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Remarks by Minister McEntee at Franco-Irish Chamber of Commerce Patrons' Lunch

Franco-Irish Chamber of Commerce Patrons' Lunch

Remarks by Helen McEntee TD, Minister of State for European Affairs
Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Merci, cher Ambassadeur, pour votre accueil chaleureux et votre généreuse hospitalité.

Il y a presque un an maintenant, j'étais à Paris pour prendre la parole lors des Ireland France Business Awards. Je garde un excellent souvenir de cet événement qui a permis de souligner la profondeur, la puissance et la vitalité des échanges commerciaux entre les deux pays.

Thank you, Ambassador, for the warm welcome and generous hospitality.

It is just about a year now since I was in Paris to speak at the Ireland France Business Awards.  It was a memorable occasion and an eye-opener in terms of demonstrating the depth, strength and vitality of the commercial exchanges between both countries.

I will return to the business relationship in a moment but allow me to begin with some words on the political rapport we share.

On Sunday, the Taoiseach was in Paris standing with President Macron and numerous world leaders at a moving ceremony to remember all those who lost their lives in war across Europe one hundred years ago.

Every town and village in France has its war monument.

When I think of that war I think of the poet, Francis Ledwidge, who was born in my home town of Slane, County Meath.

Ledwidge fought in Gallipoli, in Serbia and in France before he was killed in Ypres in Belgium. 

Seamus Heaney called him "our dead enigma" "walking in a mist of melancholy."

Instead of peace in 1919, we got two more wars: a war of independence and then a civil war.

In January we will celebrate the centenary of the creation of the Department of Foreign Affairs.  It will reflect on the first hundred years of Irish diplomacy.  The survival of the foreign service is an achievement in itself, not least because of the setbacks it suffered from the very beginning.

While other countries were taking their place amongst the nations, the Irish delegation could get no hearing from the parties at the peace talks, drafting the Treaty of Versailles.

You can appreciate, therefore, in the current context the importance we attach to ensuring that commitments entered into are fully honoured and why the solidarity shown to us by France and our EU partners is appreciated here so much.

Yesterday, the Tánaiste and I met Michel Barnier in Brussels.

Apart from the Ambassador here, I doubt if here is a Frenchman who knows and understands Ireland better than Michel Barnier.

We’re at a critical stage in the negotiations and our focus remains on work by both negotiating teams to complete the withdrawal deal.  Ireland and the EU have been clear since the beginning of this process that the outcome we are seeking from the negotiations must include the protection of the Good Friday Agreement and the avoidance of a hard border on the island of Ireland.   The situation in Northern Ireland is unique and requires a unique solution.
We cannot allow uncertainty about the border, and its impact on the peace process, to persist beyond the UK’s withdrawal. Therefore, while our preference is for solutions to be found as part of the overall EU-UK relationship, it remains essential that a backstop is agreed which provides certainty that a hard border will be avoided in any circumstances. EU solidarity and support, including of course from France, has been unwavering.

Francis Ledwidge was an unusual war poet in that he rarely wrote about the war.  One exception is a short, perhaps prophetic poem he wrote, shortly before he was killed, called "In France" and in it he wrote:

"And now I’m drinking wine in France
The helpless child of circumstance.
Tomorrow will be loud with war
How will I be accounted for?"

Sadly, we know exactly how this "helpless child of circumstance" was accounted for.

While all of us would love to be "drinking wine in France", no one wants to be a "helpless child of circumstance."

Whether you are in business or in politics, you need a plan.

Ireland’s Brexit preparedness has been underway since before the UK referendum, and is now well advanced with extensive work taking place across Government. We are taking the necessary actions to prepare for Brexit, including sanctioning the recruitment of 1,000 additional staff for our ports and airports.
A key focus of our preparatory work has been engaging with fellow EU Member States, including France, who face similar challenges to Ireland.  Irish officials met with their French colleagues for a detailed engagement on preparedness last week in Paris.  France and Ireland continue to work together on the Celtic Interconnector which, post Brexit, will offer our only direct electricity connection to another EU Member State.

French ports are used daily by Irish exporters to get their goods to Europe including through the UK landbridge, and we have had very constructive engagements with our French counterparts about how this will operate post Brexit. While Brexit presents many challenges to us all, our strong maritime links with France will offer a secure route for Irish companies to get their goods to the European market.

