Speech by the Tánaiste & Labour Party Leader Joan Burton T.D. At the Global Irish Economic Forum

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Speech by the Tánaiste and Labour Party Leader  

Joan Burton T.D.

At the Global Irish Economic Forum


Dublin, 20 November 2015


Check Against Delivery


Colleagues, friends, ladies and gentlemen,


It’s a pleasure to address you today at the fourth meeting of this forum. 


I’d like to particularly acknowledge those who have travelled long distances to be here.


Your commitment to Ireland and its future direction is very much appreciated.     


They say a week is a long time in politics.


Well, as it happens, this has been a psychologically important week for Ireland.


Firstly, independent data from the Central Statistics Agency showed that more than 1,100 people are returning to full-time work every single week now.


Unemployment has fallen below 9% for the first time since December 2008, and is down from a crisis peak of 15.1%. 


Behind every new job is a person or family benefitting in their own lives from the wider recovery.


A person or family now more hopeful about their future, and the opportunities ahead.


To reinforce that recovery, we announced a very significant national school building programme this week.


Children will be the primary beneficiaries of the €2.8 billion programme – this is an investment in their future, and Ireland’s future.


But there will also be a secondary benefit – the thousands of jobs and apprenticeships that this school building programme will provide over the next six years.


All of this follows a very significant wider capital investment plan to deliver better roads, rail links, broadband and other crucial infrastructure, and a Budget that continued the process of raising living standards.


And of all this, in turn, is built on a responsible and sustainable approach to the public finances.


We are absolutely determined that there will be no return to the reckless economic mismanagement that brought Ireland to its knees.


So the responsible approach we adopted in the Budget will ensure that we abide by the EU fiscal rules, reduce our deficit to just 1.2% of GDP next year and our debt-GDP ratio to 93%.


These figures are in stark contrast to the situation this Government inherited – namely a deficit of more than 32% of GDP in 2010 and a debt burden which peaked at 123% of GDP.


So we’ve made immense progress, driving a jobs-led recovery that has restored the public finances to health and given us room to invest, such as in schools and services.


We are moving in the right direction, to a better place.


On Wednesday, it was exactly five years since the IMF arrived into Dublin under the previous administration’s watch and the troika bailout got under way.


Some anniversaries are worth celebrating.


Others merit sober contemplation and reflection.


Let there be no mistake: it has been a very difficult five years for Ireland and our people.


But we are coming out the other side, building a strong economic recovery and raising living standards to instigate a social recovery too.


So I want to say thank you to everyone in this room for contributing to the ongoing process of recovery.


And I’m very glad that we have reached a point where our discussions can focus on strengthening that recovery rather than dealing with crisis.


In that respect, this year’s forum is a welcome milestone our recent economic history.


It marks a turning point in our circumstances, driven by the perseverance of our people and assisted by the guidance of the Global Irish Network.


I am glad to see, that although not perfect, this forum is more representative of our society with more female and younger voices. 


I want to see more women leaders across all sections of society.


I particularly want to see more women entrepreneurs, and the Government will do everything we can to support this.


According to the 2014 Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) for Ireland, of the 20,400 people who started a new business last year, 14,400 were men and just 6,000 women.


The report states bluntly that “men compared to women continue to be more confident in their perception of having the necessary skills and knowledge to start a business”.


Some see this as a fear of failure, which is totally understandable.


I see it as something slightly different – namely our belief, as women, that we must always do everything perfectly, or not at all.


Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook has an answer to that which I’ve always liked:


“Done is better than perfect.”


I concur, and I think most people in this room would do likewise.


Our recovery isn’t perfect, but it’s strengthening every day.


We’re conscious we have much more work to do in that respect.


Recovery must mean that if you’re looking for work, you can find a job commensurate with your skills and qualifications.


Recovery means that you have the necessary supports to start your own business.


Recovery means that if you are an Irish emigrant abroad who wishes to return to Ireland then there are appropriate job opportunities available to you.


I’m hopeful that your discussions over these two days will be an important contribution to the next phase of our economic recovery.  


This year’s forum is focused on sectors such as financial services, research and innovation and international education. 


There is also a specific emphasis on fostering entrepreneurship and supporting indigenous business to scale up, increase exports and create jobs at home.


These areas have been deliberately chosen as they have been identified as sectors of high growth potential.


They can help consolidating our gains, accelerate our progress and concentrate our energies on the areas where we hope to achieve world-leader status.


We want to hear from you what you think can be improved, what should be encouraged, and, also, what is not working.


As set out in the video which was shown this morning, previous forums have led to innovative policy reforms and practical outcomes such as the Gathering, Connect Ireland, and the Global Irish Contacts Programme. 


While not wishing to prejudge your deliberations, I hope that similar innovative initiatives may emerge over these two days. 


And beyond concrete outcomes from previous forums, it is important to acknowledge the wider contribution of the Global Irish Network.


Members of the Network have offered support in innumerable, often unseen, ways. 


And even before the Network, you have been a voice for Ireland around the world.  


You have been our ambassadors in multiple global settings, advocating for Ireland and promoting our interests.   


Ireland’s diaspora is remarkable for its size but also remarkable for the connection that the diaspora feels with this country. 


The Government is committed to deepening and strengthening this connection.   


For many, the deepening of our engagement with our diaspora is motivated by a focus on the mutually beneficial advantages which will be derived from such an endeavour. 


And the benefits which have flowed from previous forums are one clear example of the many positive outcomes which such an approach can have.  


However, our engagement with our diaspora should not be exclusively viewed through such a prism.  


With our long history of emigration, Ireland’s experience of emigration is multi-faceted – it is both historic and also painfully recent. 


Emigration and the impact of it on individuals and families is bound up with the story of our state. 


As we look ahead to the 2016 commemorations, I am very conscious that story of our diaspora must be woven into the narrative of our past and our future.  


The experiences of our diaspora, and the lives they created abroad, are such an important part of the story of our nation, and its future direction. 


It is for this reason that I am particularly pleased that one of the panel discussions tomorrow is entitled: ‘The Next 100 Years – Re-imagining our Future: Resilience & Prosperity.’    


Your input to this debate is a reflection of the contribution which is rightly sought from the members of our diaspora on our future direction.  


The impressive range of experience and success among the Network has made it one of Ireland’s most dynamic resources in ensuring that we get our recovery right.


And as we now look over the horizon at our more long-term trajectory, your input is equally valuable.


I would like to thank you all for your attendance this year at what promises to be a key event in reshaping Ireland’s economic future.


Together, as we approach 2016, we will continue to deliver recovery and a future of which the Irish at home and abroad can be proud. 




Last modified:20/11/2015