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Address by the Tánaiste at the Export Industry Awards

Your excellencies, Minister of State for Small Businesses, John Perry TD, Senator White, President of the Irish Exporters Association, Colin Lawlor, CEO of Enterprise Ireland, Julie Sinnamon, Ladies and gentlemen

It is a pleasure to join you this evening at the 2013 Export Industry Awards. These awards provide a unique opportunity to showcase companies that have excelled over the last year. 

Let me begin by congratulating all of those nominated for one of the fourteen awards being awarded here this evening. Each nomination is recognition of your outstanding achievements over the past year.

At the outset I would like to take this opportunity to recognise the work of John Whelan during his many years as CEO of the Irish Exporters Association and to thank him for his constant advocacy on behalf of exporters. I and my Department have enjoyed an excellent relationship with John, particularly in his role as a member of the Export Trade Council and I know that we all look forward to continuing that relationship with Simon and the Irish Exporters Association team.

Irish exports

A strong export performance is vital to the health of our economy and this has been particularly evident in the last few years when exports have been by far the most significant driver of economic growth. Despite the significant international market challenges that you have faced in recent years, total exports in 2012 reaching a historic high of €182 billion – some 16 per cent higher than their pre-crisis levels in 2007. While there has been a drop-off in goods exports this year caused mainly by the “patent cliff”, we are continuing to see strong growth in exports of services, with this year likely to be the first time that services exports exceed those of goods. 

Indigenous Irish companies continue to play a central role with exports from Enterprise Ireland client companies in 2012 up by 6.3% to a record level of €16.2 billion. These companies are responsible for the direct and indirect employment of more than 300,000 people in Ireland.

The role of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

It is clear that our global trade and investment links are responsible for much of our economic momentum. As one of the world’s most open economies we know that we need to look outwards to grasp new economic opportunities and to drive recovery.

The work of my Department is central to your efforts as we work, together with the state agencies, to build on Ireland’s restored reputation, to attract inward investment and tourism and to help Irish companies to expand their export reach.

My Department works to support Irish exporters in three main ways: through the constant support provided to Irish companies by our Embassy network, through the annual programme of trade missions and through the work of the Export Trade Council, which I chair.

Export Trade Council

The Export Trade Council brings together Government Ministers, senior officials, the CEOs of the state agencies and private sector members, including the CEO of the Irish Exporters Association to oversee the implementation of the Government Trade Strategy.

My Department is currently undertaking a short, focused review of the Strategy in close collaboration with other Departments and the state agencies. Its aim is to take a fresh look at the sectors, markets and targets which were identified when the Strategy was drawn up in 2010 to ensure that we continue to direct our resources as wisely as possible, to the markets and sectors that are most likely to yield maximum benefit for our economy. The Export Trade Council discussed the review earlier this month and I look forward to presenting the outcome of the review early next year.

Trade missions

Trade missions have a unique role in assisting Irish companies to meet new clients, solidify existing business relationships and finalise contracts. Enterprise Ireland’s annual programme of overseas Trade missions and events is an important part of the Government Trade Strategy. Six hundred and fifty eight EI client companies took part in the programme last year and EI Ministerial led trade missions, organised with the active support of the Embassy network and my Department secured over €200 million in new and additional contracts for Irish exporters.

Last week was a typically busy week which I think illustrates well the work that we do both in terms of trade missions and the day-to-day work of our Embassy network and Local Market Teams which are chaired by our Ambassadors in priority markets.

Last week, I travelled to London to speak at an Enterprise Ireland event for senior executives from thirty Irish exporters of technology and financial services and their key UK-based clients at our Embassy in London, designed to support Irish software and financial services companies to increase exports to the UK and create jobs in Ireland. The Irish companies attending employ over 2,200 people collectively and have annual sales of almost €150 million to British customers.

At the same time, my colleague Minister of State Joe Costello, was leading an Enterprise Ireland Trade Mission to South Africa and Nigeria and Minister of State Donohoe was in Scotland where he addressed an Irish Funds Industry Association seminar attended by 100 Scottish and international funds managers.

