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Speech by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar T.D. Dublin Chamber AGM Dinner, Dublin Royal Convention Centre, Radisson Blu Royal Hotel

22nd February 2024 - Leo Varadkar, TD

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Thank you, Mary Rose [CEO, Dublin Chamber].


President, Council Members, Chamber members, staff, distinguished guests, good evening.


A Uachtaráin, tá stair fhada ag Cumann Tráchtála Bhaile Átha Cliath.


Le breis is dhá chéad bliain, d’oibrigh tú chun feabhas a chur ar shaol na ndaoine atá ina gcónaí i mBaile Átha Cliath agus sa cheantar níos leithne. Go raibh maith agat as an obair a dhéanann tú.

President, Dublin Chamber has a long history. For over two centuries, you have worked to improve the lives of people living in Dublin and the wider area. Thank you for the work that you do.


Siobhán, sincere congratulations on becoming President of Dublin Chamber. I know that you bring a wealth of experience to the role, with a particular insight on the skills agenda.


You are the latest in a long line of presidents stretching back to 1783. The Chamber has witnessed big fluctuations in Ireland’s population during that time – from its peak in the 19th Century to fewer than 3 million during the 20th, and now back to over 5 million – or 7 million on the island as a whole, 1.5 million of whom live in Dublin.


In the context of your 250-year history, Ireland is now in a phase of rapid population growth. That’s a really positive thing. It brings challenges, but they are good challenges to have.

There will always be challenges.


In a world of 200 countries, Ireland is regularly ranked among the top 10 or 20 places in the world to live. We all want to make it an even better place to live –and why not the best in the world?


Our rapid growth has led to big pressure points – or “capacity constraints” – as economists like to say. And Dublin Chamber – on your behalf – has done a great job at highlighting them.


So how can we relieve these pressure points?


Attracting and retaining talent

I know many of you are struggling to find the talent you need to grow your businesses. Full employment has its downsides.


I believe improved terms and conditions go hand-in-hand with employment growth. So, this Government is introducing once-in-a-generation reforms, such as Statutory Sick Pay for all workers, halving the cost of childcare, ensuring all workers have access to an occupational pension, pay related social insurance benefits, free GP care for most of the population and lower student fees.


In a global fight for talent, we have to stay ahead of the curve, and these reforms simply bring Ireland into line with other advanced European economies. They should entice those who have never worked to join the labour force, which is important in the context of full employment. Record levels of people in the work force, the gap between the minimum wage and social welfare widening in favour of workers. And they are also the right thing to do.


Of course, I understand that smaller businesses in some sectors are struggling to absorb these costs. They all came together at much the same time. We are responding with extra financial grants to ease the burden and examining what more we can do to ensure viable but vulnerable businesses survive.


To help with recruitment, we have just announced the biggest ever expansion of the employment permits system by adding 43 occupations – from engineers, mechanics and electricians, to social care workers, butchers and bakers.


And we are reimagining the way we think about further and higher education – opening up new avenues to join the workforce and helping people to upskill as they move through their careers. We have close to 10,000 new apprentices every year and more people accessing Higher Education than ever before from the most diverse range of backgrounds.



I know that housing is closely linked to skills shortages.  Too many people are put off by the rental market, particularly in Dublin, and they decline a job offer as a result. We need to change that.


With Housing for All, we have a plan that is working:

  • We are building more homes than at any point since 2008 and more social homes than any point since the 1970s.
  • 500 individuals or couples are buying their first home every week – the most since 2007 – and
  • The Rent Tax Credit is putting roughly a month’s rent back in people’s pockets – €750 for an individual, €1,500 for a couple or €2,250 for three people sharing.
  • The LDA is really getting going and is building affordable rental and affordable purchase homes all over the city and country.


Despite this progress, I know it’s not coming quickly enough. So, we will publish new, more ambitious targets for home building and I promise you we will leave no stone unturned.


Record Capital Investment

President, the Chamber has rightly pointed out the need to update the National Planning Framework – our long-term plan to guide investment. So much has changed since we first published it in 2018, such as the urgency of the climate crisis, increased migration, flexible and remote working and new technology.


The quantum of annual investment in public infrastructure has also radically changed in those six years – in fact it’s more than doubled. Since I spoke to you here last February, we have invested €13 billion in capital projects – in new schools, hospitals, roads, buses and renewable energy projects. That’s the most in the history of the State – four times the level of spending when I was Minister for Transport 10 years ago and now well above the European average. We need it. We’re still in catch-up mode.



One of the major projects I did get to approve as Minister for Transport was Luas Cross-City. It came in on budget and on time! And it increased Green Line passenger numbers by 25% within a year. It shows that people will switch from cars if there are better options available.