Initiatives like these are vital in terms of mitigating the impact of Brexit.  But they also remind policy-makers like me of the need to work harder together to create a business climate that is conducive to the trade and investment upon which we thrive.

Today, thanks to Europe, Ireland and France share a common currency.

France is Ireland's fourth largest trading partner.

France is also our fourth largest source of inward investment.

It is our fourth largest source of incoming visitors - over half a million French tourists visit us each year.

The trading relationship supports 20,000 jobs and is worth about €15 billion.

There are over 60 French companies in Ireland and they employ over 60,000 people here.

Allow me to congratulate two of the companies: Sodexo, which has won the prize for the best French company in Ireland, and JCDecaux which has won the special award this year for impact on climate change.

I should also congratulate Ding, which has been named this year by Network Irlande and the France Ireland Chamber of Commerce as the best Irish company in France.

We are proud that Ding, a company headquartered in Dublin, has become the number one mobile top-up platform in the world.  Ding delivers a top-up every second via 500 operators in 140 countries around the world.

In many respects, companies like Ding demonstrate how the Irish economy has evolved since we joined the European Union 45 years ago.

Ours is an export economy.  Just over half of our exports are exports in services and just over half of our labour force is working in the services sector.

We owe a great deal to the development of Europe's Single Market.  But the Single Market is still far from complete.  According to think-tanks, it is 80% complete for trade in goods but only 40% complete for trade in services.  Recently, the Dutch Prime Minister told the European Parliament that if the sunless market for goods, the single market for services and the Digital Single Market were completed, it would add €1 trillion to Europe's GDP.

Yesterday I was in Brussels with Nathalie Loiseau and my other European counterparts where we were meeting to prepare the European Summit in December, which will be attended by the Taoiseach, President Macron and others.

The Single Market will be on the Summit agenda.  Ahead of the summit, Ireland will publish a report on the economic benefits of liberalisation in the provision of cross-border services.  The study has been prepared by Copenhagen Economics and commissioned by Ireland, together with the Czech Republic, Denmark and Finland.  We hope it will contribute to the discussion at the Summit and bring a new momentum to efforts to complete the Single Market.

Trade in goods and services between Ireland and France is now worth over €25 billion per annum.

So we are convinced that initiatives that help eliminate barriers in the Single Market will make it much easier for companies like Ding and the respective memberships of Network Irlande and the France Ireland Chamber of Commerce to do business in Ireland and France.

In the meantime, I can assure you that the French and Irish Governments are keen to work more closely together across a range of sectors - political, cultural and economic - to make sure the Franco-Irish relationship is strengthened and customised in the service of our respective peoples.

Last month the Tanaiste was in Paris to meet his French counterpart, Jean-Yves Le Drian, and to launch a comprehensive review of the bilateral relationship between France and Ireland. 

The centenary we are marking this month reminds us how much we share in historical terms.  That will be with us always but it is incumbent on us to make sure the relationship is modernised and rendered fit-for-purpose.

With that in mind, the Tanaiste has asked our Ambassador in Paris, Patricia O'Brien, to report back to him by April with recommendations on how to update the relationship across all sectors, including the business relationship.

I know we have the enthusiastic support of Ambassador Crouzat in this endeavour and I hope that the outcome will be one which will enrich the relationship and put it on a new footing which will allow it to prosper.

I am also confident that good things will also flow from our admission last month as an Observer to the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie. I was immensely proud to speak on behalf of Ireland at the Francophonie summit in Yerevan and we were extremely grateful to France for the support it gave us during the accession process.

We are keen to bring our own distinct contribution to the organisation and its values.  When you take our accession to the Francophonie together with new the campaign launched in September by the Minister for Education and Skills to encourage the learning of foreign languages in schools, it is clear we are on the cusp of a new horizon and a much better understanding here of France and the French-speaking world.

Let me finish, Ambassador, by thanking you again for your hospitality and for the energy and imagination you bring to your work here.  Let me also finish by commending the France Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Network Ireland for the advice and encouragement you give to the many companies who want to know how best they can do business in each country.  But finally, thanks are due to you, Les Patrons.  Business relationships like the one we enjoy between France and Ireland depend on your support and your commitment.  To you, therefore, we owe you "un grand merci."  Merci!

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