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Ireland Day at the London Stock Exchange - remarks by Ambassador Mulhall

Remarks at the London Stock Exchange, 9 June 2015

Building on Partnership, Progress and Opportunity

It is a pleasure to be here this morning for the 3rd Annual Ireland Day at the London Stock Exchange.  I wish to pay tribute to Ian Hyland and his team at Ireland Inc. for organising today’s event, with its focus on the deep economic ties between Ireland and the UK.

I am pleased to be sharing this platform with my British counterpart in Dublin, Ambassador Dominic Chilcott, who opened his remarks with a quotation from Shakespeare.  On this, the 150th anniversary of the birth of WB Yeats, I would like to recall one of his best-known poems, The Lake Isle of Innisfree, which was written ‘on the pavements grey’ of London but draws the reader back to the romantic terrain of the west of Ireland. That was how it was in Yeats’s lifetime.  London was the centre of business and public life and Ireland an unworldly, mystical hideaway.  Today, those old roles have changed, and our two countries and our economies are now genuine partners, trading and investing back and forth across the Irish Sea to our mutual advantage.   

Ireland and the UK have built a unique and mutually-advantageous set of relationships, and these have scaled new heights in recent years.

The high political link between us has never been in better shape. We have had an historic exchange of successful State Visits and a joint statement between our two Prime Ministers setting out a road map for further cooperation of mutual benefit.  Just recently, Prince Charles visited Ireland and was warmly welcomed by Irish people wherever he went.

There has also been a coming together with regard to Northern Ireland, where our two Governments are committed to the continued strengthening of the political institutions and the pursuit of reconciliation, and the commemoration of events in our past.  Last year saw the dedication of a Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cross of Sacrifice at our national cemetery in Glasnevin.  Our Government was also represented at a range of World War 1 ceremonies during the past year.  I am confident that next year will see a reciprocal effort here in Britain to understand those events in Ireland in 1916 that shaped our modern nation.

Economic links have also blossomed in recent times.  An extraordinary trading partnership has evolved - 16% of our industrial exports come to the UK; our services’ exports to the UK, €16.3 billion in 2013, now exceed the value of our manufactured exports; 40% of our food and drink exports come here; 50% of visitors to Ireland come from Britain; visitor numbers increased by 6% in 2014.

One of the remarkable features of our economic ties is that it is a two-way phenomenon.  It is not surprising that the UK is Ireland’s most important economic partner considering its size and proximity.  It is a more remarkable fact that Ireland is so vitally important to the UK economy: the UK’s 5th largest export market; a significant source of FDI into Britain; a major contributor to the British tourism industry.  There are some 600,000 Irish people living in Britain.  They are to be found in all walks of life, contributing to the success of the British economy.     

So far, so good, but there is more that can be done.  Both of our economies are now growing rapidly.  In Ireland's case, all of our economic indicators are pointing in a positive direction.

Our GDP rose by 4.8% in 2014. We expect growth of 4% this year and between 3 and 4% in the following two years. Our exports grew in the 4th Quarter of 2014, year-on-year by 14%.  We expect exports to expand by 7.6% in 2015.

Our unemployment is on a steady, downward path – it is now 9.8%, down from 15% at its peak.  Unemployment is still too high, of course, and it is a major priority to bring it down further.  Employment is on the rise, with 41,000 extra jobs created during the past year.

Tourism numbers in the first quarter of this year are up by 13.5%.

Our public finances have been brought under control and our banking sector has been fixed.

We have overcome the most serious set of economic tribulations in our 100 year history. There is a real determination to learn the lessons of the past and avoid any repetition of the trials endured since 2008.

What we have today between Britain and Ireland are: two compatible economies, both growing comparatively rapidly; the advantages of geographical proximity; two business-friendly administrations and a similar business culture.  This is a recipe for enhanced opportunity.

We could, I believe, be entering into a golden age for our two countries and their relations.

One of our major goals is to develop the Irish-owned sector of our economy. Those indigenous Irish companies are heavily oriented towards the UK market.  40% of the exports of Irish-owned companies come to the UK. Their exports grew by 9% in 2014 and the graph is pointing upwards.  

We are fortunate now to have a major global city like London on our doorstep.  This has been a mixed blessing in the past as London attracted our young people in huge numbers.  Those who came here in the decades immediately after the Second World War played a crucial role in the building of modern Britain. They never had much chance of going home.  Today's Irish emigrants are more mobile and there is every prospect that many of them will be able to return to Ireland or perhaps live their lives between the two countries, furthering our unique economic relationship of mutual advantage.

There are, of course, some clouds on the horizon.  The biggest of these is the prospect of the UK leaving the EU.  While the process leading to a referendum is still at an early stage, this British debate about the country’s future in Europe is something on which we cannot be indifferent.

We want the UK to remain in the EU.  Briefly, here's why.

First, because of our unique economic ties with the UK, we worry about the economic impact of a UK departure.  We would try to minimise the implications for Ireland of a British departure from the EU, but it is unlikely that things can remain the same if one of us is an EU member and the other is not.

Second, we like the influence the UK brings to bear on the EU and we would miss the UK’s impact around the EU negotiating table as our two countries see eye-to-eye on many issues.

Third, the potential implications for Northern Ireland are also a cause for concern.  These are difficult to estimate, but anything that creates uncertainty in Northern Ireland, or adds to disagreements there, is clearly best avoided.

Fourth, our membership together of the EU has clearly brought great benefit to British-Irish relations, building the mutual confidence that facilitated progress with regard to Northern Ireland, and we want that trend to continue.  

We in Ireland will do everything we can to facilitate the UK’s quest for reforms, some of which, in any case, broadly coincide with Irish interests.  But, we are staying in the EU and we hope our nearest neighbour will decide to remain there with us.  This is the surest way in which we can continue the journey of friendship and partnership upon which our two nations have embarked to the great benefit of our peoples and our economies.


Daniel Mulhall is Ireland’s Ambassador in London