I want to talk to you about Ireland’s path to recovery and our plans to keep that recovery going for the benefit of the Irish people and for those doing business in Ireland.
We are all aware of the great difficulties this nation has endured during the past number of years.
When this Government entered office in 2011 we inherited a country in deep crisis… a shrinking economy, an international reputation in tatters, a bust banking system, and public services reliant on an international bailout.
But for the people of Ireland, the recession was most painful when measured in unemployment and emigration.
The unemployment rate went from 5% in early 2008 to 15.2% in early 2012.
Never in modern times were there so many people unemployed in our country. In addition tens of thousands of our young people sought out new opportunities across Europe and across the oceans.
There was not a single family that was not touched in some way by unemployment or emigration.
It has left a deep scar in Irish society as it has done in all European countries suffering from high unemployment.
That is why many of the policy choices by this Government were designed to promote job creation and investment.
There is no doubt that this has been a difficult time. For some people it still is. But recovery would not have been possible without the understanding and support of the Irish people.
Since the low point of 2012 we have helped industry to create 125,000 new jobs in Ireland, helping to bring the employment rate down to 9.3% – below the European average.
But it is still not enough. The benefits of recovery have still not been felt in all households across Ireland.
As we look to the future and the approaching General Election in Ireland we have set ourselves ambitious targets to keep our jobs recovery going.
In implementing new policies that uses the benefits from our emerging recovery to keep it going we are aiming to restore all the jobs lost in our recession by 2018 and to get unemployment down to 6% by 2020.
Keeping the Recovery Going
We plan to achieve these ambitious job creation targets while still reducing our deficit and high levels of public debt.
Every year since entering Government we continued the job of bringing stability to our public finances – a prerequisite for jobs and growth.
We are working our way out of the fiscal hole that was keeping the Irish economy down.
The scale of the adjustment has been unprecedented for Ireland.
However, every year we beat our European fiscal targets and put Ireland on the path to growth.
This allowed Ireland to be the first Eurozone country to successfully exit an international bailout in December 2013 without the need of a second bailout or other conditional lines of credit.
Today Ireland is the fastest growing economy in Europe. This growth is helping us to reduce our deficit to 2.1% this year, falling to 1.2% next year and we plan to eliminate it altogether in 2018.
We have committed to the Irish people that the country will never return to the days of boom and bust.
In line with this responsible approach we are advancing our three priorities and setting out a plan for our next term:
- · To make work pay and to remove the barriers to work;
· To support more job creation and regional economic growth; and
· To rebuild a strong economy that can support better public services.
Our first priority is to continue to make work pay.
It is clear that the existing level of tax on work and jobs remains a drag on our recovery.
Marginal tax rates on middle income earners in Ireland are much higher than the UK and other countries where many of our people have emigrated to, and for where we are in competition with mobile talent and investment.
We started the process of reducing the tax burden on work and jobs for low and middle income earners and we will continue with that strategy for the years ahead.
In conjunction with this plan we are also helping low income families return to and stay in work. With the benefits of recovery we are introducing the first steps in new plans to provide childcare, early education and free general healthcare for children of working families.
Our plan of tax cuts and enterprise supports will help rebuild a strong, sustainable economy.
Reducing the high tax burden on low and middle income families helps to create jobs, put Ireland back to work, and generates the revenue needed to support vital public services.
Our plan is to deliver a virtuous circle of tax cuts on work, more jobs, and improving public finances and services.
As the economy recovers we are now investing more in vital public services.
We are now in a position to recruit more front line staff like nurses, teachers and police while continuing the reforms to reduce back office staff.
Our recovery plan also aims to boost Ireland’s international reputation for business and investment. Many of the world’s leading technology, financial and pharmaceutical firms are already based in Ireland and are expanding further.
Eversheds International as a pioneering law firm
Many of these leading companies are, of course, your clients and competitiveness is something that Eversheds International understands well.
This year, I believe, it scooped awards in the categories of Law Firm of the Year, International Law Firm of the Year and Alternative Dispute Resolution Team/Lawyer at the Irish Law Awards.
It is clear that in the legal services market – at both the national and international levels – Eversheds is in the business of adaptation, innovation and modernisation, and I congratulate you on that.
I believe that Eversheds International is a forward-looking firm, one that understands that legal services are changing, and must change.
And one, indeed, that has predicted and pre-empted those changes.
In a 2010 Report on the law firm of the 21stcentury, for example, this firm recognised that the post-recession legal world would look very different to the one that had gone before.
It looked to the entry of the law firm in the modern world.
It predicted a shift towards a buyer’s market; the emergence of clients as drivers of change; the long-term decline of fees; increased efficiencies driven by the recession; greater technical innovation; and the re-shaping and re-categorisation of the law firm.
Legal Services Regulation Bill
Ireland has to continue to work hard to stay competitive, to win investment and to create jobs for our people.
This includes being competitive internationally in terms of the cost and speed of using legal services and accessing justice.
The Legal Services Regulation Bill, currently before the Oireachtas, commits to changing and improving legal services here.
It commits to bringing our legal services into the modern world.
The Bill aims at removing restrictions to trade and competition in sheltered sectors, and it is an important part of a number of government strategies, including the Action Plan for Jobs 2015.
The Bill will provide a 21stcentury model of regulation to reduce costs and provide a more user-friendly system for consumers and courts users.
And it will allow for the introduction of new legal services business models.
There has been in-depth consultation with key stake-holders and detailed meetings are ongoing to develop the Bill.
Although further amendments are expected, it is the Government’s firm intention that the Bill will be enacted shortly so that the new Legal Services Regulatory Authority can come into operation without delay.
As we look forward and plan for 2016 and the years ahead, we have the opportunity to secure the economic recovery, and to build an enterprise economy that offers certainty, world-class infrastructure and ease of doing business.
We have worked hard to get to where we are and we must be vigilant to ensure that we hold on to our hard-won economic stability and progress.
We live in a globalised world and, in a volatile international environment, it is crucial that good decisions are made.
That innovation is encouraged, and that stability is maintained, so that we can continue to build on our recovery.
This Government will continue our work to secure the recovery that will improve the lives of our people.