Anne O'Leary's 2018 Annual Dinner Speech

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By Chamber Press Office, 12 October 2018

Minister Donohue, Lord Mayor, fellow members of the Council, ladies and gentleman, can I warmly welcome you to the Dublin Chamber Annual Dinner 2018.
 
It is my absolute pleasure to act as the 130th President of what is the largest Chamber in the country, representing the business community of the Greater Dublin Area, with over thirteen hundred members, employing 300,000 people spanning across industry.
 
Dublin Chamber has been a force for change and the voice of businesses for over two centuries now.
 
I would like to thank my fellow Council members for their hard work and personal commitment over the course of the year. It is amazing how time has flown as we look into the closing months of 2018.
 
It is an honour to address you all tonight, to speak to you about Dublin, its role as our capital city, its links with the rest of the country, its challenges, its aspirations and the future of business.
 
AGM COMMITMENTS
Those that had the pleasure of joining us for the Chamber AGM dinner will have heard me make two very specific call outs.
 
Firstly, on diversity. I spoke of the benefits for Irish business in better reflecting the diversity of modern Ireland.
 
To that end, I set you all a challenge… and that was to see more women here tonight to be a truer reflection of Ireland today.
 
I’m delighted to see that so many of you took up my challenge and … from my vantage point I certainly see a lot more women and even some ‘all female tables’, which is fantastic – thank you for joining us.
 
I have also been very fortunate in my role as President to have the pleasure of working with our excellent CEO Mary Rose Burke, who shares my enthusiasm for the business benefits of diversity.
 
In conversations with members it has struck me that there appears to have been a moving of the dial in Irish business and, with it, genuine attempts to create a more equal playing field for all. 
 
We still have a way to go of course, particularly in the representation of women at the top level across business and society. We welcome the focus and progress that has been made by Government in encouraging women onto State Boards.  Female participation is now at 40%.
 
Unfortunately, we haven’t see the same pace of change in the private sector with female representation on the boards of ISEQ20 companies at only 18% compared to the EU 28 average of 26.2%
 
I welcome the government backed initiative ‘Better Balance for Better Business’ which will drive real change in how Irish listed companies approach gender diversity and senior female representation.
 
By ensuring Gender Diversity remains a top priority for business in Ireland, there is nothing to suggest that, as a business community and as a country, we can’t become an international exemplar for the benefits of Diversity overall – be it Gender, LGBT, age, religion, background – a country of inclusiveness and openness, known for its respect for all. 

Now, wouldn’t that be something to work towards…
 
NATIONAL CONVERSATION
My second call out in February, was to recognise that our capital city belongs to the people of Ireland - and not just Dubliners.

Many of you will have been in this room this time last year, when my predecessor Brendan Foster unveiled Vision 2050, a landmark project to spark ambition and act as an inspiring view of all that this city can be.

At around that same time, Dubliners shared with us their vision for the future of the city that encompassed every aspect of a city that makes it liveable, from public transport and cycle lanes to smart city technology.

As President, I wanted to push this conversation further, to understand more about the role our capital city plays in driving success for those outside the city and county boundaries.

And more than that… understand how the ‘city regions’ can help co-create a capital city that serves the whole of the country – not just those that live within a certain radius of it.
 
Through June and July of this year, in what was a first for the Chamber, Mary Rose and I travelled to Limerick, Galway, Cork and Waterford to facilitate interactive sessions with business and community leaders about what they wanted from their capital city.
 
We wanted to explore the themes of healthcare, culture, technology and diversity, asking simple questions like - How can Dublin work better for you, what are your concerns, how can we work better together?
 
There is little doubt that, as cities, we share a number of common aspirations and challenges –
Those that participated want housing that people can afford, short commuting times and a work life balance.
 
They want vibrant city centres, they want innovation, the best higher education system and a student population to drive it.

And, yes – they do want a capital for the whole country, not just for those who live in it, and, with it, strong infrastructural connection between all five of the cities… BECAUSE as much as they love our Capital City they want to be able to get in and out of it, and home, in time for their tea in Cork or Galway!

As you would expect each city also had their own individual priorities.

In Galway we spoke about the interaction with third level institutions in keeping young people in the region.
In Waterford we heard about the importance of technology and the role of high speed broadband as a critical enabler.

Our Limerick participants talked to us about maximising the potential of air links through Shannon.
And in Cork… (a very shy and retiring group as you’d expect!) there was a focus on the role of amenities and public spaces in creating a dynamic, vibrant city.

But the real common denominator across all locations??- - the palpable appetite for true collaboration between city regions and Dublin…

The conversations we had around the country were characterised by potential and possibilities, with co-opetition, not competition, the underlying theme of each and every conversation.

How can each of the city regions complement each others growth?
 
Is there a role for each city to develop specialist industries?
 
How can each city embrace smart technology to encourage greater interactivity between the regions?
 
How can we support international connection through our ports and airports?
 
How can we develop transport infrastructure to better connect our cities?
 
How, by working together, can we encourage more balanced development from east to west, north to south?
 