I know the Chamber is broadly supportive of Dublin City Council’s plans to reduce traffic and pedestrianise parts of the city. All of us have seen what other European cities have done. Of course, we need to get the balance right, taking account of the needs of business, workers and less mobile people to get into the city centre.


It also highlights the need to get on with major public transport projects like BusConnects, Dart+ and MetroLink. Believe me, I’m as frustrated as you are at how long these projects are taking. Far too many important public capital projects are taking far too long.


So, at my request, Minister Donohoe is now providing quarterly reports to Government and taking a more hands-on approach.


In the short term, we are allocating some extra money from windfall taxes for shovel-ready projects over the next three years. And for the longer term, we are investing some of our surplus revenues into two new funds for future generations. We will be the Government to break the cycle of stop-start capital investment.


Safe streets

President, if we are changing the way our city looks and feels, we need to make sure that people are safe and feel safe.


Like everyone in this room, I was appalled by the riots that took place in November. My thanks to the gardaí and all the front-line workers for their courageous response. They ran towards danger when others ran from it. To the council workers and transport workers, and to the workers in retail and other businesses who kept the show on the road. Thank you.

We need to think about how to make people feel safer – that’s everything from street lighting, to waste management, to more Gardaí on the street.


So, in the coming weeks, I’m organising a summit to talk it through. We have a wealth of experience, skills and goodwill here in this room and across the city and we need to put it to good use.



Everyone should be able to walk the streets of Dublin – day or night – no matter your age, your gender or your nationality.


While we can’t expect to eliminate all violence or anti-social behaviour in our capital, we cannot accept the idea of no-go areas.


I’m really proud that talented people travel across the world to come and work here– to be part of the positive energy we have in this city and to be themselves.

Ireland has become a much more tolerant and diverse society but the progress is fragile and needs to be protected. Just look at what’s happening in the world around us.


So, we will continue to update our laws to reflect a changing society and recruit and resource the gardaí.


I’m really encouraged to see that over 6,000 people applied to become Gardai in the latest recruitment campaign – up 25% on last year.


And from tomorrow, a dedicated new agency to reduce domestic, sexual and gender-based violence will officially start its work. It’s called Cuan, meaning harbour or haven, and it will bring a more coordinated approach to our work in this area.


President, before I conclude, I would like to take a few moments to talk about upcoming referenda and elections.



Referendum on 8 March

On Friday the 8th of March, we are giving people the chance to update our constitution – our most basic law, a statement of our values and the beating heart of our Republic – to make sure it reflects our values as a nation. We are proposing two changes.


Firstly, we want to include a more inclusive concept of family. Those families that are not based on marriage like those led by a grand-parent or lone parent deserve the protection the constitution affords.  Nobody will lose anything from this change, but around 1 million people will gain recognition and new protections under the constitution.


Secondly, a new article on care will afford protections to carers, and those they care for, that are now limited only to women and only in the home. It will put a positive obligation on future Governments to strive to provide additional state support for care, given by men and women, in the home and outside of it.

We go to the polls in just two weeks’ time, so I encourage you to vote Yes, Yes on Friday 8th of March.


UPC Referendum

In June, we are holding another referendum on the Unified Patent Court. Unlike most referenda, it’s focussed on business and we must make sure it passes.


In simple terms, a ‘unified patent court’ means ‘one patent court’ and a patent protects technological advances.


If the referendum is passed, businesses will be able to defend or challenge a patent via a single litigation process rather than costly litigation in each EU country. It will help small businesses to export to more EU countries and help Irish inventors, entrepreneurs and researchers.


I look forward to the Chamber and other representative bodies campaigning on this issue in the 15 weeks ahead.


European and Local Elections

President, it may sound cliché, but when I meet political and business leaders abroad, they often want to learn from Ireland’s economic and social transformation.


As you know, our formula has been

  • a stable and competitive tax offering;
  • political stability;
  • a pro-business environment with pro-trade policies
  • our place at the heart of the EU and
  • a strong skills base.


It sounds simple, but this formula could so easily be undone. And it requires hard work to maintain it.


Ahead of the elections in June, I encourage you to challenge all candidates – particularly European election candidates – on their policies. We need pro-business MEPs on top of their briefs and shaping the EU agenda day-in, day-out in Brussels.


Irish SMEs are facing the complicated but transformative potential of developments like artificial intelligence, robotics and renewable energy over the coming years. We need to help you on that journey – at local, national and European level.


Backing business

For our part, I assure the Irish Government will back you.


Just four months ago, we had a really good budget for business. A new capital gains tax relief for angel investment in innovative start-ups, an enhanced R&D tax credit, and a €250 million Increased Cost of Business Grant.


We will continue to listen to you in the weeks and months ahead.


It’s a big year ahead for Ireland and the world – let’s hope we get most of the big calls right.



Thank you again for the opportunity to speak and I hope you enjoy the rest of the evening.


Baile Átha Cliath Abú.

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