Speech by Minister O´Malley – EIRE Conference

Ladies and Gentlemen, at the outset, I would like to express my sincere thanks to Jeff Gallaghue for his kind invitation to be with you this evening. I do not intend to delay you too long as I know you will be anxious to start on the fine meal I have no doubt will be placed before you.

As you know, economies throughout the world are experiencing turbulent times, At such a time, when economies are not performing at their best, it is important to reflect on developments in the recent past, to keep a degree of perspective on current difficulties.

The economic relationship between Ireland and the US has deepened enormously over the past decade or so. From a position where we had a number of US owned companies using Ireland as a manufacturing base to serve European markets, we have moved into a position where Ireland is a hub in two-way transatlantic trade and investment, particularly in the high tech sectors.

Our trade is at levels never seen before – on the basis of both imports and exports the US is now our second largest trading partner. The US accounts for just under one fifth of Irish exports, and a slightly smaller portion of imports. In the late 90’s in particular this proportion grew at a tremendous rate, reflecting the increasing depth of our relations.

Last year, for instance, Irish exports to the US rose to over€16.3 billion, a level never seen before. And so far this year exports to the US have continued to rise, in spite of the problems thrown up by the rise in the value of the Euro, albeit at a much slower pace.

Imports from the US last year amounted to over €8.5 billion, making total trade worth approximately €25 billion.

In fact, Ireland accounts for about 5% of all EU trade with the US, even though our economy accounts for only about 1% of the total EU economy.

For many Irish companies, and especially the growing number of companies in the software sector, the US has become the market of choice. It is their first step onto the global stage. This is an enormous cultural shift from previous generations, who looked first and foremost to the UK.

The growth in our economic relations is due in large part, of course, to the high levels of US investment in Ireland. Over 500 US companies based in Ireland employ over 90,000 people directly. These companies contribute substantial value to the Irish economy.

They account for a large proportion of our exports, for example, and the managerial expertise they brought with them has in many cases been transferred to Irish partners, helping them to grow into the global marketplace, sometimes following their US partners around the globe.

In this context, it is interesting to note that a recent report Ireland ranks as the ninth largest investor in the US, as Irish investment increased exponentially from only $2 billion in 1991 to $18.5 billion in 2001. This ranks Ireland ahead of much larger economies, such as Italy and Spain.

Clearly, the economic relationship between Ireland and the US has matured considerably over the course of the past decade. The explosion in trade is one element of this, and the substantial increase in investment in both directions is another.

We especially value these links, and the increasing maturity and depth of ties between Irish and US companies, on the one had because of the importance of the US market for Irish companies. And on the other, we see ourselves as being in a very good position to work with US companies based in Ireland to access European markets, and markets further afield. We are committed to maintaining this relationship and to building on it so that the improvements, which we have seen over the course of the past decade, can be developed even further.

A major contribution to the Irish economy is the tourism industry. For many years tourism remained the Cinderella story of the Irish economy – full of potential yet unappreciated. Everyone knew it was there, even what attracted people to this island of ours – a rich and rare land with beautiful landscapes and of course the unique welcome and friendliness of the Irish people.

However over the past decade, Irish tourism has risen from the poor relation it once was to being a major economic player. Last year, we had 6 million visitors to our shores generating almost€4billion in foreign earnings. Add to this the fact that tourism now supports up to150,000 jobs in our economy and the importance of a vibrant tourism sector is clear for all to see.

Unfortunately the last number of years have been tough and testing for global tourism. In 2001 the Foot and Mouth outbreak coupled with the events of September 11th ensured that world tourism – including Ireland – faced a difficult period. This year the War on Iraq and the outbreak of SARS has continued this trend. Despite these global setbacks our own tourism industry has risen to the challenge and continued to win good tourism business. It has proven its strength and resilience. Without such strength and resolve the industry would not be where it is today.

However, now is not the time for resting on our laurels. Our tourism policy and product must continue to grow and evolve to meet the challenges of this difficult period. To this end the Minister for Tourism has put in place a major review of Irish tourism policy in order to ensure, as best we can, that we have a policy framework for the State and the industry, which is most appropriate to the times we now live in.

Legislation has recently been enacted to establish a new National Tourism Development Authority as part of our reorganisation of the tourism support infrastructure and this new Authority will work closely with Tourism Ireland to ensure that Ireland is in a good position to capitalise on any opportunities arising this year and into the future.

Although this year is once again a challenging year for tourism there are opportunities and business there to be won. The best research and market intelligence available supports the view that the Irish tourism product continues to be well perceived. In this context Tourism Ireland has stepped up its marketing campaigns in all our key overseas markets, particularly, North America, which continues to be one of our most valued and important markets. The last number of years have been difficult for Irish tourism in the North American market. However, recently there have been some welcome developments. Access to Ireland has improved significantly over the past year with the reinstatement of the Aer Lingus Baltimore service and US Airways’ new service from Philadelphia to Dublin and Shannon, which started two weeks ago. Consumer confidence has also begun to pick up in the US and I have every confidence that Ireland can garner its fair share of American tourists.

I would like to talk to you briefly now about my own area of responsibility, that is health services in Ireland. It’s important for you to understand that public and media interest in health and health services in Ireland is phenomenal. In market research conducted by my Department in 2001, adults participating in the survey were asked initially to name the three issues that they personally felt were of greatest importance to people today.‘Health services’ were mentioned by 37% of adults just ahead of drugs and drug abuse (34%). It has remained high on the public agenda, reflecting ongoing public and political agenda and has had considerable support for the prioritisation of investment.

Over the last number of years, health services in Ireland have benefited from the largest ever sustained increase in funding. In the period between 1997 and 2003, funding for public health services has increased from €3.6 billion in 1997 to just over€9.2 billion. Facilities are being developed and refurbished, more staff have been hired and the number of people benefiting from health services has increased substantially. By investing so heavily in health funding, I believe that the Government moved the debate on health funding from resources alone to both resources and reform.

In 2001, the Government concluded that while much had been achieved, there were clear deficiencies in the system which need to be addressed. In this regard, it was time to re-evaluate the direction of health policy and to identify the priority objectives for the system over the next 7-10 years. The Health Strategy Quality and Fairness: A Health System for You is the Government´s blueprint for the future of health care in Ireland. It deals with

  • policy issues related to improving health status;
  • ensuring greater equity in the system; as well as
  • system issues related to ensuring high quality, responsive services which deliver the maximum value for money.

The Strategy outlines the largest concentrated expansion of services in the history of the Irish health system. It also implies further increases in the level of health funding. In that context, the Government recognised that an integral part of the new Strategy had to be to consider the effectiveness of the current system structure in delivering these new goals and objectives.

The Government will shortly be considering two reports which deal specifically with:

  • ensuring the best “fit” between the new strategic direction and the structure of the existing delivery system; as well as
  • looking at some system processes which influence performance and evaluation of the system as a whole.

It is very likely that these reports will be recommending a wide-ranging programme of system change in order to meet the challenges of the Health Strategy. This is yet another exciting phase of development of the health system in Ireland on the road to a “world-class” health system. I am indeed very pleased to have such an active role in this exciting phase in the development of the health system in Ireland.

As I said at the outset, it is not my wish to delay you. All that remains for me is to formally welcome you to Ireland, that is, to wish you a cead mile failte and to hope that you enjoy the remainder of your evening.

Thank you.