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Speech by An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, Future Jobs Summit,

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Minister, ladies and gentlemen, good morning.

Tangent, Trinity’s Ideas Workspace, is the perfect venue for today’s second Future Jobs Summit.  Ireland has the highest share of people in employment holding third level degrees in the EU, and young people are at the heart of our economic development.

Thank you Richard for moderating today.  Thanks also to our speaker, Saadia Zahidi for joining us to share her insights on the transformative changes taking place in the global economy.

Everyone here represents a different strand of Irish society, with expertise in how we might respond to the challenges and opportunities we are facing in the years to come.

Future Jobs Ireland is our ambitious plan to future-proof our economy, create new jobs, new wealth, and new businesses.  It prepares us for the big challenges - whether that’s trade wars, the rise of automation and artificial intelligence, or the move to a low carbon economy.

Today we have record levels of employment, rising income levels, falling poverty and deprivation rates, and a budget surplus, despite a difficult and unpredictable global economic environment.

This is the underlying reason for Future Jobs Ireland – to improve the sustainability and resilience of the Irish economy to ultimately secure and improve the living standards of Irish people for the future.

We now have a record 2.3 million people in work, a highly competitive economy, and a well-educated and highly skilled workforce.  But economic progress is not measured simply in economic statistics.  It is seen in the difference it makes to families, to the elderly, to hard-working parents, and to people struggling to make ends meet.

The world is changing fast.  Technology continues to herald new ways of doing business and new economic opportunities.  It is not only the types of jobs that will be changing, but the way that we work.

Future Jobs Ireland also ensures that as our economy changes, and traditional industries and practices are disrupted, workers and enterprises are able to transition successfully.

If we adapt now our enterprises can stay competitive and our society resilient.  If we don’t then we will quickly fall behind.

So Future Jobs Ireland – led by Minister Humphreys - represents a proactive approach to avoiding the mistakes of the past, when we were over-reliant on a few sectors and complacent about future economic risks.

My message is simple, there is no tolerance for any complacency at any level within Government, when it comes to the Irish economy.

In the last few weeks we have seen that even in a growing economy like ours, job losses can occur as international developments impact on businesses.  We live in a world where the pace of change can be frightening, if we are not prepared for it.  So we need to stay ahead of the curve.

While it is understandable that it is only at times of economic crisis that the broader public engage on this issue, everyone in this room must continuously focus on it.

We don’t need to look too far into the past to remember a time when good economic performance encouraged not only complacency but also hubris.  

While we must always look forward, we must also keep an eye on the rear view mirror.  Only by understanding our past can we avoid making the same mistakes in the future.

Our country still bears the scars of the mistakes of our recent past.

They can be seen in a population that still fears that any external shock could bring us back to the worst of those days. The impact that uncertainty about Brexit has had on consumer confidence is proof positive of that.

They can be seen in a construction sector that is only fitfully returning to the level it should be at.  The consequences of that can be seen in the challenges we face with regard to the housing shortage.

The scars can be seen in the way we missed out on a generation of investment, when the country did not have the money to invest in the infrastructure it so desperately needs – be it broadband, roads, public transport, hospitals or water. Something we are only rectifying now with Project Ireland 2040 which is being delivered all across our country.

The scars can be seen in the legacy of a generation of Irish men and women who were forced to leave Ireland to find jobs and opportunities abroad.  People we know who settled down, started families and made careers across the globe rather than across our island.

The damage from that time has been healed, but the scars remain.

It is for those obvious and painful reasons that Government is focused on ensuring that the economic progress made in recent years is maintained and protected.  It will not be frittered away, not ever again.

In recent times, it has become fashionable to doubt our FDI model. There are some who have taken to suggesting that inward investment is not right for Ireland, and that we should do without it.

There are others who have taken to offering a false choice.  That we must choose between a supportive environment for FDI or support for indigenous enterprises and our SMEs.  It is not a zero sum game.

Due to a consistent and welcoming policy environment, and the talent and openness of the Irish workforce, Ireland enjoys a reputation as one of the most attractive places for FDI.  We are focused on protecting that reputation and building on it.

When I launched Future Jobs Ireland back in March I set out that by 2025 I want us to have a similar reputation as the home of dynamic, high achieving, Irish-owned SMEs with a talented and adapted workforce.  That is the next phase of our national economic development.

These two goals are not in conflict. They can, must and will complement each other.  By focusing on the need to develop our indigenous enterprises, I am not proposing for one second to take our eye off FDI.

If we want our SME sector to enjoy high levels of productivity we need to figure out how those companies can learn from the high performing multi-national cohort.  We need to make the spill-over effect a reality not a talking point.

Today’s Summit helps us prepare for tomorrow’s economy and tomorrow’s world.

Thank you for taking part and I look forward to your discussions.