Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen,
I am delighted to be with you this afternoon to present the Awards for Excellence in Public Relations 2014.
It strikes me that our trades are all not that different.
Politics is about people and communication, and so are you.
While normally in a room like this it might be you who wants to talk to me, this afternoon it is me who wants to talk to you... About our plan for Ireland’s recovery, your role in that mission, and on some changes soon to be introduced to the lobbying profession.
I know that many of your companies are small operations and as such have felt the chill winds of recession just like any other SME.
This Government’s mission and mandate is to sort out our economy, put the public finances back on track, and create jobs for our people.
When we took office in 2011 the economic situation was perilous. Since then we have been steadily implementing our recovery plan and today the country is in a much better place, for our people, for business and investment.
Having successfully exited the EU/IMF bailout last December, the first Eurozone country to do so, we are now concentrating on improving the business environment to support growing numbers of jobs and investment.
The restoration of Ireland’s investment grade status across the major credit rating agencies reflects the significant progress we have made.
Earlier this month Standard and Poor’s became the first major rating agency to restore an A rating to Irish sovereign debt. Following the upgrade yields on Irish borrowing costs fell to record lows.
Already this year we have raised more than 80 per cent of our 2014 funding target on the bond markets at competitive rates... which has cemented our exit from the bailout.
But just as we had a plan for exiting the bailout we also have a plan to rebuild a strong Irish economy. By 2018 we plan to eliminate the deficit and by 2020 we expect to return to full employment.
As you can see, Ireland’s story is a positive one. The country is moving in the right direction. I know from my recent trade trips to Silicon Valley that the investment interest in Ireland remains very strong.
As public affairs and public relations professionals working in Ireland you have a unique relationship with multinational companies, NGOs and with others interested in Ireland.
Without knowing it you are all individual ambassadors for Ireland within a global network of key influencers.
Your opinions carry weight. Your work has real positive benefits for the people of Ireland.
Whether you are representing a small business, a charity seeking change, or a large multinational, you are all playing a role in Ireland’s recovery, in making Ireland a better place to work and live.
I encourage you all to continue your good work in promoting and selling Ireland and her story to people around the world.
Awards for Excellence in Public Service
It is your good work that brings us here today where we acknowledge and shine a light on those organisations across the island of Ireland that have produced the best public relations and communication campaigns and projects over the last year.
I understand that today also represents a major highlight in the calendar of the PRCA, the PRII and the CIPR Northern Ireland - the three organisations responsible for co-hosting this event.
At the outset I would like to thank PRCA Chairman, Nigel Henegan for inviting me to present them! Nigel has done fantastic work in the area of PR.
I’d like to congratulate the Public Relations Consultants Association as it celebrates its 25th Anniversary.
I would like to pay tribute to those working in the Association for being so diligent in advancing the profession in Ireland and for nurturing the professional goals of its members.
On this special occasion I would also like to acknowledge the commitment of the President of the Public Relations Institute of Ireland, Niall Quinn, and of Chris Love of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations Northern Ireland. Not only have they been committed to co-host the Awards, they have achieved a great deal in their respective roles in promoting the professional practice of public relations.
Now in their 21th year, these awards are setting the benchmark for excellence across all areas of the PR industry.
They are growing in recognition and are being increasingly embraced by organisations across the sector. That’s a fact borne out in the number of entries which has risen again this year to a total of 136.
The standard of entries is truly impressive. And I would like to warmly congratulate every organisation that made it to the final hurdle of the competition. They have demonstrated a clear capacity for innovation and creativity in their specialist areas.
We all know PR is an increasingly competitive and dynamic area to work in. The changes in the way we do business and communicate pose a wide range of challenges and opportunities for every company and organisation. That means organisations must be equipped with the most up-to-date knowledge, expertise and practices in PR.
At present there are over three thousand people working in public relations, communications/media relations or in a communications advisory role. Turnover is estimated to be in the region of €60 million across the PR consultancy sector as a whole.
It is clearly a significant industry and it can play a very positive role.
Regulation of Lobbying
I can tell you with some certainty that the political system and the civil service do not have a monopoly on wisdom or knowledge.
Some of the most innovative ideas for change come from private sector organisations and charities.
In our mission to become the best small country in the world for business we must listen to them and be willing to implement change in a world where the pace of innovation and business development is evolving rapidly.
Many public and private sector organisations struggle to stay ahead of the curve but we need to stay competitive.
To avoid the perception of unfairness or wrongdoing it is in everyone’s interest to embrace transparency.
As highlighted in the Mahon Report, lobbying behind closed doors can exacerbate corruption risks. The Tribunal recommended the regulation of lobbying to secure significantly greater transparency over the lobbying process and the implementation of appropriate professional standards governing the conduct of lobbyists.
As a result the Registration of Lobbying Bill 2014 is being published this week. The key objective in introducing a register of lobbying is to make information available to the public on the identity of those seeking to influence public policy decisions.
The proposals to establish a web-based register of lobbying activity and the appointment of a Registrar to oversee the implementation of the register and monitor compliance, I think, is balanced and proportionate.
The proposals are not expected to impose a significant administrative burden on registrants as it will not be necessary to register every contact with designated public officials, rather the focus is on the subject matter and desired result of the lobbying.
The focus of the Registrar in the initial period of the operation of the legislation will be on education, guidance and information. It is intended that the provisions regarding the Registrar’s powers of sanction will not be commenced until a review of the implementation of the legislation has been carried out one year after the commencement.
Drawing on international precedent and significant issues raised in the course of extensive consultation a number of exemptions from registration requirements are included in the Bill.
I also understand that Public Procurement is also an area of concern for Public Relations Consultancy firms.
The reform of public sector procurement of supplies and services is a key part of our public service reform plan which commenced with the appointment of a Chief Procurement Officer and the establishment of the Office of Government Procurement in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.
Whilst the OGP is tasked with delivering up to €500 million in procurement savings over the next three years, it is important that these savings are delivered in the context of streamlining and professionalising the procurement resources in the State whilst at the same time providing increased accessibility for all businesses.
These reforms are being carried out in a manner that fully recognises the importance of the SME sector to the nation’s economic recovery. I am also keenly aware that public procurement can be an important source of business for Irish small and medium enterprises (SMEs).
The evidence is that SME’s do
well in relation in winning government business. More than 95% of the €13bn government spend is spent within the State and 75% of that is with SME’s – an increase on 2012 levels.
The recently issued guidance to State Bodies encourages public sector bodies to break large contracts down into lots where reasonable to do so.
I’d like to finish by thanking the organisations for inviting me here this afternoon.
Ireland is on the road to recovery. We still have much to do to make our country a better place for families and business.
You all have your roles to play in that recovery.
These awards are a testament to your achievements.
I would like to congratulate all of the successful individuals and their organisations who will be receiving their Awards for Excellence in Public Relations. Well done and thank you!