Speech by An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at Chamber AGM Dinner

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By Chamber Press Office, 08 February 2019

Speech by An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar T.D.,
Dublin Chamber of Commerce AGM Dinner,
7 February 2019

Minister, Ambassadors, my fellow party leaders, dear friends, good evening.  

In this speech, Niall has reminded of what was said at your annual dinner 46 years ago.  There, one of my forebears, Liam Cosgrave, spoke about the challenges facing Dublin – and Ireland – as a new member of the EEC.  

It’s a speech I am familiar with because so much of it could be said of today. Cosgrave’s theme, he said, was ‘the growth of our economy and prosperity for all our people’.  Discussing difficult negotiations ahead, he said that achieving the best result for Ireland was, quote, ‘not merely a matter of emotion, or of wishing for what was best for this country alone’.  It was about securing something that was essential for every country in Europe.

Today we face different challenges but the vision is the same. The growth of our economy and prosperity for all our people.  Safeguarding the best interests of Ireland and of Europe in difficult negotiations.

President, throughout the history of this Chamber, Taoisigh have come here to speak about the future of Dublin and the economic direction of our country.  

It’s a recognition that you and your companies are the heartbeat of Dublin’s economy.  For Dublin to succeed, we need you to succeed.

And for Ireland to succeed, we need Dublin to succeed.

Only the very short sighted would see the development of different parts of our country as a zero-sum game.  Balanced regional development across Ireland is good for Dublin too.  It means less traffic congestion and lower housing costs. It means less pressure on business costs and on our infrastructure.

Dublin is our capital city and Dublin competes for Ireland on an international stage.  What’s lost to Dublin is more often than not lost to Ireland and we need to understand that in our policymaking and we do.

Urbanisation is a feature of the modern world and research carried out by the United Nations has shown that cities are the drivers of social, cultural, economic, technological and political progress.  

So a vibrant, prosperous Dublin helps advance our national economic development.

President, usually on these occasions a Taoiseach delivers a set speech, highlighting achievements over the past twelve months, as well as identifying challenges.

In your speech, you identified some policy issues requiring attention. You asked questions about where we go from here and whether we have the ambition to do what is needed. So, this is also an opportunity for me to provide some answers.  

To provide assurance that we share the same vision about how we can ensure that Dublin continues to thrive.  That we can face the challenges head on and we build a better Dublin.

Tonight is also an opportunity to congratulate Anne O’Leary for her outstanding work as President of the Chamber over the last year.  And, to wish you, Niall the very best in the year ahead.

It was a pleasure to work with you years ago as Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport. It’s been a privilege to work with you in the other roles I have worked in since and I look forward to a renewed partnership in the year ahead.

President, Dublin is doing well. In the past few weeks, I announced an additional 1,500 jobs for Salesforce at their new tower in the Docklands. Facebook and Amazon each recently announced a further 1,000 jobs for the city.

These are significant investments and they give real credibility to our ambition to make Ireland the tech capital of Europe, with Dublin at its heart.

More than 750 cutting edge multinational companies are located here in Dublin, and we have an ever rising number of innovative home grown companies.

So, our ambition now is to get ideas and people flowing, strengthening and deepening Dublin’s offering as a technology hub.
Central to this vision is our position as one of the most globalised and open economies in the world.

From being an inward looking place at the edge of Europe, Ireland has become a multicultural and globalised country, a melting pot of nationalities, proud to engage with the world.

We want Dublin to compete with other capital cities as a place where people want to live, work, study and visit.

All the available evidence shows that size is no longer as significant as it once was in determining the importance of a capital city.  What matters today is influence.

Just as 46 years ago, economic growth needs to be balanced and sustainable.  Each depends on the success of the other, and this synergy is at the heart of Project Ireland 2040, our national development plan and spatial strategy.

Project Ireland 2040 now being implemented, provides for massive increases in investment in our public infrastructure – housing, transport, broadband, education and healthcare.

