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Speech by Tánaiste Leo Varadkar TD at Global Ireland Summit Dublin Castle

Thank you Shona for the introduction and for the invitation to speak here today at the Global Ireland Summit.

Shortly before his death 100 years ago, Michael Collins declared that our national aim was to find a path to freedom based on our country becoming ‘a shining light in a dark world’.

I think, he could make the same comment in the world of 2022.

History tends to repeat itself and unfortunately, today once again, we inhabit a dark world.

For those responsible for the conflict in Ukraine, we have a simple message:

Your actions will never be forgotten. They will never be forgiven. You have strengthened the Ukrainian national identity. You have united Europe and the West.

To recall Collins’ words, you have made our values shine brighter ever still.

To quote another Irish leader, Seán Lemass once said that ‘events in all parts of the world, and new ideas and developments everywhere, can be of direct and immediate interest to our own people’.

His vision was of an Ireland playing a role in a greater Europe, in the United Nations, and in the world at large. As he said, ‘Irish people are citizens of the world as well as Ireland’.

For me, that is the vision of Global Ireland.

It’s a path to follow in the footsteps of our forebears by becoming citizens of the world in the 21st century.

It’s an ambition to double our global footprint.

That’s not just about scaling up our agencies, embassies, staff or budgets, though we are increasing all of these – it’s about doubling our presence and influence around the world – doing things differently and better.

Four years since I launched Global Ireland 2025 with Minister Coveney, we have an opportunity to assess how the plan is working and how Ireland can better advance our strategic interests and values on the international stage.

As we have heard over the course of the day, we can be proud about what we have achieved in the last four years.

Ireland is promoting our shared values of peace, justice, democracy, free enterprise and human rights on the UN Security Council.

We have opened 14 new missions, some of which I’ve had the honour to open officially, such as Bogotá and Santiago de Chile last month. And Los Angeles a few years ago. I have one or two more I’d like to do in mind.

Over 20 ‘Ireland Houses’ including the enterprise agencies of my Department are operating across the globe, with more due to adopt the model later this year.

This progress is really encouraging. It is exactly as I imagined it in 2021. A Strategy that really is being implemented.  Now we need to consider the future of the Global Ireland programme.

Given how much the world has changed, what do we need to prioritise?

What are we not currently doing that we should be doing? 

What is the next step for Global Ireland?

Today, I’m going to focus my remarks on my own ministerial brief of Enterprise, Trade & Employment.

Three priorities

As you may know, I have set three objectives in my role as Minister for Enterprise Trade and Employment:

  1. To help businesses respond to Covid and Brexit – to survive and prosper. And you can probably add Ukraine to that now too.
  2. To restore and exceed pre-pandemic employment levels by achieving a target of a record 2.5 million people in work by 2024 and ensure there are job opportunities in all parts of Ireland.
  3. To create jobs with better terms and conditions, that are more sustainable, secure and valued.

Despite the current economic uncertainty, I am confident that we can reach that target of a record 2.5 million people in work perhaps as soon as 2023.

Backed by an exceptional collective effort, the Irish economy performed more strongly than many expected during the pandemic.

Both Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland recently announced that client companies created record levels of jobs in 2021. 

We have made good progress on Global Ireland’s objective to diversify our export markets and sources of FDI. For example, IDA’s share of investments from outside North America has increased from 29% in 2014 to 35% in 2020.

But Ukraine has changed things.

While the war in Ukraine for us is first and foremost a humanitarian crisis, the economic consequences will be felt right across the globe, making it a very difficult crisis to deal with, not only from a humanitarian perspective but also the disruption it brings to the world economy, to global supply-chains and to trade and investment.

The World Trade Organisation recently announced that it had cut its global trade growth forecast for 2022 from 4.7% to 2.5% due to the war in Ukraine and supply chain problems that started as a result of the pandemic.

Ireland’s trading partners are affected by the same macro-economic factors that Irish businesses face.

The increase in uncertainty and disruption to supply chains will constrain investment growth and create challenges for businesses, particularly for those businesses and sectors still bearing the additional costs associated with the pandemic.

International Trade

There are around 200 countries in the world and Ireland is always in the top 10 or 20 in terms of wealth and living standards. While many countries owe their relative wealth and prosperity to their natural resources like coal, oil, gas and precious metals, Ireland relies on our people, our creative and entrepreneurial spirit and on trade as a principal source of economic growth and improvement in living standards.

