Address to Retail Ireland Council

24th September, 2015

Good morning everyone. It’s a pleasure to be here. I want to talk to you this morning about a number of things, including;


  • The Government’s plans to boost the consumer economy, and therefore the retail sector
  • Our proposals to improve transport at both Dublin city level and at national level, which will impact upon your businesses and
  • The role that retail can play with regard to tourism.


Before doing that I want to thank your Chairperson, Conor Whelan and your director Tom Burke for extending the invitation. This is not my first time here at Ibec but it is my first time to address Retail Ireland. As you know, as well as being Minister I am also a TD for Dublin central and many of you trade on the northside of the city centre and will be very well known to me.



I want to start by saying that I am keenly aware of the fact that retail has been on the sharp end of the recession that we are starting to emerge from. At the depths of the economic difficulties that we faced, retail sales had fallen by over 25% with many retailers going to the wall as consumers tightened their belts.


Despite that, the retail sector is still a massive employer with over 270,000 people working within it and with a reach into every locality and is part of every community. I am very aware that indirectly the sector supports jobs in other areas, such as logistics and distribution and provides an important outlet for Irish products, thereby supporting more jobs.


I know that there is a steady and sustained improvement in retail sales now, but I note that while volumes are up by over 6%, values are rising much more modestly which suggests that the need to provide value and generate footfall is still making life tough for many retailers.

For our part, you will know that that the Government has taken a number of measures. As part of the 2014 Action Plan for Jobs, the Government established a Retail Consultation Forum to support the recovery of the retail sector in Ireland.


I know that Conor and Tom both attend the forum, which is chaired by my colleague Minister Ged Nash. Among the issue raised have been;


  • skills issues for the retail sector;
  • the decline in town centre shopping
  • taxation and the Budget;
  • how Irish retailers can best use the internet to tap the growing online market


…and a number of other issues. I really think this forum is a good way to come up with policy, and indeed use fora like this one in my own department on issues like tourism, about which I will speak later.



However, while these retail specific issues are crucial to you, they do not eclipse the general economy in importance because it is the health of the economy that ultimately decides how much consumers will spend.


In order to get consumers spending again, we have had to do two things.


The first was to reduce unemployment so that households again had disposable income to spend in your stores. I am glad to say that we have reduced unemployment from over 15% to 9.5% and it continues to fall.


The second- and just as vital- was to begin to restore confidence that that the recovery we had helped lay the foundation for was sustainable and could last and I think we have done that, judging by the consumer confidence numbers which currently stand at close to a ten year high. That is not to say that we are out of the woods but it does show that we have made huge progress.


And if I may be party political for a moment, it will be the twin pillars of economic recovery and the maintenance of confidence that comes with political stability that will be our central theme in the general election to be held in the first part of next year.


Crucial to our approach in that election will be to recognise that the tax burden, particularly on middle income earners is too high and that by giving taxpayers in this bracket some relief, we will unlock their spending power, boost consumption and create jobs in businesses like yours.


But we will only do that in a managed, prudent fashion, just as we did in last year’s Budget and just as we will do in next month’s Budget.


A sensible reduction in the tax burden will allow for a virtuous cycle of economic growth to take place.



That economic growth is already starting to bear fruit and the Government will shortly announce its Capital plan to deal with a number of serious infrastructural deficits that exist in the country.


I am not at liberty to go into the detail on the Capital Plan,  but you will be aware that I have already announced the redesign of the DART Underground project together with the roll out of other parts of the DART Expansion programme, including the electrification of the Northern line which will ultimately see the bringing of the DART to Balbriggan.


Other aspects of our plans for the Greater Dublin area and the rest of the country will be known when we publish the Capital Plan next week but what we already know is that in the coming years we will see…


  • The opening of the Phoenix Park tunnel next year
  • The opening of LUAS cross city the following year
  • Improved DART frequency
  • The DART expansion programme I announced yesterday
  • The ongoing improvement and expansion of bus services


…all of which I believe will get this city moving, keep this city working and make Dublin’s transport system as good as it possibly can be.



While I believe the capital plan will be welcomed by the most, I am aware that some other transport issues are causing somewhat more controversy and I have spoken to a number of city centre businesses, including retailers, about the joint National Transport Authority- Dublin City Council city centre transport study.


I am interested in hearing more of what you have to say but before I do let me just outline the position to date;


  • As you know, the NTA and DCC jointly carried out a study to access transport related issues in the core city centre area, particularly in light of the changes being introduced by virtue of the Luas Cross City project;
  • That study covered all modes of transport – walking, cycling, public transport, car;
  • It also considered how opportunities to improve the appearance of the city could be provided by reconfiguration of street space on certain streets;
  • The study was published by DCC and the NTA in June;
  •  A period of non-statutory public consultation ran initially from the 11th of June until the July 16th 2015. The consultation was extended until the 7th of August following the large amount of interest the Study generated amongst the public and interested parties;
  • 7,779 submissions were received in response to the consultation;
  • A wide variety of views were put forward and a considerable number of issues were raised;
  • A factual report on the submissions was prepared and issued to members of DCC’s Strategic Transport Policy Committee earlier this month;
  • The factual report was discussed at the meeting of the DCC Strategic Transport Policy Committee earlier this week on 16th September; and
  • DCC and NTA informed the Committee that they were now engaging on an individual basis with some of the key stakeholders, particularly the large retailers, car park operators and hotels – who have made representations, and would report back to the committee at their next meeting.


I have spoken to the NTA and I understand that they and DCC have commenced a sequence of meetings with key retailers and will be meeting car park operators, starting this week.

I, the NTA and DCC are absolutely aware of the issues and concerns you have, and I want to reassure you that access will be maintained and nothing will be done without ample warning and with ample consideration of the impact on businesses who are the lifeblood of this city.

That said, things cannot remain the same in the city once the LUAS green line is extended. We live, work and study in a shared space in this city and I am determined to ensure a balanced approach, recognising all the competing needs that the city authorities must cater for.



The final issue I want to briefly mention is that of tourism.

As we seek to rebalance the economy away from one that was too reliant on construction and financial services, this Government took the view that tourism would be a key driver of economic growth.

Back in March, we published the national tourism policy, People, Place and Policy. The three headline targets of the new Statement are that:

  • Revenue from overseas tourism will rise from €3.5 billion in 2014 to €5 billion per year by 2025 net of inflation
  • There will be 250,000 people employed in tourism by 2025, compared with approximately 200,000 at present, and
  • We will attract ten million overseas visits to Ireland by 2025, compared to 7.6 million in 2014.

I am happy to report that aided by favourable exchange rates in some key markets and increased air access capacity for the summer, I am optimistic that 2015 could be being our best year ever for tourism to Ireland, surpassing the previous record year of 2007.


I am also happy to say that we have established a Tourism Leadership Group to turn the aspirations of People, Place and Policy into actions. As you are no doubt aware, Ray Hernan, CEO of Arnotts and a member of your Board is one of the members of the Group.

In appointing members to the Group, I was particularly interested in harnessing a diverse range of skillsets and expertise, some of which is external to what we traditionally consider to be the tourism sector.

Ray has brought a valuable retail sector perspective to the Group, and I look forward to working with him and the other members to produce a Tourism Action Plan that will set out clearly what we need to do over the next few years to ensure that our longer term objectives are achieved.



So that is a brief overview of some of the issues and I am happy to have a dialogue with you now.


Thank you.