President, Council Members, Chamber members, staff, distinguished guests, good evening.
Tá an-áthas orm a bheith libh tráthnóna. Tá ríméad orm go bhfuil mé in ann a bheith páirteach in ócáid atá an-speisialta.
[Translation: It gives me great pleasure to join you this evening. I am delighted to be able to be part of such a special occasion]
Thank you, Mary Rose [Burke - CEO], for inviting me to speak at this special occasion for Dublin Chamber.
Stephen, congratulations on becoming President. I know you will bring a broad range of expertise, energy and commitment to the role.
It’s great to see Vincent Cleary here from Glenisk – a company that has overcome huge adversity, a devastating fire during a pandemic, and which continues to employ so many people in rural Ireland.
Thanks also to Frank O’Keeffe and the team at EY for sponsoring the event.
President, for the past two and a half centuries, Dublin Chamber has helped to shape and grow the business community, influence public policy and enhance our capital.
Congratulations on all your achievements, your hard work and economic success.
You have played a crucial role in the economic and social transformation of this city.
Dublin has changed beyond recognition in that time, and particularly since the last Viceroy of Ireland handed over Dublin Castle – just across the way – to Michael Collins and the government of the newly-independent Irish state, just over a century ago.
This brand-new development – the Dublin Royal Convention Centre at Le Pole Square – and its surrounding area, tells the story of Dublin. Here, inside the canal, we have a city that is more than one thousand years young.
Excavations on the building discovered that the pool on the River Poddle where the Vikings first settled was much bigger than originally thought.
That pool is Dubh Linn, which gave Dyflin or later Dublin its name.
It was thought that the pool ended at Dublin Castle, but work on this complex revealed that in fact it extended to where St Michael Le Pole church once stood on Ship Street. Which, of course, in Irish is Sráid na Caorach. (Sheep Street)
In a nod to that 7th century church, this development was called Le Pole Square.
This is Dublin our fair city – the ancient and the new, side by side. Glistening and gritty. The way we like it to be.
President, the physical transformation we have witnessed over the last 100 years has been impressive, but the economic and social changes have been even more profound.
And President, I want us to sustain that level of progress over the next 100 years.
Dublin’s Economic potential
As a Dubliner, I believe we should aim to be the best city in the world to invest, start and grow a business. And also a city that is liveable, people and family friendly, culturally curious and a lot easier to get around.
Ireland is a very open economy, with huge exports relative to our size, but we have relatively few indigenous exporters compared to some of our peers like Denmark for example.
We have some extraordinary Irish companies which are the best at what they do globally. Think of Ryanair, CRH, Glanbia and some of the other companies represented here this evening. There needs to be many more.
So, we must broaden and deepen enterprise innovation capability, increasing the number of SMEs investing in RD&I, linking our multinational and SME innovation base and public policy, and embedding a culture of continuous innovation.
In recent years, we have seen just how effective the right policy interventions can be. Think of the Disruptive Technologies Innovation Fund which is driving collaboration between industry, research institutions and the State – in areas such as cell and gene therapy, AI and renewable technologies.
We should also borrow from what other countries are doing.
Station F in Paris, now the world’s largest start up campus, only opened in 2017. Station F shows what can be created when the best entrepreneurial thinkers, investors and all arms of the State work cohesively as one community.
I know the State can do more to stimulate entrepreneurship and reward innovation and risk. It’s essential if we are to reach the ambitious targets we have set out in our new White Paper on Enterprise:
- a 50% increase in the number of large Irish exporting companies by 2030
- a 20% increase in the number of high-potential start-ups by 2024, and
- 5 national cluster organisations by 2025 to boost regional development.
Dublin as a liveable city
President, I want to take a few moments to talk about social transformation.
We have made great strides in just the last decade – marriage equality, better and more affordable early education and childcare, parental leave, sick pay to name but a few examples.
But there is so much more to do.
I said that we can become the best city in the world to invest and start a business.
I also want Dublin, and Ireland as a whole, to become one of the best places in the world to live.
The two go hand-in-hand. We need to attract and retain talent (people) as well as capital.
It requires better infrastructure, housing, healthcare, early learning and childcare, all underpinned by coordinated planning.
These are not areas we have excelled in, but we have the capability to change that – and I believe we are an unfinished Republic and an unfinished City until we get there.
Ireland has every reason to aim high – to be a self-confident and ambitious nation, promoting our interests internationally and shaping the kind of world in which we want to live.
As James Joyce once said:
“I always write about Dublin, because if I can get to the heart of Dublin I can get to the heart of all the cities of the world. In the particular is contained the universal.
Joyce’s reflection reminds us that our everyday lives are not dissimilar to others around the world, or at least to those in other advanced economies.
Many other cities grapple with the same issues we do and they overcome them to varying degrees. We must harness all our resources, our skills and expertise to become a great place to live.
I know Dublin Chamber and its members want that future for Dublin, and it has a track record in advocating for that change.
As Minister for Enterprise, Trade & Employment from 2020-2022, I often heard that a shortage of labour was the most pressing issue for employers. Yes, the cost of doing business is rising, but labour shortages were usually right up there as the main concern. In some ways this is a problem of success, but in other ways it is a reflection of real shortcomings in our housing, education and childcare provision.
People simply won’t take up a job if they can’t find anywhere to live, a creche or a school place for their child. Safety is also an issue and was one of the first topics on my agenda when I met the Garda Commissioner in my first week back in office.
Hybrid working can be part of the solution but we also want people to want to live and work in the city. And especially, we want more people living in the city centre.
Investing in our national cultural institutions, the arts, sports and public realm is essential.
