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Speech by Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Micheál Martin TD, at the IBEC-CBI Joint Business Council Plenary Meeting

Dublin Castle, Wednesday, 3rd October, 2007

Ladies and Gentlemen, I am very glad to be here with you this evening at a plenary meeting of the IBEC-CBI Joint Business Council. My thanks to the CEO of the Joint Business Council, Mr. William Poole, for inviting me here today and also to the Chairman of this evening’s meeting, Mr. Maurice Healy, President of IBEC. I would especially like to welcome to Dublin the European Commissioner for Regional Policy, Mrs Danuta Hubner, who is chairing the European Commission Task Force on Northern Ireland and Mr. Ian Paisley Jnr., from the Northern Ireland Executive.

Business Community support for All-Island Economy

We are privileged to experience the momentous events of the last six months which have seen the restoration of the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive. The Irish Government, in co-operation with the Northern Ireland Executive, is committed to exploring and pursuing practical North/South economic initiatives that deliver real benefit to the business community and citizens on the island of Ireland. The support from the business community is very important to our collective efforts in enhancing the competitiveness of the all-island economy.

The IBEC-CBI Joint Business Council has been an excellent model of North/South business co-operation since its establishment in 1991. Your Council, as a high-level all-island business network, plays a pivotal role in representing business in relation to North/South policies, programmes and initiatives. The Joint Business Council is also facilitating increased North/South business flows and continues to promote greater mutual understanding.

I would like to outline this evening some of the current initiatives which are being undertaken to promote North/South trade and business development. Prior to that, however, I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the positive role being played by the European Union in supporting North/South co-operation and reconciliation.

Contribution from the European Union

The European Union will provide ¤225m (in current prices) towards the PEACE III programme in the 2007-2013 period, ¤65.7m of which is earmarked for the Border region. Member States will supplement this with an additional ¤108m of Exchequer funding, bringing the total programme budget to ¤333m. The focus of PEACE III is on promoting social and economic stability in Northern Ireland and the six bordering counties by supporting actions to promote cohesion between communities.

The European Union have also provided ¤192m (in current prices) towards the Territorial Cooperation programme in the 2007 -2013 period. Member States will supplement this with an additional ¤64m of Exchequer funding, bringing the total programme budget to ¤256m. The Territorial Cooperation programme is the successor to the INTERREG programme and will support initiatives ranging from enterprise development to the protection of the natural environment.

The Special EU Programmes Body is the managing and certifying authority for both of these EU programmes. I am aware that IBEC and CBI have provided active support for these programmes and also PEACE II and INTERREG IIIA.

Before concluding on the contribution of the European Union, I must acknowledge the tremendous personal interest of President Jose Manuel Barroso in the affairs of Northern Ireland, as evidenced by his decision last May to establish the Task Force on Northern Ireland. I am aware also of the drive given to the Task Force by its Chair, Commissioner Hubner and her high-level team. I look forward very much to hearing from the Commissioner on the progress being made by the Task Force.

North/South Ministerial Council

As many of you will be aware the North/South Ministerial Council held a plenary meeting on the 17 July, at which it took decisions on a range of issues within the Council’s work programme. We now have the opportunity to progress a range of significant issues that will lead to a more dynamic and prosperous economy across the island of Ireland, including the regions.

My Department and its agencies are aware of the critical importance that the Irish Government attaches to progressing mutually beneficial North/South projects. Earlier this month I joined Minister Dodds in Derry to attend the opening of the North-West Business Complex, which forms part of the North-West Business and Technology Zone. This joint initiative between IDA Ireland and Invest Northern Ireland is receiving substantial funding from INTERREG IIIA to develop a world-class environment for technology -oriented enterprises in Letterkenny and Derry.


InterTradeIreland, which is co-sponsored by my Department and the Department of Enterprise Trade and Investment, has initiated a broad range of projects to address areas such as technology transfer, collaborative research and development, sales and marketing, and business capability improvement. In the past three years InterTradeIreland has created and supported more than 20 thriving all-island networks, all built on the principle of generating value through collaboration, and all delivering value. Earlier this year the first All-Island Business Networks Forum highlighted the economic benefits of collaboration that companies derived from participating in network projects, which would not have been achieved on an individual company basis.

InterTradeIreland has been at the forefront of developing innovative resources in response to the opportunities of the modern knowledge economy, such as the ExpertiseIreland research portal, which involves a partnership with the nine universities on the island of Ireland and the higher education sector.

