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"We can achieve a top five ranking for global competitiveness" Minister Mitchell O’Connor

"Uncertain but exciting times ahead" says Minister in keynote speech.


Distinguished Guests.

Friends and Colleagues.

Members of Dublin Chamber.

First let me tell you how honoured I am to address you this morning.

During these first six months in my job as Minister it has truly been a privilege getting to know the many heroes of Irish business.

Businesses in both the public and private sector that drive our economy.

None more so than in the Chambers of Commerce across Ireland.

And of course here in Dublin.

You are the voice of Dublin business.

You provide a fantastic local and international business network.

And you inspire business learning and leadership.

I know that future challenges exist in a politically uncertain world.

This is no time for resting on our laurels or complacency - we made those mistakes before.

There are uncertain times ahead, but there are also exciting times ahead.

I believe we need to develop unity of purpose between the public and private sectors in Ireland.

As Minister, I want

-          to improve our business environment,

-          to help our companies scale-up,

-          and most of all to achieve full employment

….so that everyone who aspires to a quality job can achieve it.

A job is only the start though.

I want Dublin to be one of the

-          most exciting,

-          most entrepreneurial

-          globally focussed cities in Europe

offering a lifestyle and quality of life unparalleled in Europe.

I believe that maintaining economic stability coupled with ambitious growth targets will help us on our way.

I want to acknowledge two recent milestones that have been achieved during my term.

The credit for these goes to the Irish people and business community who have driven this growth.

For the first time since 2008, over two million people are back working in Ireland.

Employment has grown by 56,500 in the last 12 months.

190,000 additional people are at work since the start of the Action Plan for Jobs Process in 2012.

And the unemployment rate is now at 7.9%.

Similarly, the live register has dropped below 300,000 for the first time over the same period.

In Dublin, employment levels are only 3% off what they were during their highest point. Unemployment was 13.4% and is now 7.5%. This is a good time to be doing business in Dublin as the economy continues to go from strength to strength.

It is clear based on a range of economic indicators, including arrivals at Dublin Airport, Dublin Port throughput, public passenger journeys, office vacancy rates, office rents and residential rents, that in many areas economic activity in Dublin is back at or close to peak levels.

I have spent my first six months assessing the business environment for threats and looking for opportunities to build on all of this progress.

My vision of our economy is one where the best and brightest Irish minds can - make and provide - world-class products and services - and sell them to the rest of the world at a profit.

I want us to strive to be

-          the smartest,

-          most productive

-          and most innovative

….economy possible – to be global leaders in innovation.

To do this, we have to put people and skills at the heart of our economic strategy.

I want multi-nationals to come here because they know in Ireland they have access to one of the most talented and flexible workforces on the planet.

Equally though, I want Irish entrepreneurs to have the self-confidence to know that they are supported in finding and developing innovations and in finding and serving new markets.

I want Irish entrepreneurs to know that basing yourself here, you have the supports needed to take on global challenges.

Irish people are very creative; our next phase of growth will be about commercialising our creativity.

Our creativity as a business community is what will give us a competitive edge.

That is why, by the end of next year, I want both our main enterprise agencies, Enterprise Ireland and the IDA, to each bring their total job numbers to over 200,000.

This is very achievable in my view.

Despite all of the challenges on the horizon, I still maintain full employment is possible within the lifetime of this Government.

To achieve this we need to focus on two key elements – competiveness and capacity-building.

Winning new business and keeping the business we already have, requires a competitive edge.

This is the best way to build resilience and to insulate your business from any external shocks.

My view of competitiveness is not just confined to controlling costs.

-          exchange rates,

-          interest rates

-          and oil prices

are all costs that we can’t control in this economy.

That is why our competitiveness strategy has to be about people and addressing the factors within our control.

-          People and skills,

-          human capital,

-          creativity and innovation

…are essential to making sure we are always a step ahead of the rest.

We need to be at the forefront of global innovation and education.

By 2020, it is my ambition to bring Ireland into a top five ranking position when it comes to competitiveness.

So improving the skillset of the labour force is the best way to achieve this.

To that end, we must continue to focus on in-company training and development and workplace innovation.

We recognise that we need to continue to invest in the skills supply pipeline.

By investing in research and teaching in higher and further education.

We have to be ahead of the global curve for the exporting sectors where we hold an advantage.

In Dublin these sectors include

-          life-sciences,

-          financial services,

-          ICT and digital content creation.


We are implementing our Innovation 2020 strategy.

I am currently setting targets with our research community to see significant increases in our post-doctoral and post-graduate researchers.

The world of work is changing rapidly.

Digitalisation is both a fantastic opportunity and a challenge for all businesses.

Digital technologies, combining data analytics, cloud computing and Internet of Things are changing:

-          how goods are made

-          and manufactured

-          and how businesses serve their customers.

These technologies are also increasing the levels of competition in markets for customers.

New business models are emerging such as the sharing economy with the growth of Airbnb and Uber.

Public and private sector collaboration is vital to achieving the transformation needed to compete in the Irish enterprise base.

Investing in research is risky.

The State can help to reduce that risk by encouraging innovation at enterprise level.

I am currently reviewing the key markets and technologies that will be important for us for the future as part of a refresh of Research Prioritisation.

The other key item I’m focussing on for next year is the Action Plan for Jobs for 2017.

‘Towards full employment’ is my key objective.

As I already said, I believe we can achieve during the lifetime of this Government.

The preparatory work is well advanced.

I’ve selected certain themes that will form the key policy focus for my Department in 2017.

-          improving productivity,

-          quality of work,

-          enhancing female entrepreneurship

…will all feature as key themes of the document.

I want our economic and competitive strategy as a country to be based on people and the skillset of the Irish work force.