Our success and continued prosperity as a nation are built on a winning formula of trading goods and services internationally, our attractiveness as a place to invest and, as part of the EU, our ability to enter into international free trade agreements with other countries around the world.

This has to be reinforced day-in, day-out by you – our diplomats, our agency officials and public servants.

Ireland firmly believes in the multilateral, rules-bound order that supports our ability to trade around the world, in a fair and sustainable way. It is a cornerstone of our national prosperity. At a time of global challenge, its continuation and effective functioning must be safeguarded.

In 2021, international trade and investment generated 1.3 million jobs in Ireland and our total trade with the world exceeded €840 billion, a record level. Ireland is one of the most globalised economies in the world, with trade as a proportion of GDP putting us in the top ten countries in the world.

This openness to trade, investment, people and ideas is a national strength that has helped transform our economy and society, creating high value employment opportunities in all parts of Ireland.

In 2021, the value of exports reached a record level of €450 billion – an 11% increase on 2020. Imports in 2021 were valued at €390 billion, down slightly from 2020, reflecting an impact from the pandemic and Brexit on trade flows.

As a trading nation, our exports and imports play critical roles in global value chains and are integral to economic wellbeing, high living standards and sustainable development, not only in Ireland but right across the globe.

Our openness to trade has also seen Foreign Direct Investment make a large contribution to Ireland’s economic development and to the modernisation of our economy. This openness to trade and investment has allowed for a diversification of the economy into sectors that have made it more resilient to both internal and external shocks. Ireland’s high levels of trade and investment have been facilitated and deepened by our membership of the European Union and the Single Market.

Trade is operating in an increasingly challenging environment; economic nationalism and protectionism are leading to a weakening of global structures and rules-based order.

Covid, Brexit, international tax reforms, new technology, the need to take radical action to reduce our emissions and Russia’s decision to invade Ukraine have all caused huge disruption to trade over the past few years. They have redefined future risks, challenges and opportunities of doing trade into the future.

Trade is the bedrock of our economy. We cannot afford to take it for granted in a world that is changing before our eyes.

New Trade and Investment Strategy

So it’s timely to publish a new Trade and Investment Strategy for Ireland. Published on Tuesday, it’s called “Value for Ireland, Values for the World”.

The overarching goal is to see Ireland’s trade grow, diversify our export markets, in order to secure continued prosperity and higher living standards.

It will be overseen by the new Trade and Investment Council that helped draft it. This council comprises fellow ministers, the heads of trade promotion agencies, and industry stakeholders. 

“Value for Ireland, Values for the World” also prioritises the increasing role of climate in trade.

So, we have worked closely with colleagues from across government and state agencies to ensure it adequately incorporates climate and sustainability objectives.

The strategy embeds a trade policy which is led by values and a principles-based approach.

International trade and trade agreements do not cover just trade itself but also a range of policy areas, such as international flows of investment and labour, intellectual property rights and environmental protection.

International trade and the associated rules influence how countries, organisations and people live, transact, invest, work, and, ultimately, develop.

The collective efforts of Government Departments, agencies and stakeholders will be crucial to it delivery, which is centred around seven priority actions that will be overseen by the Trade and Investment Council.

I would like to spend a few minutes to talk to you about the seven priority actions.

1. Ecosystem

Ecosystem is a bit of a buzzword, but its importance was reinforced in the feedback we received from stakeholders while we were drafting the document.

We will pay attention to our broader ecosystem to maintain and enhance our competitiveness in terms of growing Irish-owned business, attracting FDI and maintaining a high standard of living. 

It will focus attention on areas which need attention including developing our national infrastructure, sustainable and resilient energy infrastructure, skills development, and international connectedness and competitiveness.

2. Labour Market Teams

I know many of you in this audience will have a keen interest in the review of Local Market Teams

Ireland’s overseas network of embassies, consulates and state agency offices operate as Local Market Teams and are valuable assets to the State.

I want to acknowledge the co-operation that exists between government departments and agencies in achieving the Government’s trade and investment objectives in major markets.

Given the global economic developments and changes since the Local Market Team concept was first introduced in 2010, it is now timely to review them in terms of how they operate in market, and how they can be best supported, including greater cooperation between relevant organisations in Ireland.

3. Global Value Chains and Supply Chains

Thirdly, we need to update Ireland’s positioning within Global Value Chains.