InterTradeIreland is continuing to develop new collaborative projects through its involvement in initiatives such as the pilot EU Framework Programme 7 Support Initiative, in partnership with Enterprise Ireland and Invest Northern Ireland. It will also publish a report on Mapping Research and Technological Development Centres on the island of Ireland, which is due to be launched within the next few weeks.

InterTradeIreland sees working with your Council as assisting it in reaching the widest possible business audience in promoting both existing programmes and also in the definition of new policy recommendations and initiatives. One current initiative – the Freight Transport Study 2020 - demonstrates the value of the relationship between the two organisations. This study sees InterTradeIreland and the Joint Business Council collaborating to provide policy makers and industry stakeholders with an understanding of the status of the freight industry, to provide a greater appreciation of the role of the sector in supporting economic growth and industrial development. In particular the study will set out the opportunities, constraints and key issues for the freight industry on the island of Ireland.

Comprehensive Study on the All-Island Economy

A wide range of approaches is needed to succeed in the new competitive environment, from the ability to innovate to developing management capability. The Comprehensive Study on the All-Island Economy, which was published last year, makes clear that to be competitive globally we must exploit the opportunities of all-island collaboration.

The National Development Plan 2007-2013 sets out to give real meaning to the approach outlined in the ‘Comprehensive Study on the All-Island Economy’. The Irish Government has set out in the National Development Plan a detailed and specific agenda for progressing such co-operation.

The Comprehensive Study identifies collaborative actions where they are cost effective and deliver all-island benefits to address the competitive challenges facing both parts of the island and the economic problems that persist as a result of the border. Many of the Study’s recommendations have been implemented or are in the course of implementation but this evening I wish to highlight three specific areas, Labour Market Skills, Research and Innovation and Trade and Investment Promotion.

Labour Market Skills

A skilled workforce is essential to our future prosperity. That is why I am committed to adopting with Minister Empey, an all-island approach to labour market forecasting. I have asked the Expert Group on Future Skills Needs in the South to liaise with their counterparts in the North, the Northern Ireland Skills Expert Group, to examine the possibility of implementing an all-island approach to labour market skills forecasting.

I am aware that both Expert Groups intend to produce an all-island statement on future skills demand and to organise an all-island skills conference in 2008. I believe that an all-island skills conference will give both North and South a unique opportunity to share our experiences and explore practical actions that will bring positive benefits to both our economies in the area of labour market skills. I understand that work is progressing well on both these initiatives and that a meeting will take place on 12th October between both Expert Groups to discuss the organisation of the all-island skills conference.

EU Framework Programme for Research

The Comprehensive Study, as well as the Irish Government’s Strategy for Science, Technology and Innovation (2006-2013), identifies EU Framework Programme 7 as an area where cross-border collaboration makes eminent sense. FP7, with a budget of ¤50.5 billion, provides a valuable opportunity for Irish industry, third level institutions and research organisations to win funding that will enable them to participate with other organisations in Europe and elsewhere in cutting - edge research and to develop and intensify research and business networks.

An all-island approach by the relevant agencies to promote FP7 and support the participation of companies and research organisations will provide significant competitive advantage for the island of Ireland.

I am very pleased to draw your attention to a further initiative in North-South cooperation in research. Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) proposes forthwith to invite applications from existing SFI award holders for supplementary funding for collaborative projects with scientists in Higher Education Institutions in Northern Ireland. Such collaborative projects should be directly related to existing SFI programmes. This means that the potential gain from collaborative research can be realised on existing programmes, and indeed enhance these, rather than waiting for a new round of programmes.

Trade and Investment Promotion

The proposals in the Comprehensive Study to enhance co-operation in the areas of trade and investment promotion are currently being implemented and include the opening up of trade missions, whether sponsored by Enterprise Ireland or Invest Northern Ireland, to companies across the island. The services of the overseas offices of Enterprise Ireland and Invest Northern Ireland are being made available to companies from across the island. Furthermore, enhanced collaboration between IDA Ireland and Invest Northern Ireland is being taken forward with an initial focus on collaboration around the business-operating environment so as to enhance the attractiveness of the island for Foreign Direct Investment.

Enterprise Ireland and Invest Northern Ireland will continue to deepen their relationship with the objective of sharing best practice, increasing the complementarity of their respective services and supports to client companies.

