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I am delighted to be here with you, in this most iconic Australian building, to mark a particularly Irish celebration.
Ireland’s National Day has long been an occasion for us to renew connections with friends and family; to re-connect with the global Irish family; to celebrate our heritage.
We are determined to work with the extraordinary asset we have in the Irish diaspora.
We welcome and appreciate the dedicated contribution and strength of engagement of the diaspora in enhancing Ireland’s reputation abroad and in helping to improve economic conditions in Ireland.
In the current economic climate, and in light of the challenges still facing our country, this time of year offers a key opportunity to reach out to our business communities abroad.
My visit to Australia is part of that outreach and, as St Patrick’s Day extends into St Patrick’s week, I have a programme which will take me from here to New Zealand and back again, as well as to Melbourne and to Canberra.
I am looking forward to it enormously, and I am keen to speak with as many of you as I can, to learn about your experience in doing business between Ireland and Australia, and to understand how the Government can help to facilitate that process.
I want to talk to you today about Ireland, its economy, the steps we have taken to deal with the difficulties which have faced us, and the prospects that are now opening up to put our economy on a sustainable road to growth.
That we have lived through difficult times in recent years is well known; that Ireland has been in receipt of a programme of assistance from the EU, the European Central Bank, and IMF is also well known, as is the fact that we have had to face up to a painful economic adjustment which has impacted on the lives of Irish people at home and abroad.
But what is perhaps less well known is that in facing up its responsibilities Ireland has taken the first concrete steps to putting its economy on the road to sustainable recovery.
We have met every single target set under the EU/IMF programme and, in several cases, surpassed those targets.
Last year, for the first time since 2007, Ireland’s economy returned to growth. We expect further growth in 2012.
Our public finances are under control.
We are on track to bring the deficit below 3% of Gross Domestic Product by 2015.
We have restructured and recapitalised our banking systems. Our labour costs have been reduced. Our balance of payments is back in surplus. And the Government has put in place a series of initiatives to boost job creation.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Ireland is Europe’s best prospect for success in the current crisis.
The growth we are now seeing in the economy has been predominantly export-led.
This has been brought about by a combination of factors including improved competitiveness; Ireland’s enduring attractiveness as a destination for foreign direct investment, under-pinned by our 12½% corporation tax rate; and, by our place in the heart of Europe.
Ireland’s economy, as you will be aware, depends on exports.
We continue to be a very successful exporting nation. The Irish companies in this room today are a testament to that.
Some of you have brought clients here with you today. You will recognise what I am talking about when I say that Ireland is one of the most enterprise-focussed countries in the world, with a flexible approach and a can-do attitude.
There are good reasons for investing in Ireland.
Ireland ranks first worldwide in terms of the value of projects and investment it attracts.
The World Bank ranks Ireland as the most supportive business environment in the euro area.
The facts speak for themselves.
Ireland is home to:
• 9 of the top 10 global pharmaceuticals corporations;
• over 50% of the world’s leading financial services firms; and
• 10 of the top ‘Born on the Internet’ companies.
Recent investments include Abbott, Eli-Lilly, Mastercard, Hewlett Packard, Microsoft and PayPal.
Ireland’s entrepreneurial culture is strong and well supported.
The Government is now the largest provider of venture capital in Europe in terms of the number of investments made.
Ireland is the perfect location for overseas entrepreneurs to create innovative start-ups. It offers a unique innovation ecosystem in which these start-ups can work alongside the major global players – Facebook, Google, Boston Scientific, IBM and many more.
Ireland is a knowledge-based economy, built on innovation. It competes effectively at the global level to attract the best research talent.
More Irish companies are engaging in research and development than ever before, driving the improvements in competitiveness which have made Ireland:
• the world’s second largest net exporter of pharmaceuticals; and
• the third largest exporter of software.
Ladies and Gentlemen
As our economy recovers, the value for money which we can offer visitors to the country has also increased. Tourism is playing an important part in our recovery. This year you can ‘Jump into Ireland’, enjoy wonderful landscapes, meet friendly people and have a good time.
And of course, looking at the currency differentials, there’s never been a better time for Australians to make that trip.
This week we launch a new tourism initiative called ‘The Gathering Ireland,’ to take place throughout 2013, providing an opportunity for those with ancestral links and an affinity for Ireland to play a part in – and benefit from - our economic recovery.
This is an invitation to the wider world to connect with the people of Ireland in business, the arts, sports, communities and public life. I hope that many of you in this room today will play a part in the Gathering.
I ask you to publicise it within your own networks, and encourage everyone you know to visit Ireland next year!
Ladies and Gentlemen
Today more than 100 Enterprise Ireland client companies have significant business interest in Australia, many of whom are now also using this location as a springboard from which to target the exciting opportunities that exist across Asia.
We see Australia as a key part of our future. Business partnerships are emerging as a key tool to harness the potential offered by trade between our countries.
A number of strategic alliances already exist between Irish and Australian companies but there is scope for more, through investment, technology transfer, joint ventures and other forms of joint marketing and trade relations.
Despite the challenges of the global economy at the moment, we see 2012 as an exciting year for the already strong trading links that exist between our two countries. As a Government we will support and facilitate those links.
Ladies and Gentlemen, as we watch the world go green this week, I would like you to reflect on one key message – the message which my colleagues and I are bringing with us around the globe – the message which our Embassies and our state agencies continue to highlight:
There has never been a better time to invest – and benefit from – Ireland’s recovery.
It has been a pleasure meeting you and speaking to you today. And may I wish you all a very happy St Patrick’s Season.