Good afternoon, Minister Mitchell O’Connor, ladies and gentlemen.
Thank you for the introduction Terence and to Julie for the impressive team you have gathered here today.
While you may all think that you are currently seated in EastPoint Business Park, I want to tell you that you are in fact seated on the front line.
Enterprise Ireland, the other enterprise agencies, and Irish businesses are on the front line to Ireland’s response to Brexit.
Just as the country was recovering from the double hit of the property bubble collapse and the global financial crisis, our biggest trading partner has decided to leave the EU which will have serious implications for Irish businesses, their employees, and the State itself.
While we strongly disagree with the UK’s decision to leave the EU we nonetheless accepted it as the democratic wish of the UK electorate.
Because we recognised that Ireland would be more exposed than any other country to the negative effects of Brexit we began our preparations even before the UK referendum.
Our priorities are to protect the Good Friday Agreement and the Northern Ireland Peace Process, including through maintaining an open border; to continue the Common Travel Area with the UK; to minimise the impact on our trade and the economy; and very importantly to work for a positive future for the European Union.
We are pleased to see that the negotiation guidelines recently adopted by the European Council reflect Ireland’s unique concerns. Ireland will participate in the Brexit negotiations as a committed member of the European Union and from a position of strength.
This message was emphasised by the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier who addressed a joint sitting of the Oireachtas last week.
It is absolutely in everyone’s best interest that the upcoming negotiations are conducted in a positive atmosphere with both sides committed to reaching a workable outcome that will also keep the UK as close to the EU as possible.
Nevertheless there is still major uncertainty over the future trading relationship between the EU and the UK and that uncertainty brings major challenges for Irish businesses.
In response the Government last week announced that we will intensify our focus on the economic implications of Brexit, including measures to reinforce the competitiveness of the Irish economy, to continue our work to correct the national finances to protect against future shocks, and to pursue all possible opportunities that might arise.
The main piece of work that brings us here today is to help Irish businesses expand further into the Eurozone by diversifying their markets.
Ireland has traditionally seen the UK as the first stop in expanding overseas with many not proceeding further.
But that is all changing.
While the UK remains the country's largest export market, exports there as a proportion of Enterprise Ireland companies have fallen from 45% in 2005 to 35% last year.
I have seen firsthand on trade missions around Europe with Enterprise Ireland clients the ambition, the confidence and the ingenuity of Irish companies seeking out new markets and partners.
We are by nature an open, outward looking people, and I’m delighted to see the best of Irish stand among the best of Europe and compete well.
The Eurozone markets are a natural first stop for Irish exporters expanding overseas. It offers currency stability, the benefit of free trade agreements, and a huge sophisticated population of 350 million people who demand the best products.
In the times ahead, market diversification will be imperative for businesses to counteract the effects of the UK’s decision to leave the European Union. This is why the Enterprise Ireland Eurozone Strategy we are launching today is part of our critical front line response.
At its very simplest we need to support more Irish businesses, in more sectors, to export more. The overarching strategy of Enterprise Ireland is to ‘build scale and expand reach’ by 2020.
I endorse the ambition of this strategy, which is to help Irish exporters increase exports into the zone by 50% to €6.1bn by 2020.
This will be achieved by investing more to support Irish businesses in the Eurozone. As part of our Brexit response Enterprise Ireland will be doubling the funding available to support clients enter or scale up in the Eurozone area under a range of existing programmes.
There will be an enhanced programme of trade visits and trade events, market study visits and buyer visits to key targeted markets. I hope to visit Chicago in the near future with Enterprise Ireland where there is great potential to expand Irish business.
Julie will also be unveiling a new ‘Irish Advantage’ campaign as part of today’s announcement. It is a practical initiative that I think will get a lot of positive attention.
Annual Business Review 2016
The launch of this exciting strategy comes on the back of a very successful 2016 for Enterprise Ireland. I was delighted to see the fantastic results that Enterprise Ireland clients experienced last year. Julie will take you through the figures but the headline result of exports from Enterprise Ireland clients reaching €21.6 billion breaks a new record. It is a testament to ambitious Irish companies and the hard work of Enterprise Ireland in supporting them.
Not only were their exports at record highs but there were some truly impressive increases in the US and Canadian markets, Asia Pacific, and Latin America. Exports from many sectors grew by double digit percentages.
More companies than ever are taking risks and expanding into new markets, supported by the Government.
Irish businesses are not just holding their own but growing and expanding onto the global stage. Enterprise Ireland’s Annual Business Review 2016 certainly drove this message home.
The years ahead will be challenging, especially on foot of Brexit. It will require the best efforts of the Government and Irish businesses, supported by Enterprise Ireland, to lessen the risks as best we can.
But we are ready. We will continue to be pro-active, adaptive and strategic in our approach.
Through the work carried out by Enterprise Ireland I know that Irish businesses will continue to grow and expand. Showing that they deserve to be counted among the best in Europe and the world.
Through this new Eurozone Strategy we are demonstrating to everyone that Enterprise Ireland and the Government will fight hard on the front line to win for Irish business and our people.