Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Addressing the Dublin Chamber of Commerce

This morning I spoke to a breakfast meeting of Dublin Chamber of Commerce and set out some of the party’s plans for business and the economy and Sinn Fein's vision for Dublin. Below is the text of my remarks to the Chamber. 


A chairde,

Ba mhaith liom fáilte a chur roimh Chomhairle Trádála Bhaile Átha Cliath.

I would like to open my remarks by extending warmest congratulations to the Dublin football team on their marvellous victory in the All-Ireland Final. Comhghairdeas!

Commiserations of course to worthy opponents Kerry.


Dublin is a proud city with a long and illustrious history.

Many key events in the history of the nation happened here. It was site of the Easter Rising, the Centenary of which we will commemorate next year.

Dublin is also internationally renowned for its contribution to literature and has produced many prominent literary figures, including Nobel laureates Yeats, Shaw and Beckett.

Other influential Dublin writers and playwrights include Wilde, Swift, Stoker, Synge, O'Casey, Behan, Maeve Binchy, and Roddy Doyle.

Of course Dublin is arguably best known as the location of the greatest works of James Joyce, including Ulysses, which is set in the city.

Reputedly one of Europe's most youthful cities, with an estimate of 50% of citizens being younger than 25, Dublin is also the centre of the political media and communications activity on the state.

The Dublin region has always been the economic centre of the state and is now home to large numbers of global pharmaceutical, information and communications technology companies, with many having their European headquarters or operational bases in the city.

Dublin's challenges

Like many large, capital cities across the world, Dublin faces particular infrastructural and environmental challenges.

A lack of strategic integrated planning – a multi-agency approach - has been a feature of the city's growth over the decades. This has created many problems for those who live, work and visit Dublin.

The city is choked by traffic gridlock, and a big issue for Dublin businesses is the lack of an integrated public transport system, despite the investments of recent years.

Workers living on one side of the city, or from neighbouring counties (like Louth) must have a car in order to travel to work.

Years of underinvestment in water infrastructure threatens future supplies with serious implications for businesses and householders.

I know that Dublin Chambers is specifically focussed on Dublin’s water supply for the longer term.

Householders and businesses in Dublin face the prospect of water rationing unless the supply crisis is tackled.

Dublin's population is expected to rise from the current 1.5 million, to 2.15 million by 2050. Water demand in Dublin and outlying regions is expected to grow by that time.

The existing water infrastructure - much of it built more than 100 years ago - is not capable of delivering extra capacity.

Sinn Féin is very conscious of this crisis and we understand the need to invest and expand our water services and believe this can and should be done under the control and direction of a democratically accountable body.

Dublin also faces challenges if it is to become an inclusive and equal city. There is much social deprivation, poverty and problems associated with drug addiction and crime.

There is a chronic lack of social housing and recent years have witnessed huge increases of people sleeping rough with some dying as consequence. This cannot continue.

Like many European cities Dublin now faces the challenge of accommodating and integrating people from all parts of the globe in a way which enhances and enriches the city's cultural mix.

All of this points to the urgent need for Government to work more strategically with the 4 local authorities to ensure the capital city’s infrastructure is fit for the 21st century.

This is something Sinn Féin will seek to do if given a mandate.

Mar is eol daoibh tá Sinn Féin glórach i gcoinne téarnamh nach bhfuil measta tríd an Stát.

Economic growth has been focussed almost entirely on the large urban centres.

That said, businesses in the greater Dublin area face unique challenges of their own.

Over 40% of GDP is generated from the capital city and its surrounds.

Sinn Féin believes there are now key infrastructural challenges for the economy and that these challenges are particularly acute in Dublin.

Costs associated with housing, childcare and health affect businesses and citizens alike.

We cannot attract new businesses into the city if their employees face astronomical crèche fees and cannot find a home.

Over the coming months Sinn Féin will publish detailed policies to tackle these challenges for the longer term.