An investment of €116 billion over ten years to:
1. Remove bottlenecks,
2. Modernise public services,
3. Reduce congestion,
4. Ensure economic development is brought to all parts of our country and
5. Provide capacity for future growth.

This year alone, capital spending will increase by 25% or €1.5bn.  That’s new hospitals, new schools, new roads, energy projects and telecommunications, as well as sparking a cultural infrastructure from the National Sports Campus to the new Abbey Theatre.

In seven days’ time I will be in Dublin airport to turn the sod on the North Runway, future proofing the airport for decades of growth to come. A project that has been talked about for decades - now under construction.  

To increase capacity at Dublin Port and future-proof its growth, we are investing €230 million in the Alexander Basin Redevelopment Project, boosting its capacity for trade, cruise ships and integrating it more with the rest of the city.

President, the shovels are in the ground.  The future is being built all around us.
So I agree that we need new transport infrastructure to take our city to the next level. To reduce congestion and tackle climate change.  

For Dublin, this also means improved transport links through Bus Connects, MetroLink, the DART expansion, the Royal Canal Quay and investment in cycling infrastructure.

I am happy to make the commitment that President Gibbons called for in his speech.  An underground metro and line connection to Dublin airport will happen. It won’t be easy and there will be obstacles and objections. But just like Luas Cross City – I will see it through.

The €116 billion investment also means improved health services right across the city from new hospitals to primary care centres. At present, there are 3 new hospitals under construction in Dublin including the new NRH in Dún Laoghaire and the new Mental Health Hospital in Portrane. A fourth, the new NMH is due to go to tender this year. It’s the biggest investment in our health service infrastructure in a generation.

President, I know taxpayers are annoyed at the over-run in the cost of the National Children’s Hospital. I share that.  It’s taxpayers money – your money – and it should be spent well.  We are investigating the source of the problem and we will get answers.  But we will not allow this problem to derail this or other projects.

The idea of a new National Children’s Hospital was first suggested in 1980. It had been promised by several governments. This government will see it done. It will transform paediatric healthcare in Ireland and will benefit not only your children but their grandchildren too.

Project Ireland 2040 also means funding for our education institutions, including exciting projects planned for Trinity College Dublin, UCD, DCU, and, of course, our new Technological University launched in January which is a really exciting development for Dublin across campuses in Grangegorman, Blanchardstown and Tallaght.

President, the story of our economic success cannot be told solely in statistics.  It is told in stories.  It is the story of how we worked together as a country to rescue our economy and save our society and sovereignty.

Our philosophy in Government is to reward hard work and enterprise.

Today we are close to full employment. We want to protect this progress while enhancing the quality of life of all our citizens.

So a cornerstone of our economic policy is prudent management of the public finances and reducing our national debt.  Establishing a Rainy Day Fund.

Last October when framing a budget, all the opposition parties demanded that we spend more. Those on the left, that we do so through increased debt and borrowing. I am glad we did not take their advice, had we done so we would not now have the capacity to borrow to prepare for Brexit nor to counteract a downturn in our economy if it comes.

So, we ran a Budget surplus for the first time since 2007.  We plan to do so again in 2019 provided Brexit does not blow us off course.  

We want to continue to raise living standards in a sustainable way for all our citizens through better pay, lower income taxes, subsidised childcare, cheaper access to healthcare and medicines, access to a pension plan for all the private sector workers through auto-enrollment and more family friendly working conditions.

You’ll know that I have proposed an income tax reform to raise the threshold at which people pay the highest rate of income tax to €50k for single people and €100k for couples.

President, Brexit is not our policy, but nonetheless we have to deal with it.  Our objective is to maintain as close a trading relationship as possible with Britain, no tariffs, no red tape, no customs and of course to avoid the reintroduction of a hard border on the island of Ireland and to protect the rights and freedoms of EU citizens North and South of the border.

We are also determined to protect the integrity of the EU Single Market, something which Ireland relies on so much.

While working to achieve the best solution, we are preparing ourselves for the worst.