We are among the most dynamic workforce in the world and with 40% of our population under 30.

We can have a bright future.

Now, when I look at the current economic challenges of our capital city, it is clear that success is bringing its own challenges for Dublin.

We need to manage the expansion of our public and private transport around the city.

We need to accelerate new house supply to avert risks to our competitiveness.

We need to catch-up to address the needs of a growing economy.

I’m working with my Cabinet Colleagues to ensure that the enterprise and competitiveness needs are prioritised.

The most immediate priority is housing.

The Dublin skyline is dotted with cranes and building much needed office and commercial premises.

We’re generating a large number of jobs in Dublin.

And we need to ensure we have sufficient places for the people in those jobs to sleep and live. This has real potential to frustrate the economic recovery.

The Government’s plans in this area are well known as published by Minister Coveney in Rebuilding Ireland.

This plan has the confidence of the construction sector.

There are some really exciting developments underway such as those in the SDZs of Cherrywood and the Dublin Docklands.

I believe the long-term potential is there to reinvent what we consider urban living in Dublin.

From my perspective, as Minister, we need to ensure that we have plan quality urban living around our enterprises and job creation hubs.

Dublin needs to become a smart city that enables easy access for all of our people to:

-          live,

-          work

-          and play.


Only this week, the Phoenix Park tunnel has opened to daily rail passengers for the first time.

We are just twelve to eighteen months away from having our two Luas lines linked.

It’ll be possible to travel from Cherrywood to Maynooth, Heuston station or Howth with limited transport changes.

Added to this are the future plans for Metro North.

I see the potential for Dublin to become much more pedestrian and public transport friendly in the years ahead.

I’ll also briefly mention water.

It’s a huge issue for the Greater Dublin Region in the near future.

All I will say is having a national water company will make solving Dublin’s water capacity issues far easier.

Dublin local authorities can’t be expected to develop a solution in isolation.

Plans are well advanced for finding a new water source for Dublin.

This will secure the economic potential for the next few decades.

I know these areas are outside my own direct policy remit.

But we want to base our economic strategy on people and there is an onus on us as a city, to provide a high quality of life to people.

London, Zurich, Copenhagen, Vienna, Frankfurt, Singapore – these are the cities which we will be competing with for investment.

-          housing,

-          access to schools,

-          public transport,

….these will form an increasing part of the major investment pitch for Dublin and Ireland in the years ahead.

Capacity-building to cope for employment growth is one of our most immediate goals.

We will need this if we are to take advantage of the opportunities that Brexit may offer Dublin.

Now speaking of Brexit, this is a word we will have to get used to using for the next three to four years.

If not longer. Whenever you hear the word ‘Brexit’ you can expect to hear either ‘Uncertainty’ or ‘lack of clarity’.

This uncertainty makes business and economic planning considerably difficult.

While the UK is still to set out what the Brexit will mean for it, we shouldn’t see Brexit as a single event.

Brexit will permanently realign the political and trade relationships between Britain and Europe.

All of us will have to reposition ourselves towards a new ‘normal’.

The sectors that are most exposed to Brexit include our retail, food, construction and tourism sectors.

There are approximately 100,000 Irish jobs directly linked to UK exports.

That accounts for more than a third of our overall exports.

Having recently visited three London Ministers in Whitehall, it is still unclear what type of trade relationship they are looking for with Europe.

They’ve a clear desire for free trade.

They’ve no interest in returning to a world of extensive trade barriers.

I expect, in time, they will seek a bespoke agreement with Europe.

I don’t think they’ll seek to trade on any existing model of trade such as Norway, Switzerland, Canada or Turkey.

Whether this will be accepted across Europe remains to be seen.

However, as a Government Minister, I will not be shy or coy about seeking the most advantageous outcome for Ireland in those negotiations.

We owe that to our people.

Our enterprises have built up resilience over the last eight years.

However, I know that companies will also need assistance managing through the challenges of Brexit.

Having met with the various business organisations, many companies have very different asks.

-          some want low-cost finance,

-          some want assistance with hedging

-          and so on.

There is not one approach, but it will require different solutions in different sectors.

My Department has started a series of focus groups with key stakeholders that will form a wider and deeper quantitative survey.

I want to ensure that whatever response Government provides, it is both targeted and appropriate to company’s needs.

There is little point in me as Minister prescribing a Brexit response.

It has to come from the specific sectors across the economy.

Currently, I am working with Enterprise Ireland, to develop targeted, evidence-based responses that will help companies diversify and find new markets.

We’ll do this by engaging with:

-          all stakeholders

-          in all sectors

-          across all regions.

To cope with Brexit, Irish companies will have to internationalise to a greater extent.

This is why trade agreements like CETA between Europe and Canada are so important.

Despite global events, we cannot underestimate the importance for free trade for job creation in Ireland.

Having just returned from a trade mission to both China and Japan, much of the world’s growth in spending will be in the East.

As a country that produces

-          food,

-          software,

-          biopharma goods,

….we need continued access to world markets.

If the world’s political forces were to halt or stymie free trade, Ireland would suffer more than most.

That is why, we remain firmly

-          committed to EU membership,

-          committed to free and fair trade

-          and committed to global market opportunities.

We’re entering a period of significant challenges, yet I remain ambitious.

Full employment is the major goal of my Department.

I believe with the strength and spirit of the Irish entrepreneurial community, full employment is possible.

Providing economic opportunity for people is the reason I got into politics.

To change people’s lives for the better.

We have shown the ability to take on the world and succeed.

Let’s not stop now.

Let’s continue to be

-          positive,

-          ambitious

-          and determined

… we face global challenges.

I am honoured to be in the position that I am in.

I intend to make the most out of it for all.

Go raibh mile maith agaibh go leir.



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