Good afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen. Thank you very much for your kind invitation to address you at your autumn business lunch.
Firstly I would like to comment on the points that President Carmel Brennan made on issues that are impacting on your members’ ability to do more business in Galway.
In relation to the airport in Galway, I believe that there should be extensive discussions between the government and the airport authorities on the decision to withdraw funding in 2012. Practical assistance must be given to remodel the business plans so that the airport remains viable, not only because it employs 62 people but for the 110,000 passengers annually who utilise it. Air access is vital to the tourist and business sector in the west.
The outer ring road issue needs to be resolved as quickly as possible. Galway is the only city in Ireland left without an outer ring road and the traffic disruption caused by this issue alone is hindering business particularly when so much progress has been done on access roads to Galway from Dublin, Limerick and my native Cork.
In general I know that these are very difficult times for business like you and the last three years have been truly challenging. It is during these times that leadership, innovation and positivity are needed.
Positive and constructive leadership in the circumstances that the country is currently experiencing is crucial. The Chamber’s emphasis on fostering a sense of responsibility, commitment and excellence embodies the very qualities of leadership.
The Galway Chamber of Commerce is an excellent organisation that represents over 500 businesses across Galway .Your role in linking people from across the business sector to build a shared dedication to high performance is an integral part of maintaining Galway’s competitive edge. Galway is a vibrant city with a young well educated population. In 2010 NUI Galway was named in the top three big winners in the PRTLI programme which secured over €60 million euro. Over €50 million was allocated in 2010 under the last government to build new Arts, Humanities Social Sciences Research Building and another two buildings on Biomedical Research. These developments as well as others will help not only protect the 48 IDA supported companies in Galway City and County but will also attract more investment in the future.
As a former Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Employment I know first-hand the level of innovation and optimism that runs deep in our business community.
Amidst profound national difficulties, a festering Eurozone crisis, flagging recovering in the US and grave volatility in the stock markets our exports continue to thrive and flourish. Exports grew by 6.7% to €161 billion in 2010. They are expected to rise by another 7% this year. The fact that our balance of payments is actually in surplus is thanks to the hard work and innate optimism of our business community.
When Fianna Fáil was in government we prioritised funding to promote services and innovation across the business research and policy communities. We had a whole of government approach through the Strategy for Technology and Innovation (SSTI).Even in very hard times over the last three years the budget for this was not reduced. This red circled policy helped drive exports which are the main way to recovery. Export activity from EI was worth €9.6 billion and with our policies they rose to €13.9 billion in 2010.We had to be doing something right!
Irish businesses continue to cast an ambitious eye across the globe for areas of future growth and expansion. Our 12.5% Corporation Tax rate remains as a major encouragement for international companies to establish here and create new spill over opportunities for indigenous firms.
A lively sense of potential and a positive view of the future drive on Irish entrepreneurs. Our policies in government worked to facilitate and enable that talent to grow and these policies should be continued. The recommendations of the Small Business Forum to explore the barriers that small companies faced should continue to be implemented. The new government should support the SME sector in every way possible and continue with the success of the High Potential Start Ups.
Leadership in difficult times involves the ability to see opportunity where others see only decline, the audacity to take risks when others are gripped by fear and the commitment to persevere while others falter. You, on the very frontline of business, show that leadership every day. It is a spirit that we can all learn from.
In my role as leader of the opposition I have pledged myself to providing that positive leadership. This involves responsibility in acknowledging mistakes of the past and the honesty to genuinely reflect upon what lessons need to be learnt from the recession.
Fianna Fáil takes this responsibility very seriously. We have set out a comprehensive program of measures that can transform our political system and make it fit for purpose in a modern democracy.
Randolph Churchill once said that the “duty of an opposition is to oppose”. I simply don’t believe this and as part of the New Politics I have vowed to provide constructive opposition to the government.
The responsibility of leadership through difficult times demands that we do not engage in cheap attacks and cynical language.
I was heartened when the present government decided to hold a second Global Irish Network Conference in October.
When I was Minister for Foreign Affairs I believed that the government should do more to integrate with the Irish business people who live across the globe and who wanted to give something back to Ireland .That is why I held the inaugural conference in 2009 when 208 leading experts in business tourism, culture academia and the arts attended .There is now a very large network of leaders (over 300) who by being part of the “GIN” increase opportunities for Irish people at home and abroad .I will be attending the conference in October and I am looking forward to taking part in a constructive and active debates about Ireland and its future.
Those of us privileged to be in the service of this Republic need to take responsibility for our words and their impact.
As the leader of the opposition, Fianna Fáil will let others wallow in despondency if that is their choice. But for our part we commit to rolling up our sleeves and providing the constructive engagement with the government that the Irish people deserve and demand.
Government decisions that benefit the country will be welcomed; worthwhile legislative proposals will be contributed to and where possible enhanced and improved. We will endeavour to put forward meaningful proposals such as the Personal Insolvency Bill we will publish next month or the Family Home Bill put forward in July. I hope the Government earnestly meets this constructive engagement as part of a cross party effort in establishing responsible leadership.
And there is much to be positive about. The most recent ERSI forecasts show that we are on track to emerge from the burden of debt and re-enter the international bond markets. The IMF has applauded the strides taken to curtail expenditure and put the public finances on a sustainable footing. The difficult measures taken over the past few years are beginning to yield dividends. Unlike the other parties who opposed all the decisions we made to enable this progress, we are committed to recognise any positive steps the government will take to build on the progress made to date.
My optimism has inspired my politics and remains at the core of what drives me on.
We need to shake off the shackles of pessimism.
We stand at an epoch defining crossroads. At home we are fighting to renew our country from a serious crisis. In Europe the dream of the Union that brought a prostrate continent off its knees and into a flagship global way of life, has faltered.
In America the political system is struggling to ignite the engine of the world’s biggest economy and confront its own debt challenges. All the while economic and political power shifts away from the traditional strongholds of the West to the rising giants of Asia. We can rise to the challenge and grasp the opportunities that these changes present.
We can resolve and work towards making the most of the changes that time inevitably brings. This is not an easy route to take. It is a path that demands commitment and vision. It is in short a path that demands leadership and positivity. And it is, let us have no illusions, the only path forward.
Leadership in difficult times is built upon commitment, vision and optimism. These are qualities that I see in the businesses you run; they are the qualities that I hope you see in yourselves. It is this leadership that see Galway emerge from our current difficulties stronger than ever, ready to meet the future with a sense of optimism and pride.