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Speech at Irish Business Network Dubai






Chairman, distinguished guests, ladies & gentlemen:

I am delighted this morning to join the Dubai Irish Business Network at the impressive Ritz Carlton. My congratulations to Richard Collins and his staff for the excellent arrangements. I salute also the sponsors of today's event.

I bring you greetings from the Minister for Moreign Affairs & Trade, Mr. Simon Coveney, T.D., who retains warm memories of his visits here and attaches a priority to this country and Gulf region.

Firstly, I want to thank your distinguished Chairman, Gerald Lawless, for inviting me to be with you on my first day as Ambassador of Ireland to the United Arab Emirates.

Gerald has been a remarkable leader in the Irish community over many years. And the IBN has been a powerhouse for advancing Irish business interests here.

I am greatly honoured to represent Ireland in this unique & extraordinary country, and to spend my first morning here with you in Dubai.

I very much look forward to meeting with members of the Irish community and with friends of Ireland, today and over the coming weeks and months, as I build on the sterling work of my predecessor Ambassador Pat Hennessy.

I am fortunate indeed to follow in the footsteps of such an excellent and distinguished colleague. Pat's tenure as Ambassador to UAE was a very successful one.

I am now the new kid on the block. I hope that you will give to me the same degree of trust, the same remarkable support and the wise counsel that you consistently gave to Pat. I promise you in turn that I will be constant in my own support of your endeavours.

And of course I will aim to continue Pat's deft and effective approach to the work of official Team Ireland in the UAE and the region, in close and collaborative cooperation with our colleagues in Ireland's superb State Agencies here, Enterprise Ireland, Bord Bia & Tourism Ireland.

Shukran jaziilan. Sayedi alrais: li haadhihi al muqadema

al karima w'al 3aathima. Ana sa3aid wah atasharraf bid3 watikum li wah

mushara katikum fi haada al iHtifaal al muhim mu'tamar al a3mal.

Ladies & Gentleman,

The Irish Business Network of course is a great team effort.

Building on the work of previous Chairmen, current Chair Gerald Lawless and the hard-working Committee, I know, have been tireless in promoting Irish business interests in Dubai.

The IBN also has a clear vision of the future.

Your dynamic Committee is active in promoting events for younger entrepreneurs and in organizing networking within the various sectors. It offers pragmatic and focused support to those familiar with the region, as well as to new arrivals.

There are now some 10,000 Irish citizens officially resident in the UAE. This is by far the largest Irish community in any Middle Eastern country.

There is also very strong air connectivity between our two countries, with 28 flights each week between Ireland and the Emirates. This facilitates the thousands of Irish people who visit here for tourism and business every year. And it helps us develop Ireland's exports of goods and services into the broad region.

As the Irish presence in this market has grown, the experience and expertise of those already established here have become a most valuable asset.

Just as at home in Ireland, so too in Dubai local knowledge and experience are essential assets for success in any enterprise.

For those newly arrived in Dubai there can be no more useful early port of call than the Irish business Network (IBN). Indeed the support offered by those-well-established to the new entrants is among the most impressive and defining attributes of Dubai's Irish business community.

Let me tell you that your work in support of Irish business is greatly appreciated by the Irish Government. It has been raised by many of the stakeholders whom I have met, while preparing for my new role.

The hard work of the people here, in some cases over very many years, decades even, has put Ireland on the map in the UAE.

The pioneering work of Colm McLaughlin, Gerald Lawless, Seamus Byrne and others has in no small part made the UAE a priority for Irish policy-makers and business executives.

Ministerial visits and trade missions deepen our relationship with the UAE. These have multiplied in recent years. They have borne important fruits. The IBN continues to play a central role in this regard.

Over the past twelve months you have welcomed and hosted Ministers Flanagan, Creed & Doherty. We are truly grateful for the support which you provide to visiting Ministers, to the Trade Missions which they lead and to various other delegations.

The regular pattern of Ministerial visits is of course itself a reflection of the strong commitment by the Government to the further development of our close ties with this region, and in particular with the United Arab Emirates.

And in this regard we are anticipating that An Tánaiste and Minister for Jobs, Enterprise & Innovation, Ms. Frances Fitzgerald, T.D., will lead a trade mission to the UAE in November.

My colleagues in Team Ireland, in particular Enterprise Ireland, and the Embassy itself will work closely with you on this important visit.

The significance of the bilateral relationship between Ireland & the UAE is also reflected in the designation of the UAE by the Government of Ireland as a priority trade market. The local market team – official Team Ireland - brings together the Embassy, the Visa Office and the State Agencies. This in turn feeds into the Export Trade Council in Dublin which is chaired by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade.

The Export Trade Council brings together the public and private sectors in Ireland. It contributes to a stronger, more cohesive approach to Ireland's overseas partners and markets and to the roll-out of Irish national strategies.

I am pleased to say that the traffic between Ireland and the UAE in terms of high-level visits is a two–way affair.

Earlier this year, the Minister for Foreign Affairs of the UAE, His Highness Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan, paid his second official visit to Ireland.

