Check Against Delivery
Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen.
I come here this morning with a simple message. The United States has no surer partner in Europe, no firmer friend than Ireland.
This is the message that I will bring to my meeting next week with President Trump.
One hundred years ago, Irish men and women formed the First Dáil and declared our country’s independence. In its very first meeting, it issued a Message to the Free Nations of the World, which included a vision for Ireland’s place in the transatlantic economy, the theme of your meeting today. It declared that, and I quote, ‘Internationally, Ireland is the gateway to the Atlantic, Ireland is the last outpost of Europe towards the West. Ireland is the point upon which great trade routes between East and West converge.’
It was a vision that inspired Michael Collins, the man who more than anyone else made our independence a reality. He wanted Ireland to be, quote, ‘the stepping-stone between the Old World and the New’ and to become ‘a great exchange mart between Europe and America.’
Over the past one hundred years we have worked to make that dream a reality.
In a post-Brexit world, we will continue to be that stepping stone, we will continue to provide a gateway, and that is in all our interests. Each and every week, the flow of trade between the US and Ireland is over €2 billion. The balance of trade is very healthy. While Ireland currently enjoys a surplus in goods, that is balanced by a US surplus in services. The flow of trade and investment is very much two-way. Irish businesses employ well over 100,000 Americans across all sectors of the US economy, in cities and towns throughout the country.
This investment is increasing year on year. In the last two years alone, Enterprise Ireland client companies have opened 119 new offices across the US, bringing to over 520 the number of Irish firms with facilities in the US. This, of course, mirrors what we in Ireland have experienced. The cumulative impact of decades of American investment in Ireland has been central to our emergence as a dynamic, competitive, open economy.
Ireland is now a location of choice for more than 760 US companies, which among them directly employ upwards of 160,000 people here. Many of you attending today’s conference represent US companies with operations here. Thank you for contributing to Ireland’s economic success story.We are proud that we are a part of your global success story.
You gave us a vote of confidence by investing in Ireland, and helped change the nature of foreign direct investment here.
I believe, International companies with global ambitions will always need access to the European Single Market – the world’s largest market area. Ireland’s future is at the heart of the European Union. We have many competitive advantages. Our population is Europe’s youngest, with 40% under 29 years of age. Having invested heavily in education, our people are among the world’s best educated, encouraged to think and to create. We have one of the most open, internationally-traded economies in the world, with an attractive business environment underpinned by a stable and consistent 12.5% corporate tax rate. A policy supported by all three major parties. Our connectivity is continuously improving, to the point where we now have direct connections from Ireland to eighteen US cities. That’s almost 60,000 seats a week, more than double what it was seven years ago. At a time when others in Europe are looking to close their doors, Irish people are positive towards migration. Today, more than one in six of our residents were born abroad, making us one of the most internationalised countries in Europe.
Our culture and our values align with yours.
The Irish economy is competitive and resilient, and we are enjoying sustainable and balanced economic growth. Employment levels are at an all time high. We are forecasting GDP growth of 4.2% for this year. In 2018, we recorded a budget surplus and intend to do so again this year. We achieved this important milestone while reducing income tax on average incomes, creating more space for capital spending, reducing our national debt and establishing a Rainy Day Fund to increase the State’s resilience to potential economic shocks. We are expanding our diplomatic presence with new consulates in cities like LA and a stronger agency in places like Raleigh.
However, we are not complacent. The uncertainty in the global economy, driven by factors like Brexit and international trade tensions, changes in global trade rules, represent a real risk to our economic progress. We are also very aware of our housing shortage and infrastructural constraints and we are investing to put that right.
Colleagues, we are now just 22 days away from the 29th of March – the date on which the UK is due to leave the European Union. Unfortunately, at this point, uncertainty still persists on the terms on which it will depart. While we work to find a solution we are preparing for every eventuality, to ensure that our businesses are insulated from the worst effects. Jobs and incomes protected. We have put in place initiatives to help companies prepare for Brexit, and have contingency plans to help companies deal with the consequences of a worst-case scenario. Despite the challenge of Brexit we are confident about the future.
It is because we are already building for it. With Project Ireland 2040, our national development and spatial plan, we are making massive investments in our public infrastructure – housing, transport, education and healthcare in all parts of the country.
An investment of €116 billion over ten years to remove bottlenecks, modernize our public services, reduce congestion, ensure that economic development is brought to all parts of our country, and ensure that we have the capacity for future growth. The shovels are in the ground, the plan is being implemented. This year alone, capital spending, investment in infrastructure, will increase by 25% or €1.5bn. That’s new hospitals, new schools, new roads, energy projects and telecommunications, as well as new cultural infrastructure.
We are also planning for the future of jobs. In the next few days we will publish our vision for 21st century employment called Future Jobs. We’re taking a whole of government approach to enhance the productivity of our enterprise base; ensure quality and sustainable jobs; and build a resilient, innovative, and globally connected economy. We want to make sure that Ireland as a country is poised to get our share of the new jobs and new wealth the 21st century will create.
Together, the European Union and the United States account for half of global GDP, over half of the world’s Foreign Direct Investment and a third of its trade flows. As in any long-standing relationship, there will always be tensions to manage and challenges to resolve. In our view, no other bilateral partnership in the world has a better capacity to respond to the challenges of a rapidly changing global environment.
The EU is fully committed to a continued strong partnership with the US. And Ireland is fully committed to playing an instrumental role in fostering and developing this relationship, in the years and decades ahead.
To conclude, I believe the economic relationship between Ireland and the United States is resilient, and full of promise for the future.
Thank you for helping to cement that friendship. It has helped Ireland take our place among the world, and together I believe we can achieve a lot more.