News & Events

Opening Address by Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Leo Varadkar at Shared Island Dialogue: “Building back together: Economic recovery on a shared island”

02 June 2021

Thank you, Laura.

It’s a pleasure to join you today as part of the Shared Island Dialogue.

Hello to everyone joining us on-line.

It’s a pity we can’t all meet in person here in Dublin Castle.

Next January it will be 100 years since the last ever Viceroy of Ireland handed Dublin Castle over to Michael Collins and the Government of the newly-independent Irish free state.

Successive Irish governments have hosted important national events here ever since – from the visits of John F. Kennedy, to Queen Elizabeth II, to our Presidencies of the Council of the European Union. It’s where the President is inaugurated and where Cabinet meets during Covid.

It has always been associated with national identity – with history and with change – and so it is a fitting venue for the Shared Island Dialogues.

I want to commend the Taoiseach for his initiative in establishing the Shared Island Unit in the Department of the Taoiseach. It’s a significant step in examining the political, social, economic and cultural considerations for a shared future in which all traditions are mutually respected.

Today is the latest in a series of dialogues which have already involved my ministerial colleagues – the Taoiseach, Minister Eamon Ryan, Minister Roderic O’Gorman and Minister Simon Coveney.

Our dialogue will look at how we can build an inclusive and sustainable economic recovery on the island of Ireland.

I think 3 issues in particular will shape the North/South economy in the years to come:

  1. The international trading environment
  2. The twin transformation of digital and green and
  3. The post-COVID economic rebound.

Brexit has disrupted the seamless trading environment the UK and Ireland enjoyed since the Single European Act in 1992. It was always going to be a disruptive policy and so it has proved to be in practice.

I know the Protocol is causing unease within the Unionist Community. I know I am associated with it too. What politicians say matters – and so I will keep my comments brief.  

The Protocol was negotiated between the UK and the EU to manage the challenges caused by Brexit on the island of Ireland.  

It is the agreed way to safeguard the Good Friday Agreement, to avoid a hard border and protect the Single Market and Ireland’s place in it.  

I can assure you that there is political will here in Dublin to resolve the outstanding issues with the Protocol. We will allow space for constructive, technical engagement to continue between the UK and EU – but I must emphasise that the only sustainable solutions are joint solutions – not unilateral action.

Today I would like to try to change the conversation on the Protocol. I believe it presents a unique economic opportunity for Northern Ireland businesses and for North/South trade.

It provides companies with unfettered access to both the EU Single Market and UK Internal Market.

And as Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, I would like to discuss today how politicians and stakeholders – everyone on this call who has a stake in this island – can promote and explore that unique advantage in the years to come.

We are currently living through an extraordinary time. Genuine, once-in-a-generation moments are rare but I believe COVID-19 is one of them.

The world will never be the same after COVID-19. It has brought severe hardship but it has also presented great opportunity – the opportunity to rebuild a better, more inclusive economy.

We have shared challenges and opportunities on both sides of the border and we can deal with them far more effectively by working together.

The economic recovery will be driven by entrepreneurship, by good jobs, and by public and private investment in human, environmental and economic and social capital.

There are a range of settings in which we should think about doing more together on the island. From the North South Ministerial Council, to InterTrade Ireland, to cross-border Local Authority cooperation, to deepening our business and innovation networks right across the island. We should recognise and pursue the clear advantages that all-island cooperation and enterprise development offers.

Take for example the Dublin-Belfast Economic Corridor, which was recently launched by eight local authorities. It encapsulates a cross-border region of some two million people, with eight Universities and Institutes of Technology, excellent international connectivity and world-leading industry and services sectors.

There is huge potential, through joint-working and coordinated investment, to further develop the region – by attracting foreign investment into towns and regions right along the corridor and spreading that growth westward.

We can also clearly see the benefits of multi-stakeholder cross-border cooperation in the North-West. The Councils of Derry and Strabane, and Donegal are working with the Government and the Executive through the North-West Strategic Growth Partnership to prioritise sustainable development and drive investment on an integrated basis.

As part of the Shared Island initiative, we want to support and realise the full potential of these kinds of cross-border relationships. This is how we can move beyond the pandemic and the effects of Brexit and develop the all-island economy more effectively together.

For instance, the Government, through Enterprise Ireland and our Border Enterprise Development Fund, has invested in the national-level Advanced Manufacturing and Technology Centre of Excellence in Dundalk, which has strong relationships with businesses on both sides of the border.

This initiative by the Louth/Meath Education and Training Board in partnership with Portview Trade Centre will enable the development of future skills for our young people, across the Island and enable them to secure high value jobs that are required in modern manufacturing including robotics automation 3D manufacturing, artificial intelligence and virtual reality.

We have also invested in the biotechnology innovation centre in Monaghan through our Regional Enterprise Development Fund.

I know that Queen’s University Belfast is strongly involved in this and is helping to foster a high-value biotech cluster in the central border region and beyond.

We want to explore and invest in more cross-border enterprise development opportunities like these, working in partnership with the Executive and the UK Government.

The Irish Government wants these investment and enterprise development opportunities for Northern Ireland realised. Business growth in Northern Ireland contributes to economic opportunity in our border regions, and the prospects of the island as a whole.

InterTrade Ireland continues to carry out vital work with enterprises north and south – to grow trade across the border and to support them in dealing with the impacts of Brexit and the pandemic to their business.

InterTrade Ireland’s success demonstrates the value of both jurisdictions working together. We can build on this and work in coordinated ways to help develop sectors with strong potential for the whole island, such as the bioeconomy, advanced manufacturing, health and life sciences and the green economy. If we put the work in, it is entirely possible that trade on the island could be doubled in the years ahead.

Yesterday the Government launched the Economic Recovery Plan. It’s an ambitious framework to restore all the jobs lost during COVID-19 and to rebuild a more inclusive and more sustainable economy.

An important part of our approach is to grow the all-island economy, driving enterprise growth and job creation North and South.

This will make a major contribution to recovery, particularly in border areas which have been negatively affected by the pandemic and by Brexit.

Later this summer, the Government will also publish our revised and extended National Development Plan, setting out our investment plans between now and 2030.

As part of the updated Plan, we will set out an enhanced level of ambition for collaborative public investment on a cross-border basis, to build a more connected, prosperous and sustainable island.

Central to this is the Shared Island Fund, where the Government has committed €500m in capital funding between now and 2025, ring-fenced for investment in North/South projects. We will deploy this through co-funding partnerships with the Executive, the UK Government, with Local Authorities and others.

We will invest to enhance transport connectivity; work on an all-island basis on decarbonisation; deliver a step-change in research and innovation cooperation; and support the North-West and other border regions.

I have spoken about just some of the areas and ways in which we can ‘build back together’ towards the recovery of the whole island of Ireland. The only limit is our preparedness and our will to mine these seams of cross-border opportunity.

I believe the interest and the impulse is there to transform how we work together economically on this island in the years ahead.

We have over 140 business leaders and economic stakeholders joining us virtually for today’s Dialogue and a great line-up of speakers across the panels to delve into the issues that are up for discussion.

I encourage all of you to get involved in today’s session and to put forward your ideas on how we can grow and develop the economy on this island, to deliver better outcomes for all.


We can do this together.