19th October, 2017

[Check Against Delivery] 

Good evening everyone- it is a pleasure to be amongst you all tonight and I am very grateful for the invitation.     


I am struck by how many are here tonight- I am reliably informed that there are several hundred people in attendance.


As you may know, the process of crafting a Budget involves meeting dozens, if not hundreds, of people through the year, so to meet hundreds of people in one large room at the same time seems to me to be a good use of my time- and yours.


What I would like to do tonight is


  • talk a little about where we are as a country;
  • then talk about the challenges our country faces now and in the future;
  • and then talk a little bit about last week’s Budget and what it did to mitigate against those risks and move us to a better place.






But in talking about risks, I will also talk about opportunities.


Because I am immensely hopeful and optimistic for this country.


And part of that optimism- a large part, actually- comes from my belief in people like you.


People who are running businesses and creating and sustaining jobs.


People who are innovating and coming up with new ideas.


People who are taking risks and investing – investing in physical but also human capital.


And in doing so, reviving communities, spreading wealth and helping our country grow.


The story of Ireland over the last ten years is undoubtedly one of great sadness, as unemployment grew, forced emigration took its toll on families and once great companies of all sizes ceased to be.


But is also one of hope- hope for a better, more prosperous country that has since seen unemployment tumble, net emigration end and imbued a new sense of purpose in our people.


However, there is still much to be done- not everyone has a job yet.


Our national debt is still too high.


Our public services still need improving.


And without doubt we must tackle the housing shortage that impacts upon far too many.


But the hope that I spoke of- hope of a good job, a good home and a good standard of living- will, I believe, become a reality for everyone thanks, in part, to the work you do.


Government does not create jobs, in the main.

Businesses do.


Businesses like yours.


And when you consider that we live in a country that makes Tic Tacs in Cork, Viagra in Mayo and has an animation industry large enough to have earned the nickname, “The Celtic Tigger”, it is hardly surprising that the Government believes in the role of business in our economy.


I myself know first-hand how important business is to the economy and society.


Before I entered politics, I worked for Proctor and Gamble.


A career selling Pampers might not have been the automatic route to high office one would first think of.


Or maybe it would.


Either way, I believe that businesses – businesses that create jobs and empower individuals to be the best they can be- are vital to our national effort.




I note the theme of this year’s conference is “Knowing the Way”. 


I hope last week’s Budget showed that we too, as a Government, know the way.


Following a number of years of strong growth, Ireland’s economic story is entering a new phase.


The economy continues to grow strongly with real GDP growth projected to be 4.3 per cent in 2017 and 3.5 per cent in 2018.


The growth in the economy is now broad based, with domestic demand contributing significantly.


This reflects the increased household income and sustained consumer confidence.


The result of this economic growth is best illustrated in the employment figures.


Since the low-point in 2012 there are now an additional 230,000 people in employment.


Unemployment is down from 15 per cent in 2012 to 6 per cent today.


Indeed, for every 10 jobs lost during the recession, 7 have now been replaced. 


This, I think you would agree, is a remarkable turnaround in a short space of time and reflects the collective actions of Government, of business, of households and of workers.


My department predicts that businesses like yours will create 48,000 jobs next year and by the end of the decade, employment levels are expected to exceed the pre-crisis peak.




But despite the positive outlook for the economy, we must remain cognisant of external risks.


We live in a highly uncertain world. 


Ireland’s openness to trade and foreign direct investment has brought enormous benefits. 


But it also leaves us exposed to global shocks. 


We need only look to our own recent and painful experience for confirmation of this.


We have no influence over such global shocks.

But what we can do – and what we must do – is enhance the resilience of the economy so that we’re better able to weather these shocks. 


That is why we must always ensure we are competitive, that we keep costs down and boost our productivity.


Let me be more specific on the key challenges we face. 


First and foremost is the challenge posed by the UK’s exit from the European Union, scheduled for March 2019. 


I am sure you remember where you were the moment you heard that Britain had voted to leave.


Indeed it has been described as this generation’s Princess Diana moment.


Since that fateful morning, we have already seen the adverse impact of Brexit – through the slowdown in the UK economy and the significant depreciation of sterling, which is adversely affecting the competitiveness of our exports.  


I am also keenly aware, especially in an audience like this, that uncertainty is not conducive to investment and it would appear that some Irish firms are postponing investment decisions because of the lack of clarity regarding what form the post-exit trade arrangements will take.


Given the many challenges and opportunities facing both domestic and international businesses, the Government is committed to investing to secure the future of enterprise in Ireland.


The Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation will continue to support Ireland’s economic development by directly supporting over 435,000 jobs through the enterprise agencies.


