Speech to the British Irish Chamber of Commerce “State of the Union” Conference

19th February, 2016

Good morning everyone- it is very good to be here this morning, discussing issues of both national and international importance.


What I would like to do in the short time I have available to me is


  • to discuss the broad issue of the future of the European Union,
  • in particular talk about the matter of a Brexit and the implications of a change in the relationship between the UK and the EU
  • and to then bring all that back home and talk about the future that lies ahead of this country in the context of the General Election and the potentially changed external landscape that any new Government may face.


I do all that against a backdrop of uncertainty. Most of us don’t know where we will be in a few years’ time. I don’t know where I will be in a week and a half!


But it is necessary to consider these matters so that we are best prepared for the future, whatever it holds.






You will of course be aware of the developments this week and previously relating to the UK’s future relationship within the European Union.


The Irish government’s views on the EU-UK relationship have been made clear on many occasions.


It is undoubtedly in the interests of Ireland, and of the European Union as a whole, that the UK should remain in the Union and contributing to that outcome is the Government’s overall objective in these negotiations.


That is why the Government welcomed the publication earlier this month by President Tusk of a draft decision of Heads and State of Government of the EU Member States.


That proposed agreement outlines key areas –


  • economic governance;
  • competitiveness;
  • sovereignty;
  • social benefits and freedom of movement


– where change is envisaged.


The draft decision and the related documents are, of course, complex and detailed.


They have been the subject of in-depth discussion at senior levels since their publication and were also considered at the General Affairs Council on Tuesday, in advance of the European Council.


We have played a constructive and active part in the ongoing negotiations and will continue to do so.


I am happy to say that to date, the negotiations process has been encouraging. The exchanges have been constructive and while some elements remain outstanding, we are optimistic that a mutually satisfactory outcome can be reached.


This issue is undoubtedly challenging. It is challenging for Britain, for Ireland and all of Europe.


Against all of this, though, let us not forget the reasons the EU first came into existence.


In the aftermath of war, and in the desperate need to never let that happen again, nations came together to carve out a peaceful, more prosperous and secure future for Europe’s citizens.


That remains the great prize that European integration has given us and is one of the many reasons I consider myself a passionate European.


And although we may bemoan sluggish economic growth, or the infamous bureaucracy of the Union, or all the other hot button issues that enflame European passions, it is still the case that many, many people wish to come and live here and share in the peace and prosperity that the Union has created.




Prosperity is on the minds of people here at the moment too.


In a week’s time our country will elect a Government. Business leaders like you will be looking closely.


Over recent weeks I have been struck by two things on the campaign trail.


The first is the huge positivity that exists in our country after years of the recession.


We are now talking about the future, about the potential we have to invest in that future and about how that investment will reap the reward the Irish people deserve.


Because it is the Irish people who made the sacrifices to make this recovery happen and they deserve a Government that will see the recovery through.


The second thing I noticed was the caution with which that optimism is tempered.


Because we cannot take the recovery for granted. And I believe  we cannot risk the recovery by allowing power to fall into the hands of the Opposition, some of whom are making policy proposals that would wreck the very recovery that they said would never happen.


You will know about our three point plan to keep the recovery going.


Our plan has three steps – More and better jobs, making work pay, and with more people at work in a strong economy, we can invest further in our public services.


Because it is only with a growing economy, led by people like you, creating jobs and generating taxes, that the Government will have the money to invest in schools, in hospitals and in infrastructure that will makes lives better for everyone.


Too often this election debate has been about how to spend money and not enough about how to generate the money that we would like to spend.


As business people you will know that you cannot and should not spend what you don’t have or cannot afford to repay.


That was what got this country in the mess it found itself in in 2009 and no Government should allow that happen again.


Looking solely at the area of British-Irish tourism and trade, the economic picture is very bright indeed.

Last year, for example, the number of visits from Great Britain to Ireland were up by over 12% with three and a half million British tourists coming here.


That is an exceptional result.


And that exceptional result was undoubtedly helped by the 9 per cent increase in Dublin-London air passenger volumes that the daa reported for 2015.


Dublin-London is Europe’s most popular air route and is the second busiest in the world.


In trade, consider also that 400,000 jobs in this country rely on British-Irish trade for their existence.


The Republic of Ireland receives 21 billion euro in UK goods, while exporting a stunning 15 billion euro in goods and services to Britain and Northern Ireland.


Behinds these facts and figures lie real people lives – and jobs that allow communities and families to thrive.


All this did not happen by accident. It happened because of the policies of this Government, the sacrifices of the Irish people and the determination of business to see this through and help Ireland back on its feet.






I have already said that the future is uncertain, and there are many threats.


But I also believe the future will be bright if we stay the course, if we do not add political instability to the list of those threats and if we collectively continue to show the determination to make this recovery work.


2016 is our centenary year. It will also be, I am happy to say, the year that net outward migration comes to an end for the first time since the crash and that we begin to welcome home those who left our shores in search of work.


It is for their sake, and the sake of all those who suffered during the Great Recession, that we must continue this recovery and I thank you all for the role you have played in that.


I hope this Government will continue to be able to play a role as well.


Thank you.