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Speech by An Taoiseach Micheál Martin T.D. National Economic Dialogue, Monday 28th June 2021

Check Against Delivery


Good afternoon everyone.


I am very pleased to join you for this year’s National Economic Dialogue.


I would like to thank Minister Donohoe, Minister McGrath and their officials for organising the Dialogue again this year. 


And also Professor Alan Barrett for once again chairing proceedings today, as he has done so ably over the past few years.



The National Economic Dialogue is an opportunity for us to come together to discuss the economic challenges we face, the choices that present themselves, and how we can move forward. 


I am very pleased that so many of you are taking part, representing so many different strands of our society, enriching our discussions with your diverse views and experiences.


This is particularly important this year as we emerge from the pandemic and the unprecedented impact it has had on our lives and livelihoods over the past year and a half.


As we gradually reopen and look towards recovery, I believe it important that we take the time to recognise that the pandemic has been a watershed experience for Ireland’s economy and society.


We have a unique opening now to learn from this experience, to reflect, and to take the steps to build back better. 


The Government is committed to recovering and renewing our economy and society, in a balanced, sustainable and inclusive manner, to the benefit of all our people and regions.   


This includes addressing the fallout of the pandemic, particularly its effect on so many workers, along with tackling persistent regional disparities, and addressing the impacts of Brexit and the green and digital transition. 


This also means leveraging the substantial opportunities that technology and digitalisation can bring in our recovery and our decarbonisation journey. 


A more inclusive recovery also means ensuring people can access employment opportunities. We are putting a considerable focus on participation and on reducing barriers as we rebuild and grow our labour market. 


In the coming years, this will include introducing Statutory Sick Pay, implementing our Roadmap for Social Inclusion, and undertaking initiatives to address gender equality, including responding to the recent Citizens Assembly on this matter.  


We will also place the challenge of housing at the centre of our recovery. 


An ambitious housing plan to substantially increase housing supply over the coming years is the immediate priority for the Government.



This will necessitate genuine cross-government effort – we need to ensure we have the land, people, skills, capacity, and both public and private sector finance required.


We need to improve how we plan and deliver housing, with necessary capacity and drive in the public service, as well as fewer delays through legal challenges to badly-needed housing.


Increased supply of affordable housing will in turn ease some of the broader economic and social challenges people face in their lives.


Houses can’t be built overnight – but details of the Government’s approach and pathway to increased supply over the next few years will be set out shortly in our new Housing for All strategy. 



The Path Ahead

The ambitions of this Government are considerable, whether that be tackling our carbon emissions and placing us firmly on the path to a 50% reduction by 2030, bringing about generational change in our health, education and higher education systems, or delivering on our goal of ensuring everybody has access to quality housing.  


I believe these ambitions are shared ones - held by Government, by the Irish people, and by you all here today.


We all want to make our country a better place – that is why we are here, to share our views on how this can be achieved.


At the same time, we must be realistic about the path that lies ahead.


In the past 18 months, we have provided extraordinary levels of support. 


Around €38 billion has been spent by Government. This was necessary and appropriate given the scale of the challenge we faced. 


However, this is not sustainable, and we must now move to the next phase, in which the finite resources that Government can deploy are targeted at those who need them most, and used in a way that best supports recovery and our future prosperity.


In the coming months and years we face challenging headwinds – whether that be the fallout of the pandemic and its impact on so many businesses and workers, the continued economic disruption brought about by Brexit, or the ongoing discussions taking place at the OECD on the future of international taxation. 


While we will be ambitious in our plans and in what we want to achieve, we must be mature enough as a society to recognise that there are trade-offs, that not everything can be achieved overnight, and that for so many of the challenges we face there are no easy, quick answers or solutions.


Central to our approach and our debate here today must be the balancing of our ambitions with what is possible.


The Summer Economic Statement will set out the medium-term fiscal framework in which we have to operate, setting out a pathway towards a broadly balanced budget as employment recovers.



This will mean making choices around how and what we deliver, choosing what we focus upon, ensuring we are taking a sustainable and responsible approach to our public finances – so that we will again have the space to respond should challenges strike again, as they surely will – and managing within the real constraints we face.


Social Dialogue

The coming decade, I believe, will be one of extraordinary change, bringing with it new challenges, new opportunities, and many choices for how we, as a society, should proceed.


I believe that it is critically important that we bring people with us on the journey that lies ahead. This can be helped by social dialogue and regular and open engagement with all parts of society. 


I have always strongly believed in the need to build coalitions of support for the transformations and choices that are required; this is no different now.


We need a conversation on our shared common purpose as a society – how we can tackle the challenges that lay ahead of us in an inclusive and fair way, that does not divide us or have parts of our community, or particular sectors feeling embattled or isolated.


I believe today’s National Economic Dialogue is a key part of the engagement we need. 


Indeed, the timing of this year’s event is very fortuitous, as is provides a valuable forum to discuss the future of our economy as we start looking beyond COVID-19.



