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Business Leaders Lunch, Washington DC

6th March 2011 - Enda Kenny

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you for coming to this event today. This is my first public event here in the United States since I was elected Taoiseach and I am delighted to see so many of you here. I want to use this opportunity to set out the strong agenda of the new Irish Government – an agenda of renewal and recovery. I want to explain how we will help bring about economic recovery at home in Ireland, and how together we can continue to grow the hugely successful business relationship between Ireland and America.

At this time of the year, on St Patrick’s Day, we are joined by millions of people around the world to celebrate our National Day with us. We welcome their enthusiasm and we greatly value that shared sense of a common heritage. And of course, there is no country that shares that heritage as much as the United States. The connection between Ireland and the United States is a relationship that we treasure as a nation.

It is also a real and vibrant bond that every family in Ireland feels personally, including my own. It is a relationship that supported the process of bringing peace to Northern Ireland – a debt we will not forget. But it is also at the heart of our future. As I look around this room today, I see the very best of Irish America, – proud, successful and resilient. I see friends who have given their time, experience and talents to work with us as part of our Global Irish Network – invited to be a vital part of a national, and international, initiative in support of Ireland’s recovery. I see long-serving members of the Taoiseach’s Economic Advisory Board here in the US. I see young Irish companies on the cutting edge of technology and their US partners, here as part of an Enterprise Ireland trade mission. I see some of those leading US companies whose Irish base is a part of their strategy for global success, helped by the IDA.

We have long-standing friends of Ireland in the most senior positions in the US business world.

Together you represent the cornerstone of Ireland’s relationship with the United States – a resource of enormous significance both here in the US and in Ireland.

The Irish US economic relationship is one of mutual benefit and is stronger now than at any other time in our history.

Today, we are fortunate to rely not only on the connections of generations to build upon but on the strong economic bridge between our countries that supports tens of thousands of jobs on both sides of the Atlantic.

Some 95,000 Irish people are employed by US companies using Ireland as a gateway to 500 million European consumers. Irish companies in turn employ 82,000 Americans across all 50 states.

It is has never been more important that we build on these links and look ahead to the future.

Ireland is a small, open, globalised economy.

We stand or fall by our economic connections with the world around us.

Our greatest assets are our unique relationship with the United States and our position at the heart of Europe.

The new Government which I lead will ensure that those key relationships are protected, nurtured and developed.

My message here in Washington this week is that Ireland is, and will remain, a firm friend of the United States of America.

And we will remain a great place to do business for American companies.

A lot has been written about Ireland recently, a lot of forecasts made and a lot of stories told.

But let me tell you – we will be writing our own future.

The people of Ireland wrote the next chapter in the future of our country less than three weeks ago, when they voted so overwhelmingly for change in the elections.

They did so through the determined use of their democratic will.

As you know, that election result has been described as historic – and so it was.

What matters now is not what it said about the past, but what it means for the future.

Amidst the anger, the shock and the hurt at the economic crisis that we have endured, the Irish people chose a strong and stable Government for National Recovery.

That new Government can and will implement the clear and radical agenda of change that Ireland needs to come back, stronger than ever.

We will bounce back – driven by the energy, the tenacity, the creativity and the determination of our people.

President Kennedy, when he was elected to lead this country 50 years ago this year, told the American people that “I have not asked for a single programme which did not cause one or all Americans some inconvenience, some hardship or some sacrifice”.

And that it is how it will be for my Government.

We know what we have to do.

We will get our economy moving, restore confidence, fix our banking system and support the protection and creation of jobs.

Despite our well-documented difficulties, we have important strengths to build on.

We are a flexible open economy so, while we were affected by recession faster than others, we can also come out of recession faster.

Ireland exports 80% of what it produces.

Despite the global downturn, our exports have had continuous growth for the past 20 months. By the end of 2011, we expect exports to be above our record pre-recession level.

The United States is our largest merchandise and services trading partner at around $50 billion a year. In 2010 our exports to the US grew at a rate of 12% and we are now the United States’ 10th largest overseas supplier.

We also continue to attract inward investment.

We remain, according to independent international studies, 4th in the world for the availability of skilled labour, 4th for being open to new ideas, 6th for labour productivity, 7th for the availability of financial skills and 7th for the flexibility and adaptability of people.

Our people are well-educated and eager to work.

Costs have gone down and we are committed to remaining an open, business-friendly economy.

