Ireland: at peace and open for business?

On his travels Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, as one of our California based readers put it, has gone to where the money is – San Jose, home to many of the US’s weathiest Venture Capitalists and one of Dublin’s several sibling cities. There he clearly laid out the Republic’s current pitch for inward investment: education, innovation and taxation. But he starts with a pitch on the Northern Ireland peace. Not process, just peace:

The story of Ireland has never been brighter. Most importantly of all, we are a country at peace. Last year, the IRA announced the ending of its armed campaign and the decommissioning of its weapons. These were long-awaited but truly historic developments. The will of the Irish people, who had always opposed violence and sought a peaceful accommodation with everyone on our island, had finally triumphed.

Then, he cuts to the bare bones of his pitch:

Education has always been highly valued in Ireland. We have invested particularly heavily in education since the 1960s and we continue to do so as a priority today. Education now accounts for a significant portion of all Government spending. As a result, the number of full-time students in third level education has increased by almost 80% over the past decade and Ireland has the highest rate of third-level qualifications amongst people under 35 in Europe.

Despite our recent economic success, we know that we must maintain competitiveness. That is why we have placed innovation at the heart of our economic development strategy. This aims to make a quantum leap forward in the area of R&D and to turn Ireland into an acknowledged leader in this critical area. Our goal is for Ireland to be recognised as the ‘land of saints, scholars … and scientists’.

Our relationship with the US, and with the San Jose/Silicon Valley area in particular, will be vital to the achievement of this goal. We are actively encouraging international research collaboration as a means of strengthening our research base. We are also seeking to bring a greater international dimension to our educational system. We aim to focus particularly on research and development in biotechnology and information and communications technologies.

We also understand the importance of taxation for international business. We have one of the lowest corporation tax rates in the world, as well as low taxation of labour. This is a cornerstone of our success and it will continue.

In looking at the relationship that we are celebrating here tonight, we must remember that, in common with all good relationships, it is not all one way.

Foreign investment laid the groundwork for developing the modern Irish economy. But today the main thrust of Ireland’s economic, industrial and export growth comes from indigenous Irish enterprise. In fact, the emergence of an enterprise culture in Ireland demonstrates that one of the most significant spin-off benefits of overseas investment is its role in stimulating Irish entrepreneurs at home.

And these entrepreneurs have global ambitions.

In the San Jose area, this is demonstrated by the fact that Enterprise Ireland has been present in the Valley since 2000 and now supports 32 Irish companies located in the Bay Area. There are some 300 offices of Irish companies in 35 of the 50 US states. Employment by Irish companies in the US now stands in excess of 55,000. I had the pleasure this evening of supporting four Irish companies who made announcements about their significant progress in this market. I congratulate them and wish them every success in the future.

Northern Ireland was part of the package:

Peace and prosperity are two sides of the same coin. We are now working together in Ireland, North and South, to build a more prosperous future for everyone on the island. We are increasingly approaching economic development in terms of one all-island economy. Most people now accept that by pooling resources, we can enhance our competitiveness.

We have one overriding aim and that is to consolidate and assure peace and prosperity for everyone on the island. Over the remainder of this year, we will be working in close partnership with Prime Minister Blair to sort out the remaining challenges of the peace process and to set Northern Ireland on course for the future. As in the past, the US will be a key and valued partner in this process.

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