and County and the wider region;
· New Flood Defence;
· Cork Lower Harbour Main Drainage;
· A €90 million redevelopment of Cork Port; and
· Cork Airport.
Connectivity is vital. We want to link all parts of Ireland to each other.
Our ambition is to build an Atlantic Corridor with a high quality road network linking Cork, Limerick, Galway and Sligo so all roads will no longer lead to Dublin. This will enable our Western seaboard to compete with the East coast on a more level playing field.
This includes the M20 Cork-Limerick Road; the N8/M25 Dunkettle Interchange; the N22 Ballyvourney Macroom; the N28 Cork to Ringaskiddy; the Northern Relief Road Mallow; the N25 Carraigtwohill to Middleton, and the Cork-Dublin rail line.
The BusConnects investment programme will fundamentally transform Cork’s bus system, so that journeys for passengers by bus will be fast, reliable, punctual, convenient and affordable.
Similarly, we want to ensure that our regional economic policy promotes the sustainable growth of Cork.
Many projects have already been earmarked within Cork including a National Food Innovation Hub at the Teagasc Food Research Centre in Moorepark, and the expansion of the Tyndall National Institute, building on its successful industry engagement model.
These investments will ensure that the Research and Development environment in Cork continues to grow.
Furthermore, the new €1 billion Rural and €2 billion Urban Redevelopment and Regeneration Funds launched under Project Ireland 2040 will be game changers for communities and groups across the country and in the county of Cork.
Starting this Friday, we will be announcing the first successful projects from the Project Ireland 2040 competitive funds.
As we all know, Brexit presents one of the greatest challenges since independence. Therefore, we have been working flat out to get the best possible deal for this country, and in the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney, we have someone who is ably defending our interests.
I believe we have negotiated a deal that protects our jobs, protects our economy, and defends the rights and freedoms of all Irish citizens North and South.
The Agreement also secures transition, which is hugely important.
Both sides share the hope that the future relationship between the EU and the UK should be as deep and comprehensive as possible.
Now it’s important that we seal that deal.
We are not yet at the end of the road, there is further work ahead.
Even with the best possible agreement, it is still the case that the UK is leaving the EU and this will bring change. It is important that our citizens and our businesses are ready for that change. In the meantime, the Government will continue its preparations for all scenarios.
We are also working to increase the numbers of firms that have completed Brexit scenario planning. This involves building capability in the areas of customs and tariffs, supply chain, regulation and standards, and employee movement issues.
Enterprise Ireland are also developing a new online Customs Training programme to explain the role of customs and the main procedures and the documentation involved.
This will highlight some of the options available from Revenue to reduce the administrative burden, and we welcome your assistance in raising awareness of this service.
To complement the Brexit Loan Scheme launched at the end of March this year, we are also going to provide up to €300m to aid capital investment by business through the longer-term Future Growth Loan Scheme.
We want to meet the future skills needs of the economy and provide additional investment at levels 6-8 in higher education. So a major new Human Capital Initiative will be established using the National Training Fund to do this.
This investment will provide additional capacity across the higher education sector to meet the skill needs of enterprise, drive regional jobs growth and development, and assist core economic sectors in responding to the challenges of Brexit.
Charles Stewart Parnell was proud to represent Cork City for most of his political career, and he was proud to serve this Chamber. In the memoir written by his brother it is recorded that he cared passionately about developing Cork’s industries.
In Cork, Parnell gave his most famous speech, declaring that ‘No man has the right to say to his country “thus far shalt thou go and no further’”.
In the same speech, he recognised ‘Without the help of the people, our exertions would be as nothing.’ Thanks to your exertions, in the areas of digital engagement, skills and training, overseas promotion, and infrastructure development the future for Cork is very bright.
The Government is committed to working with you to make it even brighter.
Neither Brexit, nor any other international development, will set the boundary for Cork and for our country.
Together we will continue to work in partnership with you to build a thriving, innovative, inclusive and modern economy for Cork and its people.