And let me repeat here today what I made clear at the recent meeting of the European Council – our 12.5% corporate tax rate, transparently and evenly-applied, is here to stay.

There has never been a better time to invest in Ireland.

And you don’t need to take my word for it.

Ask Intel, Google, eBay, Facebook, Citigroup or Boston Scientific – just some of the world-class global companies that expanded operations or increased their R&D in Ireland in the last year.

They know Ireland and right now they see a bright future.

And we don’t intend to rely on inward investment alone.

Ireland is the 13th largest foreign direct investor into the US with cumulative investments valued at over $34 billion. There are over 200 Irish companies in the US, with 2,600 offices located in all 50 States, and as I said, that means 82,000 American jobs.

We are an enterprising people and we have companies at the leading edge of the technology.

Many of them are in this room and I invite you to get to know them, and to do business with them.

Enterprise Ireland is helping those companies build partnerships for growth here in the areas of life sciences, green construction, IT, telecoms and e-learning.

In inward investment and in foreign trade, we are focused on exploiting potential growth areas like green technology, international education, digital media and financial services.

There are new centres of global growth and new markets that we are connecting with.

There are opportunities there for Ireland and we can and will capitalise on them.

We are an island of innovation.

We have been a hub for ICT, pharmaceuticals and medical devices and financial services for twenty years. We are the largest net exporter of pharmaceuticals in the world. We have a very high volume of business start ups and a strong entrepreneurial culture.

Innovation is the imperative. We have seen Research and Development activity in Ireland treble in the last decade and it is still increasing. Even in the worst year of recession, investment in R &D rose by 2 per cent.

In 2012, we will host a year-long programme of events devoted to leading-edge research when Dublin becomes the European City of Science.

And as we innovate, we also have traditional strengths that continue to stand to us

– Agrifood, with exports up 11% last year – and the 5th largest exporter of beef in the world

– Tourism, where we have seen US visitors to Ireland at the end of last year up by 13% on 2009

– Education, where we are already one of the most popular destinations for US students choosing to study abroad, with over 7000 American students studying in Ireland

In the world of the imagination, our arts and culture have also given us a global profile beyond our numbers.

It has given us a reputation for creativity and vibrancy – a worldwide calling-card.

We are introducing a new generation of Irish artists and performers to the US this year through the ‘Imagine Ireland’ programme of events across the country.

Some of those artists are here today and performing in town this week, including some who have been honoured to be asked to perform in the White House and on Capitol Hill tomorrow.

Those artists and that culture have travelled the world with, and been enriched by, one of our real greatest assets – the Irish diaspora in America and across the world, some 70 million in total.

They are our – very simply – our family.

We know that there is a reservoir of goodwill there that wants to be mobilised – just as it was mobilised before, so successfully, behind the push for peace in Northern Ireland.

They are advocates for us.

They are connectors for us into the countries in which so many of them have found such success.

They are mentors for Irish companies, supporters of Irish arts, prime movers for Irish investment, advisors and honest counsel for Irish policy makers, and they are welcomed with open arms when they come home.

And let me just say that for those of you who have not been to Ireland for a while, or to those of you who have never visited, this is the year to come – to experience Ireland, to trace family roots, to golf, or to make use of our state of the art convention centre in the heart of Dublin for your business.

The value is excellent and the welcome as warm as ever.

Come and see the new chapter of the Irish story unfold.

It will involve tough choices, but we will not shrink from them.

It will also involve new ideas and fresh opportunities.

This is the message of the new Government:

  • Ireland is open for business
  • We have a strong and stable Government for National Recovery
  • We will do what is necessary to rein in our debt and bring our public finances and banks into proper order
  • We are committed to our place at the heart of Europe
  • We are committed to attracting inward investment, including retaining a stable, competitive corporate tax rate.
  • We have a growing set of home-grown companies with more management skills and ambition, and more technological prowess than ever before
  • We are a young country, well-educated, adaptable and determined

That is why Ireland will come back.

The process of replenishment, of recovery and of renewal is already underway.

We know what we have to do.

More importantly, we know who we really are.

A nation that takes pride in hard work.

A nation of creative talent – now given new life in a new technological age.

A nation of people that enjoy making real friends and enjoy keeping them.

To our old friends, I say thank you for being with us in both good times and in bad.

To our new friends, I say welcome to the journey.

And I promise you, as the new chapter unfolds, you will find that journey both enjoyable and rewarding.

Beannachtaí Lá Fhéile Phádraig.

Happy St Patrick’s Day.

Thank you.

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