The aim is to grow this to 470,000 jobs during 2018.


And in the Budget I provided total funding to the Department of almost €900 million which will, amongst much else, enable the recruitment of over 40 staff across the Department and enterprise agencies to bolster our ability to proactively respond to the challenges and opportunities arising from Brexit.


We also need to help small and medium enterprises to diversify and look to other markets other than Britain where possible.


That is why I announced a Brexit Loan Scheme on Budget day with up to €300m available at a competitive rate to SMEs, including food businesses given their unique exposure to the UK market, to help them with their short-term working capital needs.


This scheme is supported by the European Investment Bank Group, the European Commission and the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland.


There are other Brexit initiatives too which I will not go into now, but let me be clear- this country does not believe Brexit is good for Ireland, the EU or Britain.


But we are determined that the best possible deal for this country be achieved and what is more, so are our European partners.


In this, as in every other challenge we have faced, we will prevail.


Brexit, of course, is not the only challenge.


We have enormous geopolitical upheaval, in the Middle East, in Asia, in the United States.


So too do we face challenges at home.


The housing crisis, left unchecked, would greatly hamper growth, greatly hamper our efforts to attract investment and new talent and, perhaps most importantly, greatly hamper the national effort to make Ireland a fair and decent place to live.


The Government – and I as a member of that Government- will not rest until significant progress is made on all these fronts.




So, I have spoken about where we are, and some of the challenges we face.


But I want to also talk about the kind of country we want to become, and how the Budget helped us realise a better kind of country.


The kind of country where you will invest and do business.


On Budget Day, one of the aspirations I articulated was for Ireland to become a country that rewards enterprise and makes work pay.


That is why I made affordable and sustainable changes to our personal taxation system.


And while no one will feel hugely richer when they get their first pay cheque in January, they can at least know that the Government has begun the process of ensuring that an average wage no longer attracts the top rate of tax.


That, to me, seems fair.


Recognising the importance of the entrepreneurial spirit, Budget 2018 increased the earned income tax credit by a further €200 to €1,150 per year from 2018.


This will benefit over 147,000 self-employed individuals across the country and will also serve to assist small enterprises to deal with the international challenges.




And in addition, to assist small and medium enterprises to attract and retain key employees in a competitive International labour market, a new Key Employee Engagements Programme has been introduced which provides for an advantageous tax treatment of share options.


Small changes.


But important ones.


I also said last week that I want Ireland to be a country that pays its way and does not burden our children with the debts of their parents.


Budget 2018 also saw Ireland move towards a situation where we pay our way and spend as much on public services as we take in in tax.


The headline deficit is projected to be virtually eliminated next year.


Budget 2018 will deliver the objective of a balanced budget in structural terms by achieving the Medium-term Budgetary Objective, or MTO as it is known.


It is the first time we have balanced our books in over a decade.


Careful budgeting, through adherence to the fiscal rules, will not protect us from every crisis.


However, it will help reduce the likelihood that crises will be of our own making and it will mean that our economy and public finances are in a better position to absorb shocks beyond our control.


Just as in business, and as President Kennedy memorably said, the time to fix the roof is when the sun is shining.


And that is what we are doing.


We provided for additional capital expenditure of €4.3 billion over the next four years will result in capital expenditure doubling between 2015 and 2021 – from €3.7 billion to €7.8 billion.


This will bring Ireland’s public investment levels to among the highest in the EU. 


It allows proper planning of major infrastructure projects by the State and its agencies. 


This increased investment is a central element in our Brexit response.


It will also help Ireland’s entrepreneurs and businesses through better public infrastructure- better schools, better public transport, better roads.


Continuing with the theme of sustaining growth in a post Brexit EU, to further protect the economy and the national finances, a Rainy Day Fund will be established in the coming year.


At least €1.5 billion will be transferred to it from the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund to start it off.


This is another important step as we seek to re-inforce the resilience of the public finances to shocks, especially in light of Brexit.


Above all though, in the Budget, I hope made the point strongly enough that without a vibrant business sector, without the tax payers contributing the revenue to pay for our hospitals and schools and roads, we cannot hope to build the Republic of Opportunity that we want.


It is only through a vibrant economy can we build the Just Society.




So the economy is going well but there is no room for complacency.


We face risks at home and abroad.


We face huge challenges in ensuring the most vulnerable in our society have a place they call home and public services they can rely upon.


But there are huge opportunities too.


And many of these opportunities will be made by the people in this room.


Opportunities to make businesses flourish, bringing jobs to communities around the country.


We must continue the progress which has been made in making our country stronger, fairer and more competitive.


And that is what the Government, and I as Minister for Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, will do.


Thank you.