With that in mind, I want to share with you this afternoon how the Government is supporting the recovery and how we are preparing for the new challenges and opportunities on the horizon. 


The Response to COVID-19 

The economic impact of the pandemic has been profound, having brought about the most rapid and dramatic recession recorded outside of the world wars.


Given the magnitude of the pandemic’s impact on our lives and livelihoods, the Government’s response has also been unprecedented – nowhere is that more clear than in the steps Government has taken to protect workers and businesses.



This has included the deployment of €14.5 billion to date through the three main support schemes, the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP), Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme, and the COVID Restrictions Support Scheme. 


Working collectively, we have taken huge steps forward in both controlling the virus and rolling out an unprecedented vaccine programme as fast as supplies allow.


These efforts have allowed us to put in place the safe, phased reopening of social and economic activities, and why we are able to introduce a comprehensive plan for recovery and renewal.


Preparing for the Future

At the start of this month, the Government launched the Economic Recovery Plan.


This Plan will drive our recovery as we emerge from the pandemic. It is aligned with our strategic policy objectives in areas including innovation, skills, resilience and productivity, as well as the changes flowing from the Government’s climate action commitments.


The Plan sets out renewed supports, investments and policies for a new stage of economic recovery, building on the unprecedented support provided to date.   


The Plan expands key pandemic supports, including the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme and Pandemic Unemployment Payment, providing clarity and certainty for businesses and employees over the period ahead.



In addition, the new Pathways to Work strategy will help minimise the long-term scarring effects of the pandemic on the labour force, supporting those whose jobs are permanently lost while helping people to secure new jobs through intense activation, and upskilling and reskilling initiatives. 


Many of the jobs that will be created in the coming years will be in new areas of opportunity rooted in a greener and more digital economy.  This means that our focus will be on recovering differently, with more productive, innovative, resilient, and importantly, more secure and valued jobs. 



Investing in our people and their talents and skills is the linchpin in achieving this. We are reinvigorating Ireland’s National Skills Framework, rolling out 50,000 additional education and training places, introducing a new Work Placement Experience Programme, and introducing new initiatives to increase the take-up of apprenticeships.


Our approach also recognises that the pandemic has brought new urgency to the challenges that lie ahead - climate action, housing, digitalisation, an ageing population, and the pursuit of balanced regional development – to name but a few.


Therefore, our core objective is to not just rebuild, but to build back better. 


To support not only job creation, but to position our society and economy to meet the challenges ahead. 


The Government is making a significant investment to prepare and respond to these challenges, to bring about an investment-led recovery, preparing our society for the future.


We will deliver major strategic investmentinto our national infrastructure, under the revised National Development Plan, supplemented by funding from the European Recovery and Resilience Facility and the Brexit Adjustment Reserve. 


This will build on existing investment, with €10.8 billion in public capital investment committed this year alone; a record sum.


Public investment under the revised National Development Plan will generate local employment and improve the capability and capacity for economic activity to take place throughout all the regions of the country. 

A new Climate Action Plan will be published in conjunction with the revised National Development Plan and, in building on the progress to date, will include additional policies and measures in every sector to bring about the significant changes needed to transform our economy and society. 


And as part of the Shared Island initiative, the Government will invest to enhance the all-island economy, working with the Executive in Northern Ireland and with the British Government. 


Securing our long-term prosperity must also mean ensuring our public finances remain on a solid and sustainable footing.



Over the next two decades, our population will change from one of the youngest in Europe to amongst the oldest, which will see demand for health and social welfare grow, with significant costs for the State.  We have a responsibility to future generations to start preparing for those changes now.


To ensure the State’s ability to continue to fund public services as the population ages, the recently established Commission on Taxation and Welfare will provide a medium-to-long term blueprint to Government to inform the direction of our taxation and welfare policy.  


Complementing this, the ongoing work by the Commission on Pensions and the development of an Automatic Enrolment retirement savings system will lay the foundations for a sustainable, balanced pensions system. 


And, as the recovery takes hold, we will reduce the fiscal deficit, as well as setting out, in our medium term roadmap, how we will return to a broadly balanced budget. This will ensure that we will have the resources and ability to tackle the challenges, known and unknown, that lie ahead.



We are not going back to the pre-COVID world. The pandemic has represented a dramatic and unprecedented social and economic shock for Ireland and the wider world.


To rebuild and renew after this shock – not just to recover from the disruption wrought by the virus, but to move forward – we need to work urgently and with a clear vision. 



This afternoon, I have described how the Government is charting the path to a positive, sustainable future. By providing unprecedented support to our workers and businesses during the pandemic but also by laying out a longer term pathway to tackle the challenges we face and ensure our people can benefit from the new opportunities ahead.


We can and we will re-build our economy; we will get our people back to work and safely emerge from the pandemic; and we will align our economy for the digitalised and green future, creating more productive, sustainable, and importantly, more secure and valued jobs.


In doing so, we are creating a pathway to a new, and better, future for our country. 


I look forward to your input and views today and tomorrow which will help guide our path to a sustainable economy to the benefit of all our people.


Thank you.