To date in 2007 there have been three trade missions undertaken which have included a number of Northern Ireland companies. These included a Trade Mission to the Gulf States led by the Taoiseach in January. This was followed in March by the President’s Trade Dinner in Belgium. In May a Plastics Industy mission to China took place.

The island of Ireland can look forward to strengthening its trading links as a result of fortcoming missions to countries such as Egypt, Russia and Canada and the Presidential visit to New Zealand. It is also worth noting that Enterprise Ireland has received a number of requests to assist Northern Ireland companies in Japan, France, Russia, Libya, Poland and Spain.

No doubt many of you will have read the article by Dr. Alan Gillespie, Chairman of the Ulster Bank Group carried in today’s Irish Times.

In the article, Dr. Gillespie has put forward 5 recommendations on how to deliver the future of the Northern Ireland economy.

I don’t intend to analyse Dr. Gillespie’s article but I do welcome it as a significant contribution to pinpointing the challenges facing both parts of the island. No doubt, as representatives of the business community, North and South, you can identify readily with these challenges. I think that it is worth noting that the recommendations identified by Dr. Gillespie reflect many of the proposals outlined in the Comprehensive Study on the All-Island Economy to which I have already referred.

Single Electricity Market

I would like to conclude my address to you this evening by speaking about two other initiatives, which although they do not fall within my Department’s remit, are crucial to our future success and are of particular interest to your Council, namely energy and transport infrastructure.

The creation of a Single Wholesale Electricity Market is set in the context of long-standing co-operation between the two jurisdictions, North and South, on common energy issues. Both administrations have a shared interest in more competitive energy markets, reduced energy costs and improved reliability of supply.

The recently enacted Single Electricity Market legislation is a key element among a suite of measures which will allow the Government to continue to drive forward its progressive energy agenda.

The establishment of the Single Electricity Market will bring a range of benefits to the island as a whole. It will facilitate improved competition and investment opportunities by expanding the market and will introduce more transparent and equitable trading arrangements. This co-ordinated approach is also set in the context of the European Union’s single market for electricity and gas. Our long-term energy future lies not as two distinct energy markets isolated from the rest of Europe but rather as part of a regional energy market in conjunction with Britain and possibly with other close European neighbours.

Transport Infrastructure

The area of transport and travel is critical to economic development. On the 14th of September a meeting of the North/South Ministerial Council in the Transport Sector discussed opportunities for cross-border co-operation in relation to Strategic Transport Planning and Road Safety. My colleague Noel Dempsey, Minister for Transport, represented the Irish Government while Conor Murphy, Minister for Regional Development and Arlene Foster, Minister for the Environment, were present from the Northern Ireland Executive.

Projects discussed included the necessary steps to progress the A5 and A8 projects, which will provide dual carriageway standard on routes within Northern Ireland serving the North West Gateway and Belfast/Larne. In the case of the A5, the road links Derry, Letterkenny, Lifford, Strabane and Omagh to the border at Aughnacloy and on to Monaghan while the A8 links Belfast and Larne.

The Irish Government’s contribution of ¤580 million is being made available to fund both of these projects. This will be the largest and most important cross-border investment project ever undertaken on the island. Such investment will help to address major infrastructural deficits on the island of Ireland and in particular in the North-West. The Council agreed to the formation of a management structure for the A5 project and the early appointment of consultants to enable a route corridor study of the A5 project to commence. Of course the M1 motorway from Dublin shows us the economic and social benefits of all-island infrastructure for the 21st century.

Discussions are also taking place between Iarnród Éireann and Translink on the preparation of plans for the further development of the major cross-border rail link between Dublin and Belfast. These discussions include consideration of options for the short and medium-term, including limited stop services, hourly frequency, removal of speed restrictions and new rolling stock.

Finally, from an aviation perspective, the Irish Government is assisting in funding for City of Derry Airport, as it also serves as a gateway to the entire North-West region.

Many of these initiatives have been on the top of the agenda of the Joint Business Council and are, as I have outlined, becoming a reality. I welcome your continued support in developing further all-island economic co-operation. I commend your work to date and I look forward to seeing even closer economic ties between Ireland and Northern Ireland and I have no doubt that the IBEC-CBI Joint Business Council will be at the forefront of that work. Thank you.


Last modified: 03/10/2007

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