Reforming our antiquated licensing laws is an opportunity to boost the experience and night-time economy, and give people and performers more autonomy about how, when and where they socialise. It will also help to build stronger, safer communities.
President, as you know, the Citizens’ Assembly has proposed a powerful new Mayor for Dublin with wide-ranging powers and responsibilities similar to other major international city regions.
The Citizens’ Assembly report is now being considered by the Government and Oireachtas so that we can issue a reasoned response to the recommendations later this year.
I believe in local government and local autonomy with decisions being made as close to people as possible. Some politicians and officials will resist it. I am determined to allow Dubliners to have their say.
Whatever the people of Dublin decide in regard to a directly elected mayor, we need better coordination of decision-making. As I said, we do not lack the skills and expertise, it’s about pulling those resources together to achieve our shared objectives.
President, we are all agreed that we need to invest heavily in our physical infrastructure to raise our competitiveness and Dublin’s attractiveness as a place to live and work.
We will not pull back on vital capital investment when we need it most. We will continue to invest more.
This means, that as well as improvements to public transport and housing, we will step up investment in energy, water and other basic infrastructure that are expected in any advanced economy.
This year, we will spend over €12 billion in public capital projects – many of which are here in Dublin.
To put that into perspective, when I first became a Government Minister it was as little as €3 or €4 billion.
Investment in public infrastructure is now well above OECD and EU average.
Last year we saw the opening of the new North Runway at Dublin Airport. Several other major projects are on the way, including Bus Connects. The National Children’s Hospital will open next year.
Metro and DART Plus are with An Bord Pleanála. They’ve been talked about for decades but they’ve never reached that point before.
Dart+ will see 95 additional DART carriages arriving by 2025, and 90 new battery-electric units entering service in 2026.
I know that it’s easy to have plans and make commitments. Execution is where we need to improve.
I am determined to change that, working alongside Minister Paschal Donohoe, who I have tasked with specific responsibility for NDP Delivery.
President, the business community has shown remarkable grit to get through the last few years – Brexit, COVID-19, the war in Ukraine and a sharp increase in the cost of doing business.
Thanks to your hard work, the economy and the public finances are in good health, and we are fortunate to be in a position to protect our citizens through the cost of living crisis. For this reason, the Government, earlier this week, announced a new round of income supports focused on pensioners, working families, children of school age and vulnerable citizens like carers and people with disabilities.
Over the past three years, we protected people’s livelihoods and sustained as many viable jobs and businesses as possible. We have only been able to do that due to the employment you create and revenues you generate. Thank you for all you do.
You make the wheels turn.
So the Government will continue to back you through these difficult times. Increases in excise on petrol and diesel are being deferred until the summer. VAT will remain at 9% until the end of August. This will, however, be the final extensions.
Minister Coveney and Minister McGrath have remodelled the energy subsidy scheme for business (TBESS) so more businesses qualify for more financial support. And it will be back dated to last September to help you with cashflow.
While we can’t remove uncertainty, we will seek to provide as much stability and assistance as possible on the issues that are within our control.
President, in the past few days a number of key statistics have been released. They tell a story we need to hear and reflect on.
There are more people at work in Ireland than ever before - 2.55 million. Unemployment and youth unemployment are down. Female participation in the workforce is up. Incomes are higher than ever before with the average household income now close to €50,000 a year.
At the same time, after many years of falling poverty and improvements in income inequality, there has been a sharp rise in people experiencing poverty including among children and pensioners and also among working adults. The gap between earnings in our wealthiest counties and least developed counties has also widened.
It’s true that some of these data were collected in 2021 and have been distorted by the pandemic and our response to it, not to mention the global inflation crisis. And it’s also true that these figures do not take account of the higher cost of living in our cities. But that doesn’t make it ok or any less concerning.
We need to turn the tide on this and I am determined that we will.
It means better pay through the introduction of a national living wage for Ireland among other actions to improve pay, redoubling our efforts to encourage more parents to take up employment and educational opportunities and a focus on better pension provision and achieving reductions in children experiencing consistent poverty. This is all firmly on our agenda for this year and next.
We also need better data on how we measure these things. What you don’t measure, you can’t improve. So it’s important we measure things properly.
It makes no sense to me that so many of the things we are doing - cheaper childcare and free pre-school, reduced charges for school transport, free school books in all primary schools, hot school meals and the abolition of hospital charges for children count for nothing when we calculate child poverty. This is not a technical point. How we measure things counts and this can create an incentive for policymakers to invest in cash transfers rather than making services more accessible and more affordable, when we need to do both.
This will also form part of the work programme for the new Child Poverty and Wellbeing unit being established by the Department of the Taoiseach.
It also means stepping up our efforts on balanced regional development, enabling less developed regions to catch up - the National Broadband Plan, the IDA and Enterprise Ireland regional property programmes and our regional enterprise plans, the new Technological Universities, remote working, capital investment in transport and renewable energy, supporting tourism, agriculture, the food & beverage industries, farming, fisheries and forestry. We will do all these things and more. A more equal Ireland will be good for Dublin too.
President, thank you again for the invitation to speak to you tonight.
I make you only one promise: we will continue to work with you, to listen to you, and to assist you. Dublin’s prosperity and success, is Ireland’s prosperity and success.
Go raibh maith agaibh arís, as deis a thabhairt dom a bheith libh tráthnóna. Tá súil agam go mbainfidh sibh taitneamh as an gcuid eile den tráthnóna. Blath Cliath Abú.
[Translation: Thank you again for the opportunity to join you this evening and I hope you enjoy the rest of the evening. I look forward to working with you all in 2023.]