Check against delivery
Good morning and welcome to the launch of the Government’s Action Plan for Jobs 2017.
Firstly I want to thank Minister Mitchell O’Connor, all Government Ministers, and other interested stakeholders that have contributed to developing this Plan.
This is the sixth annual Action Plan for Jobs. We are in a very different place from when the journey began.
At that time Ireland faced a jobs crisis, and we urgently needed a fresh approach to help turn it around.
We put the Action Plan framework in place – identifying the actions we needed to take to create and sustain jobs across the country, and making Ministers and Departments responsible for delivering them on time and in full.
It is an approach that has worked – last year we implemented 93% of actions contained in the 2016 Plan.
Five years ago, unemployment was over 15%, this week the CSO reported that it has dropped to 7.1%, the lowest it has been since before the crash.
There are more than two million people at work – nearly 190,000 more than when we began.
The successful Action Plan for Jobs process is as relevant today as it was in 2011, even though the challenges are very different.
The most obvious game-changer is the decision of the United Kingdom to leave the European Union.
It is clear that this issue – more than any other - will be a transformative one for the country in the coming years.
But we are ready for that challenge. For over a year and a half the Irish government has been preparing for Brexit and we have consistently offered a very clear outline of what our priorities are.
Ireland has demonstrated a capacity to deal effectively with profound challenges to our economy and society, the recent bailout being a case in point. Ireland has a clear plan and a clear response to the challenges that Brexit will present.
Our first priority is to build a strong economy, attract more investment and target 200,000 new jobs by 2020.
The Action Plan for 2017 is a major stepping stone to achieving that target.
It contains measures to support enterprises, particularly those most dependent on UK markets, to identify and target new markets.
It contains actions to help Irish businesses expand and scale.
It will position Ireland to benefit from new opportunities, making sure that we have the right skills available, and that our enterprises are forward-looking, flexible and innovative.
A major part of our Action Plan is a commitment to publish a new trade and investment strategy in March, and we will support it with an extensive programme of Ministerial-led trade missions as part of a major drive towards market diversification.
The St. Patrick’s Day programme itself will be a vitally important opportunity to help Irish businesses reach into new markets, make new contacts, and sign new deals.
For this reason I have asked that all Ministerial programmes have a strong emphasis on trade opportunities and that our priority target markets will be visited by Ministers. The Minister for Foreign Affairs will outline the details of that programme next week.
In the meantime I will be continuing my European diplomatic and trade initiative by travelling to an informal European Council in Malta tomorrow. Next week I will meet the Polish Prime Minister in Warsaw to discuss our Brexit priorities while also attending a number of trade related events.
The Action Plan also maintains a key priority of keeping Ireland competitive which is essential if we are to continue to be a very desirable location for investment.
After the UK's exit from the EU Ireland will be the only English speaking, common law country in the European Union. We will continue to offer a stable, predictable and certain business environment alongside continued access to the European market of over 400 million people.
Ireland remains an obvious choice for companies wishing to establish or maintain a presence in the European Single Market. The feedback from last week’s European Financial Forum held in Dublin Castle has been very positive in that regard.
The Action for Jobs is also complementary to the Plan for Rural Development launched last week by Ministers Humphreys, Naughten and Canney in Ballymahon Co. Longford.
Every day, the Local Enterprise Offices that we have put in place across the country are working with new and existing Irish businesses to support them in their journey towards success.
Every region in the State has seen an increase in job creation in the past year. In most of these cases it is local companies, new start ups support by LEOs, or Irish exporting companies supported by Enterprise Ireland that are growing, creating jobs, and breathing life back into Ireland. It is a home grown recovery.
We are very aware that there are regions and sectors of our economy where currency fluctuations and uncertainty about the future are having particular impact.
We have already taken a number of important initiatives to bolster their position, including a €150 million loan fund to support agricultural producers. We will continue to work with them to help find new markets and drive exports.
The Action Plan contains an important range of further actions and initiatives in that regard.
Of course, the best way to prepare the country as a whole for what lies ahead is to ensure that our economy remains sustainable, competitive and resilient.
That means continuing to pursue a sensible approach to the public finances. It means continuing our focus on issues such as competitiveness, including costs, skills, innovation, entrepreneurship, and ensuring that finance is available in the economy to support growth.
These are all key priorities of this year’s Acton Plan.
We remain ambitious about what can be achieved – this Action Plan contains a job creation target of 45,000 for 2017 and I am confident we can achieve it.
The Government is determined that the momentum we have created together in recent years will continue to propel us forward.
Finally, can I pay particular tribute to the partnership role that enterprise has played under the Action Plan process, especially those individuals that have stepped forward as Industry Partners, some of whom I am delighted to see here today Sean O’Driscoll, Louise Phelan and Michael O’Donnell.
Your contribution, commitment and perspective have been of enormous value and they are greatly appreciated.