We have alerted the European Commission that we will seek emergency aid in the event of a no-deal Brexit.  The purpose of this aid would be to help mitigate the impact on Irish trade.  For agrifood, the CMO regulation provides for exceptional aid mechanisms to be introduced in order to manage serious market disturbances.

It was used to support the Baltic States when the Russian market was closed to them.  It can be used for us too. We already have approval for rescue and restructuring aid for businesses hit by Brexit and there will be restructuring and reorientation loans also.

The Government’s Brexit Bill focuses on the immediate steps needed to protect our citizens, the economy, enterprise and jobs, particularly in crucial sectors. We have already signed agreements with the UK to retain the CTA.

At a time of uncertainty in Britain and other parts of Europe. We are certain about our future as a country.

President, Brexit is the great political challenge of our time, and we have to hold true to our position and we have to hold our nerve. I think the words of the poet Maya Angelou apply perfectly to Brexit. While hoping for the best, we must be ‘prepared for the worst, and unsurprised by anything in between’.  

I cannot offer you the reassurance provided by certainty, but I can reassure you that until things are certain we will keep fighting for all of you and for Ireland.

President, in a volatile and ever-changing world of employment we need to be able to provide long-term stability.  Part of our response is Future Jobs Ireland, our new enterprise and economic plan, to be launched in the Spring.

In the next decades; AI, robotics and automated vehicles will change our world as much as the internet and mobile phone did in the recent past. We need to be ready to benefit from the new jobs and new wealth that will be created.

We recognise that SMEs in particular will need assistance to increase their capacity to invest in Research, Development & Innovation.

In December, I announced the first tranche of funding under the €500m Disruptive Technologies Innovation Fund with 27 innovative projects sharing over €75 million.

This fund is the first of its type in the world.  It is different as it encourages collaboration between SMEs, multinationals and academic institutions.  SME participation is required in every consortium.  Of the 27 successful projects to date, 18 have an enterprise partner located in Dublin.

I encourage you all to take an interest in these new programmes.

President, we all know that the housing shortage is a major problem at present. I believe everyone has the right to shelter and everyone should be able to aspire to owning their own home.  I know that this is a huge issue for you in attracting and retaining talent.  I know it’s also impacting on wage demands as the cost of rent and home purchase rises.

As Dublin grows, ensuring an adequate supply of high quality, affordable housing is critical to its long-term success.

We are making progress – lifting thousands of families out of homelessness, rebuilding the housing construction sector, and reforming the rental sector by limiting rent increases and enhancing tenants’ rights.

And while more progress needs to be made, we are now seeing increased supply which is imperative if we are to solve our housing and homelessness problems.

The CSO statistics out today show that 21,450 new homes have become available to live in, in 2018 up 18% from last year.  Of these 18,072 are new dwellings – up 25% - and just over 7,250 were in Dublin.  

This is encouraging considering that in 2012 overall housing output was at less than 9,000. We need to increase it to 25,000 this year and more again next.

There is more to do, but we are on the right track.   I want to thank the representatives here from the construction industry, architectural firms, financial institutions, and others working to solve this problem.  We need you to rise to this challenge also.

President, I suspect the research you are commissioning will show that Ireland is increasingly seen as a progressive and inclusive country with an informed and active citizenry.  We want to encourage this engagement with Government.  We saw how successful the Citizens Assembly was in instigating respectful, informed and constructive debate on the Eighth Amendment.

We will now use the same model to consider the issues involved in the creation of a directly elected Mayor for Dublin with executive powers. A representative and leader for Dublin.

Given that Dublin has four councils, this will take careful consideration by a Dublin Citizens’ Assembly which will be convened this year.  We need to choose the right model if we are to get it right.

President, we should be proud of the transformation that has taken place in Dublin in recent times. Dublin is a great city.

We have retained all that makes this city great:  its friendliness, its character, its history and its people.  And now we have added diversity, innovation and renewed creativity.

Eleanor Roosevelt said that ‘The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.’  I believe the future belongs to those who have the courage to shape it.  

The future of Dublin depends on us working together to shape our dreams into reality, to bring Dublin forward together.

Thank you.