Also last week our Embassy in Washington D.C. and our Consulate in Chicago helped organise a major agri-food trade mission to Washington DC and Chicago led by Minister Coveney and our Embassy in New Delhi worked closely with Enterprise Ireland and the IDA as Minister Bruton began an important Trade Mission to India.

Mission network

Trade missions are only a small part of the day to day work of my Department in support of Irish businesses. Our Embassy network is constantly at work, promoting Ireland as a destination for inward investment and R&D activity, lobbying and negotiating for market access for Irish goods, building Irish business networks, promoting Ireland in the media and to high-level contacts, and making introductions for Irish companies.

Last week, our Embassy network engaged in more than 40 promotional events including:

  • a seminar organised by the Embassy in Madrid on Ireland’s Start-up ecosystem;
  • a networking event organised by our Embassy in Beijing with Chinese tour operators and media for the largest ever Tourism Ireland sales mission to China, involving 22 companies; and
  • a Bord Bia promotional event opened by the Ambassador in Copenhagen, showcasing Irish lamb and beef to guests from the food, hospitality and media sectors;

This is just a small sample of one aspect of the ongoing work of my Department but I think that it illustrates well the valuable contribution of my Department and the Embassy network to our economic recovery. Across our Embassy network, we have a wealth of contacts and local knowledge which we use every single day to promote Ireland. Our job is made easier by the fact that we have a great story to tell; the story of our economic recovery, of our entrepreneurs, of our indigenous companies and of our great exports. You are all part of that story. I know that many of you engage regularly with our Embassies and State Agencies abroad but I’d like to reaffirm, here and now, that our doors are always open to you and we will do our utmost to support you in even the most difficult of circumstances.

To illustrate this point earlier this year I received a report from one of our Embassies – I won’t say where. They had received a call from an Irish company to say that several thousand tonnes of Irish meat were stuck at customs because it had been mislabelled and was due to be rejected and returned to Ireland. When the Embassy contacted the authorities they were told that the meat would only be allowed in if an Embassy official would travel to the cold storage warehouse, 5 hours away, and personally witness the relabeling. Not wishing to have the product returned, with the cost that that would entail to the company concerned, our deputy Ambassador made the trip and spent a full day in cold storage – from 7am until 6 in the evening – supervising the relabeling and she succeeded in getting the shipment through. I don’t want to encourage poor paperwork by exporting companies! But it did strike me as a great example of our economic diplomacy at work even in the most chilling of environments.

EU /IMF programme exit

The success of our economic diplomacy was also evident at the end of last week when the Government announced its decision to exit the EU/IMF programme without further supports.  We have been working towards this objective for the past three years and we will now return to being a normal Eurozone member state, with normal market funding arrangements.

This is an important milestone on the road towards Ireland’s recovery, it sends a positive signal to businesses and investors alike and is testament to the commitment of the Irish people to get the job done.

Market confidence in Ireland is high, the public finances are under control, we are reducing our deficit and debt levels and economic conditions and sentiment are improving.

I am glad to say that this progress has translated into the number that really matters - jobs. The private sector is now creating over 3,000 jobs per month, and the live register has fallen below 400,000 for the first time since 2009. Exporting companies have added over 15,000 jobs since 2011.

This is hardly cause for complacency, but now we can say with confidence that the real economy is headed in the right direction and we are doing everything we can to accelerate it – including through the inclusion of 25 significant pro-business and pro-jobs measures in Budget 2014. We are committed to continuing the pace of reform at home so that Irish businesses can grow and will be well placed to compete and to exploit opportunities in international markets.


I know that the entrepreneurial spirit and openness to the world, exemplified by the awardees this evening mean that we are well placed to take advantage of those opportunities in the years to come.

Let me conclude my wishing all of the nominees the very best of luck this evening and for a prosperous 2014.

Thank you.