I think Mary Rose will join me in saying the national conversations were as uplifting as they were insightful. 
The symbiotic relationship between Dublin and the other city regions was clear for all to see. The individuals in attendance felt a sense of ownership of Dublin as their capital city, and understand that when Dublin thrives our regions prosper.
 
When our capital city works for business it powers our national economy. 
 
On behalf of the Chamber I want to thank the host companies and the local Chambers (many of whom are represented here this evening) for their support in helping make the National Conversation a reality. I will leave it to Mary Rose to share our plans for the future.

Our roots run deep
The Suir, Anna Liffey,
Shannon, Corrib and the Lee
We plant trees today
So that tomorrow we might sit in the shade
 
Inspirational words from ‘spoken word artist’ Lewis Kenny about the connections that bind us all
the lifeblood of our cities and our responsibilities to future generations.

Now while we have the Minister in the room, can I just remind him of the important priorities for Dublin and our city regions to survive and thrive.
 
For our cities to better serve their regions and to rise to the needs and expectations of a growing population, we, of course, need Government to deliver on the promises and targets set by the National Planning Framework in relation to housing, planning and transport.
 
Housing is, of course, the most pressing issue. From the business community to the most vulnerable in society, it impacts us all.
 
We need more affordable homes within the core of the city, more development of rental and high density living - enabling people to find somewhere to live within a short commute of work. 
 
WATER
Access to clean, safe and efficient water supply remains a most important, yet overlooked, issue that desperately needs to be tackled.
 
But there is a solution. Irish Water have approved a plan that is now before the Oireachtas. This would be the first new source of water for the region in 60 years, an expanding population and growing economy will rely on its successful and timely delivery.
 
 
INNOVATION
Of course, as the CEO of a company that pushes for innovation and all things digital, I am always eager to encourage others to embrace new technology.
 
Dublin has come a very long way when it comes to Smart City technology.  We need ambitious plans for the future of the city. Not five years or 10 years down the line, but 50 years from now.
 
A great example of this is MetroLink - Dublin Chamber is supporting the project and is confident it will deliver for Dublin. 
 
BUDGET
Our budget recommendations focused on our ambitions for Dublin as a capital city out to 2050.  

We place great stock in the Minister’s proposal to strengthen our ability to withstand economic shocks through the establishment of a Rainy Day Fund.

We must never again return to the stop-start approach to capital spending that often seems to exaggerate the boom-bust cycle of the economy.
 
SME/ENTERPRISE
On the enterprise side of the equation, we are very supportive of the Budget changes to KEEP and the upcoming changes in the Finance Bill.

In February I asked for 20% rate of Capital Gains Tax on all investment in unquoted companies – to match that of the UK.

We must do more if we are to foster the next round of home-grown success stories that will make Dublin and Ireland globally renowned for its economic vitality.
 
BUSINESS & BREXIT
In the face of Brexit uncertainty, it is critical that we maximise Ireland’s full economic potential. Recruitment and retention of staff is going to be an increasing challenge for all the organisations represented here this this evening.
 
The good news is there is a huge cohort of untapped talent and experience for us to utilise. Women. 
 
Irish childcare costs remain amongst the highest in the 36 OECD countries and while we are heartened to see further support for working parents in this week’s budget but we need much more support for families to solve the childcare conundrum.
 
This won’t be solved by subsidies alone. We need employers, like ourselves, to offer more flexible working conditions to both parents but we also need to harness existing infrastructure to provide more pre-school and after school support and activities.
 
Most school buildings across the country lie empty from 3pm onwards every day - where better to create accessible, affordable, safe, friendly environments that allow our children to flourish and take pressure off parents and in particular women.
 
‘Business Citizenship’
Before I sign off for the evening I have one more challenge to set you… Something else that’s very close to my heart.
 
In travelling the country for the National Conversation I was struck by the genuinely participative attitude displayed by those that took part. While the majority were business people, the broad range of interests, knowledge and expertise on show extended far beyond that.
 
As business people we have so much to offer society. The Chamber does phenomenal work in connecting, serving and representing business.
 
I know many of you give your time beyond your own businesses, exemplified by my fellow Chamber Council members.
 
But as individuals, I ask you to ask yourself – could you do more to shape the future of Dublin?  The future of Ireland?
 
My message to you is to get out. Get involved. Move beyond your traditional circles, your comfort zone and spread your influence, your skills as a business person, to wider society. Join boards, advisory groups, involve yourself in your local community, contribute to charitable causes, make your voice heard in local politics.
 
The expertise in this room can shape the future.
 
The time is right to bring that influence to bear on the future direction of our great city and country.
 
In closing…, can I thank you again for giving me the opportunity to represent this great organisation, for trusting me with the responsibility of being a voice for Dublin.

I may be wearing rebel red this evening but I’m now a true blue.

Hopefully, in starting the National Conversation we have created a platform for new relationships that will help all our cities reach their full potential, and elevate Dublin to a position where it is recognised as one of the world’s great capital cities.

Thank you for listening…