The current geopolitical environment – the war in Ukraine, Covid-19, the twin green and digital transitions – have all placed an increased focus on the future of global supply and value chains.

To increase Ireland’s resilience, an Expert Group on Global Value Chains will be convened by my Department to identify global supply chain opportunities and threats. The Group will examine themes such as economic nationalism, open strategic autonomy, and ‘re-shoring’ initiatives in the US and Europe, with the objective of ensuring that Ireland maximises its potential within global value chains. 

4. Communicating Ireland’s Interests as a Trading Nation

As I have said, trade is the lifeblood of our economy and so it is essential to communicate Ireland’s interests as a trading nation and highlight the benefits of international trade and investment to a broader Irish audience.

A Government of Ireland communications campaign will explain the benefits of international trade and investment to a broader Irish domestic audience.

The purpose of this campaign will be to foster a deeper understanding of the important role that trade and investment plays in providing jobs, the resources to pay for public services and contributing to the wider economy in Ireland; and how trade policy can be used to promote Ireland’s and the EU’s wider interests, including our values, principles and standards.

5. Maximising Ireland’s return from EU Free Trade Agreements

I also want to maximise Ireland’s return from EU Free Trade Agreements, which open new markets for Irish companies and increase export and investment opportunities. The EU has the largest FTA network in the world, with 41 trade agreements covering 72 countries worldwide and accounting for over a third of the EU’s external trade.

Under this priority action, we will promote the benefit to Irish exporters and importers of the wide network of FTAs already in place, including ensuring ease of access to Irish and EU information on how Irish companies can readily trade with partner countries.

6. Team Ireland - Trade Mission Week

Unfortunately, the pandemic has limited my ability to go on trade missions as Minister for Enterprise, Trade & Employment. I am probably the least travelled Trade Minister since the 1960’s or 70’s.

Meeting virtually worked well but it’s no substitute for face-to-face meetings.

Thankfully, I have now had an opportunity to see first-hand the benefit of trade missions to Irish firms in gaining access to international markets.

Under the new Strategy, we will introduce a new initiative, “Team Ireland Trade Mission Week”.

This will be a once-a-year exercise that will take advantage of the expertise and economies of scale of a cross section of agencies and government departments and Irish industry.

It will enhance the Government’s drive towards market diversification and assist in the development and expansion of Ireland’s exports, tourism and inward investment from existing and new markets.

The initial Team Ireland Trade Mission Week will focus on one strategic country or geographic area in 2023, and will provide for a sustained, coherent and impactful engagement across different target sectors and regions.

This approach will also provide opportunities for political engagement at the highest levels and for cementing ties at all levels.

The success of the initial exercise will be reviewed by the Trade and Investment Council, which will determine the future direction of the initiative.

7. Reaping the Benefits of the EU Single Market

For almost 30 years, Ireland has been a committed member of the EU Single Market. I want to ensure that Ireland fully reaps the benefits of our Single Market and that barriers to trade, particularly in services, are eliminated.

The European Single Market came into being in 1993, but the economic integration of EU Member States should be deepened further.

Advocating for the completion of the Single Market for services is one of the commitments in the current Programme for Government.

Under this action, the Council will identify visible and invisible barriers to trade, which are hindering or limiting the success of the single market for Irish business, particularly in services, and examine if these barriers can be escalated to the EU’s Single Market Enforcement Taskforce for action.

So, these seven priority actions will help Ireland to grow sustainably and diversify our export markets. We will pursue a values-based approach to trade and investment, underpinned by our commitment to multilateralism and working with our EU partners in the WTO, to project and promote the highest labour and environmental standards.

“Value for Ireland, Values for the World” equips us with a resilient trade and investment framework to achieve sustainable growth, to diversify our export markets, to grow our all-island economy, and to achieve higher living standards and wellbeing for our people.

It builds on the original objectives of the Global Ireland programme and also reflects how much the world has changed since that plan was first announced in 2018.

We will retain the strengths of our trade policy that has made us a prosperous nation and make the necessary changes to respond to a rapidly changing world.


I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for everything you did to help Irish citizens during the pandemic.

The Department of Foreign Affairs was one of the first parts of the Irish public service to respond, before the virus even reached our shores.

I also appreciate that many of you are working directly to alleviate the dreadful humanitarian crisis in Ukraine.

No matter where you are based, at home or abroad, I want to express my gratitude for your commitment, dedication, and energy in representing and promoting Global Ireland.

Thank you.