Speech by Minister Charlie Flanagan at the Global Irish Civic Forum
Dublin Castle, 4th June, 2015
Minister Deenihan, Distinguished guests:
I am delighted to welcome you here this morning to the second day of our inaugural Global Irish Civic Forum. I was very pleased to hear about the successful and productive sessions that took place yesterday and I am sure that you all very much enjoyed visiting President Higgins last evening at the Áras.
This morning, we move to a new theme – what we can do to assist emigrants who wish to return home to seek employment opportunities in a growing economy.
I have just returned from a successful Enterprise Ireland Trade Mission to South Africa which brought home to me in a very tangible way the positive news that the CSO and other agencies have been reporting on the health of our economy. The Trade Mission was comprised of 34 companies from all over the country; these companies represented diverse sectors but were primarily concentrated in the areas of technology, telecommunications, aviation, engineering, energy and financial services. The vibrancy and ambition of these companies and their successful meetings in South Africa, a priority market for Irish exports, was quite inspiring.
Key to our engagements were, of course, the successful Irish Diaspora and the Irish business network whose entrepreneurial zeal and Irish charm can open all sorts of doors for new business. In the Autumn, we will again convene the Global Irish Economic Forum to continue the work of previous fora in the unfolding story of Ireland’s recovery.
As you are all aware, this Government put jobs at the heart of its programme when we were elected to office in 2011. Taking a whole of government approach, our annual Action Plans for Jobs have helped to deliver over 100,000 jobs since 2012, reducing unemployment from over 15% to under 10%. The Taoiseach has set a goal of 40,000 additional jobs this year and full unemployment by 2018.
During the very dark days of our economic collapse, circa 300,000 people lost their jobs and livelihoods in the three years before this government took office. Ireland became a bankrupt state dependent on international institutions to keep the country going. The top rate of tax hit 52%. Graduates left college facing a very uncertain future.
Those days are now behind us. We have exited the bailout. We are the fastest growing economy in the Eurozone and the EU for the second year in a row. The reforms delivered in recent years have helped transform our economic competitiveness. We have a strengthening economy with a growing SME sector and we are home to an impressive range of multinational companies whose names are recognisable all over the world. Above all, we have a thriving start up sector which accounts for two thirds of all new jobs created. Jobseekers can now look to the future with hope and optimism. There are now new opportunities for Irish emigrants who wish to return home.
The Expert Group on Future Skills Needs advises Government on current and future skills needs. Its website is a useful resource and I encourage people to visit it. ICT and data analytics stand out in particular as an area of very high demand – with employers looking overseas to find suitably skilled staff. This is unsurprising giving Ireland’s enviable position as the home of so many tech companies, international and indigenous. Ireland is putting its mark on the tech world becoming a “must-be” place for those who are serious about innovation and technology.
The growing construction sector provides opportunities for a range of skilled workers. Business and sales associate professionals are in demand as are foreign language skills. These are examples of the in-demand sectors in our growing economy. I am hopeful that emigrants who want to return home will be in a position to avail of the new opportunities that exist.
The Government has always been clear: the huge wave of emigration that occurred when our economy crashed was a source of significant heartache to our entire countries and most of all to the families who said goodbye to sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, friends and neighbours. We want those people to come home – to live, to work, to raise their families, to be part of communities, to be part of Irish society, to enrich our country with their experiences overseas, to be part of the new Ireland where we have vowed that never again will we allow our economy and the livelihoods of our people to be exposed to such risk and vulnerability.
Delegates, this Forum takes place at a positive time. The international coverage of our recent Referendum on marriage equality has shown that news of the transformation of Ireland into a more pluralist, diverse, tolerant and equal state has resonated around the world. There were a few very notable aspects to the referendum – the lack of an urban/rural divide, the broad support that encompassed whole families and, in particular, the incredible engagement of Irish emigrants abroad and the astonishing lengths that many went to to come home to have their voice heard. To me, this signified that many of those emigrants want to come home to Ireland and I hope that the positive result on referendum day will encourage them to do so.
The panel discussion that follows will talk about the practical aspects of that transition process.
Before concluding, I want to pay tribute to all of you for your work in assisting emigrants. I have met some of you in the UK, the USA, Canada and South Africa and I have been inspired by your passion for your work and your commitment to Irish emigrants which is demonstrated in so many different ways whether it’s providing companionship to the elderly, teaching children our Gaelic traditions in sport, dance or music or offering mentorship in business.
The work that you all do and the people that you represent are vitally important to the Government we are pleased to support many of your organisations through the Emigrant Support Programme and also through our Embassies and Consulates around the world.
Your work extends the reach of our network and ensures that Irish people around the world can make the best possible lives for themselves in their new homes.
While everybody seems to be Irish around St Patrick’s Day, it is your quiet, year-round commitment to Ireland and Irish people that is the real celebration of our shared heritage. It is something which each and every one of you should be very proud of.
I hope that you will find today’s sessions both interesting and informative – I would like to commend the team in my Department, in particular Emer Rocke, Mary Connery, Yvonne Ellison and the whole team involved, who have put so much work into planning this event. They have devised workshops designed to facilitate the exchange of ideas and best practice. Sometimes whether its Sydney or Southwark, Boston or Buenos Aires the problems, and more importantly the solutions, are the same!
I encourage you to be forthright in your discussion so that we can make this Forum a really worthwhile event. It is important that we identify the challenges faced when returning. The more information that we have about the challenges the better our response to these can be. Your views and comments here will be fed into the Interdepartmental Group chaired by Minister Deenihan and we will endeavour to address as many of these as possible so that the transition home is as smooth as it can be.
We want our people home and I look forward to welcoming them back.
Thank you for your attention.
Enjoy the rest of the day.
Go raibh míle maith agaibh go léir.