It is significant that he was accompanied by the UAE Minister for Higher Education, Hussain bin Ibrahim al-Hammadi, making clear that the Emirates see considerable scope to enlarge our already extensive cooperation in the education sector.

This was followed by the official visit to Ireland by the Speaker of the Federal National Council, HE Dr. Amal Al Qubaisi, the first female Parliamentary Speaker in the Arab world, and an inspiring leader.

In addition to fostering contacts at an influential level, high-level visits of this kind help to raise Ireland's profile in this highly competitive environment.

We are all greatly heartened that this heightened level of activity is yielding positive results.

Total two-way bilateral trade in goods and services between Ireland and the UAE in 2015 amounted to some €1.6 billion, a very significant increase over 2014.

I am hopeful for early progress on the visa front. And I am working for a clear Irish signal on the question of Ireland's participation in Expo 2020 Dubai.

And of course for our State Agencies, as for many of our businesses, Dubai serves as a platform for the wider GCC region, and further afield.

When Ireland's business leaders and decision-makers look around the world for new opportunities, there are few places that offer the potential of the UAE and the wider Gulf.

And the close ties between Ireland and the Emirates extend far beyond economic exchanges and benefit from the much appreciated interest that several of the leaders in this country have built up in Ireland. You know them well. Over the years, they have each practically become one of us.

Ladies & Gentlemen,

A word on the Irish economy and its renewed good health - to which you indeed have contributed in significant measure.

As a result of the hard work and sacrifices made by the Irish people, and a series of sound policy and management decisions, Ireland's economic recovery is now firmly established. In fact we are progressing strongly beyond recovery mode.

The Government's efforts are focused on completing the recovery; on ensuring that its fruits as well as those of a sustained period of robust growth are shared equitably so that all our people can enjoy the benefits of prosperity; and on strengthening the resilience of the economy to future shocks.

The continuing increase in economic activity is broadly-based and built on a strong economic foundation.

Overall export growth and inflows of FDI in recent years have been exceptionally strong. Even so, the domestic economy is now the prime driver of growth in Ireland.

Real GDP is projected to increase by 4.3% in 2017, with both net exports and underlying domestic demand expected to contribute positively. Ireland has already registered the highest economic growth in the EU in each of the past three years.

Strong employment gains have helped reduce unemployment from a peak of over 15% in early-2012 to 6.3% in June 2017. Before long, Ireland will be enjoying the benefits, but also facing the challenges of full employment.

Ireland has made steady progress towards placing its public finances on a sustainable footing.

Having reached a peak of 32.1% of GDP in 2010, the general Government deficit fell to 0.6% for 2016, and is expected to move to 0.4% this year. The Government is determined to balance Ireland's books in the near future.

Thankfully, Ireland's debt to GDP ratio is also on a downward trajectory. Having peaked at about 120% of GDP in 2012, it is projected to reach 72.9% of GDP in 2017.

So, Ireland's growth in GDP continues to be well above the EU average, whilst both our public deficit and national debt are significantly below the EU average.

The market reaction to our management of the public finances is clear. The cost to Ireland of borrowing internationally is close to historic lows, reflecting our continued economic and fiscal improvements.

In yesterday's Financial Times you will have seen that yields on ten-year bonds of the Irish Sovereign are now around 0.6%. This is down from 15% in depth of the crisis.

Put another way, the interest that Ireland must pay to borrow ten-year money on the international capital markets is now about:


  • One-third of what the US government pays;
  • Three-fifths of what the UK pays;
  • Two-fifths of what Norway pays;
  • One-third of what Canada pays;
  • One-quarter of what Australia pays; and
  • the same as what France pays.


Here is a clear reflection of the international confidence that has surged back into the Irish economy in recent years.

Of course, ladies and gentlemen,

of the various challenges which we face none is more significant than Brexit.

In this regard, the Irish Government has mobilized as never before, in tandem with all the interested parties. Our policies and objectives are clear.

Since the United Kingdom's fateful decision, the Government of Ireland has intensified work with our colleagues across Europe and with the UK, so as to make sure that our, Irish priorities are front and centre in the Brexit negotiations.

Ireland remains a committed member State of the European Union.

In my lifetime, our membership of the Union has transformed for the better Ireland's economy, the standard of living of our people, our social organization, our jurisprudence and so on.

Ireland's future prosperity and well-being lie in continued membership of the European Union. We intend to remain at the heart of Europe, as a strong voice at the EU table, whilst naturally remaining open to the wider world. Indeed, it is our dual membership of the Union and of its Single Market that has been, and remains a locomotive for building Ireland's unprecedentedly strong engagement with the wider world.

This position, as a national strategy, enjoys strong political and public support at home.

A recent major survey of opinion in Ireland indicated that 89% of respondents believe that Ireland should remain in the Union, even as our British neighbours and friends leave. Among full-time students, the number in favour rises to 99%. I have never been more proud of Irish students!

As we face into uncertain times, it is important we make clear our strong commitment to enduring Irish and European values – the values of human dignity and freedom, of democracy, of openness, of tolerance, of community, and of solidarity. These values are central to how Ireland acts on the world stage.

Consistent with this, we intend also to maintain our close links with the United Kingdom. We not only have strong historic ties to the UK but also close people-to-people bonds as well as economic relations.

Our bilateral relationship with the United Kingdom has deepened considerably in recent years. The UK is our closest neighbour, our good friend and our essential partner in the Northern Ireland peace process. On many policy issues which arise in an EU context, we and the British have been close allies.

We will continue to develop our ties with the UK, having regard to the future relationship between the UK and an EU, of which Union Ireland will be a committed member.

In the Brexit negotiations between the EU and the UK, Ireland's overall priorities are clear: protect the gains of the peace process; no economic border; retention of the Common Travel Area & reciprocal rights; the closest possible trading relationship with UK; and to work for the future shape and success of our European Union.

We enjoy strong relationships both in the EU and with the UK, and we intend to nurture and grow both.

The EU is a home that Ireland has helped build. And while the Union faces challenges - particularly in relation to Brexit, migration and also combating terrorism – the Government of Ireland is confident that its members can work as partners to deal with these challenges which must be faced head on.

Now is also a time to be optimistic about Europe. The EU is a marketplace of 500 million people, and its economy is currently growing faster than that of the US. In fact, the Euro Area is now poised for its fastest economic expansion in a decade.

The Taoiseach will meet with his fellow leaders in the European Council on 19 & 20 October to discuss whether there has been 'sufficient progress' in Phase I of the Brexit negotiations to trigger a start to Phase II which will bear inter alia upon the essential 'future trading relationship' between the EU and the UK and any possible transition measures.

We in Ireland have been working very closely with Michel Barnier and his team, our team, to ensure that Ireland's positions continue to be fully reflected in the negotiations.

It is important to understand that this is going to be a complex process. The outcome is far from determined in advance. One thing is sure, however: a lack of agreement, resulting in a disorderly UK withdrawal, would be damaging for all stakeholders, especially the UK itself but also to some extent for the Union including not least Ireland.

Ladies & Gentleman,

We are not under any illusions about the complexity of Brexit. Brexit brings many challenges. But at the same time important opportunities will flow to Ireland.

Post-Brexit, Ireland will be the sole mother–tongue English-speaking, common law country in the European Union.

Ireland offers certainty in important respects to our partners worldwide, including in the Gulf region.

We will be at the heart of a Single Market – that will number residually, some 440 million people - with unfettered access across this vast market for companies based in Ireland.

Ireland, with certainty, will also be in the EU Customs Union and the Eurozone single currency area:

Ireland, with certainty, will continue to enjoy full, EU-wide "passporting" for financial products created in, or marketed from Ireland. Ireland, of course, is already the fifth largest financial centre in the European Union – behind London, Frankfurt, Paris and Luxemburg;

Ireland, with certainty, will be the sole EU English-language country to continue to have full access to the vast EU support programme for Scientific Research, HORIZON 2020;

Ireland, with certainty, will be the sole EU English-language country to continue to have full access also to major EU support for Higher Education.

Ireland has a highly educated, technologically literate and adapted workforce. We have a strongly pro-enterprise domestic policy and regulatory environment; as well as a transparent and competitive tax regime.

We can be confident that our economy is resilient and that appropriate fiscal policies are now in place.

Ireland is determined to meet the challenges that lie ahead in the Brexit negotiations between the Union and the UK. We have prepared well. We are engaged in an unprecedented level of political, diplomatic and business dialogue to protect and advance our interests.

Ireland will succeed by deepening, not weakening, its global outreach.

And needless to say, our engagement with the Gulf is at the heart of this endeavour.

There will no doubt be some challenging days ahead; but with resilience, ingenuity, and sheer determination to succeed there is good reason to be optimistic.

Ireland's best days are surely yet to come.

Ladies and gentlemen,

You may have seen the statement made recently by the Taoiseach, Mr. Leo Varadkar, T.D. to the effect that the Government would double Ireland's overseas footprint by the year 2025.

This is of course very good news. It covers our diplomatic network under the direction of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade – as well as the various State Agencies, our colleagues in Team Ireland.

I am confident that there is a sufficient priority attached in Ireland to the Gulf region to ensure that Ireland's official footprint in this region, including not least the UAE, will be strengthened in the upcoming expansion.

Finally, standing here before you this morning I am reminded of the words of the great Arab explorer Ibn Battuta:

"travelling leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller".

Having just arrived in the UAE this morning from serving as Ireland's Ambassador to China, I am firmly in listening mode - if perhaps not quite speechless.

I look forward to learning from the insights which you have gained through your experience of living, working and prospering in the UAE.

Let us work together to deliver for Ireland, her people and your businesses;

and let us bring the already close partnership between Ireland and the Emirates to a still higher level in the years ahead.

Buíouchas. Thank you. Shukran.