Sinn Féin - a pro-enterprise party

As a republican party, Sinn Féin puts the welfare of citizens – the rights of citizens - first and foremost in all our considerations.

To achieve this and to develop the type of fair, just and prosperous society which Sinn Féin advocates, we need a strong economy.

We believe that such an economy, including a thriving enterprise sector, is essential to sustain decent, accessible public services and to protect vulnerable citizens.

For that reason, Sinn Féin is a pro-enterprise party.

We know that businesses across this state have faced unprecedented challenges over the last seven years.

Those that have survived have had to make tough decisions to keep their doors open.

Despite the trauma of the great recession and the significant problems that remain, new businesses are emerging and some who weathered the storm are expanding.

The Government has been the first to claim credit as the macroeconomic figures have slowly improved. All new job creation has been claimed by Fine Gael and Labour as being a result of Government policies.

Ach tá an fhírinne searbh éagsúil.

Irish businesses are resilient and have understood the need to adapt and reinvent.

Wage bills were cut, investment plans scaled back and operations downsized.

But for many businesses these measures were not enough to secure their future.

Debt overhang continues to hinder re-investment.

The Central Bank says SMEs still face investment difficulties which are limiting growth potential. This has obvious, negative consequences for employment.

The Banks

The Fine Gael/Labour Government has taken little concrete action to address the Irish banking sector's failure to work with businesses.

The most recent Red C/SME Credit Demand Survey points to SMEs re-investing their own funds for working capital purposes rather than applying for bank funding.

Interest rates charged by the banks here remain higher than in other European states.

We need to see banks passing on these low interest rates to business lending.

If the Government cannot achieve this through engagement with the banks that it owns in part or in whole, then the banks need to know that alternative, emergency measures can be taken.

Irish banks need to face up to their responsibilities to the wider economy.

Foreign Direct Investment (FDI)

I would like to take a moment today to debunk a myth regarding Sinn Féin’s view of Foreign Direct Investment.

Tá infheistíocht níos tábhachtaí ná ariamh.

Let me be very clear. Sinn Féin supports and encourages FDI businesses into Ireland.

We understand the value of FDI in a small, open economy.

As the political party with perhaps the best record on international engagement, Sinn Féin experiences first-hand the high regard for Ireland as a place for investment.

We do not see FDI as an either/or choice.

We see it as part and parcel of the island’s enterprise landscape.

In fact we believe we are much more ambitious than the Government for what can be achieved through FDI.

We believe more work needs to be done to increase links between Irish indigenous business and FDI.

In my view these companies are open to exploring how this can be achieved.

Dublin-Belfast economic corridor

There is now widespread support across the political and economic spectrum for an integrated, economic structure for the island of Ireland. 

All those who share the island can only benefit from the creation of a vibrant, dynamic all-Ireland economy.

Every firm operating in an all-Ireland economy would immediately see an increase in its potential home market.

Of course, no-one believes that this would be sufficient to resolve all the economic problems of all regions.

However Dublin, in particular, stands to benefit from further development of the Dublin-Belfast economic corridor.

This has the potential to bring enormous social and economic benefits to both cities and to all areas in between.

Sinn Féin wants to see the removal of barriers to promote intercity travel between Belfast and Dublin by tourists and non-tourists alike.

Crucially we need improved telecommunications services and removal of the virtual barrier caused by connectivity issues at the border.

There should be no “roaming” charges for phone users across the island of Ireland and issues regarding loss of coverage at the border should be urgently addressed. 

Utilising NAMA

Ach cinnte tá fadhbanna eile ann roimh mhuintir Bhaile Átha Cliath.

A shortage of office space is a real problem, particularly in the city centre.

Sinn Féin has called for a renewed emphasis on the use of NAMA development funds here in Ireland.

In the past, NAMA’s development funding has been skewed away from Ireland, which is wrong.

This is despite the fact that the large bulk of NAMA loans are Irish.

This imbalance must be addressed in the time ahead.

NAMA's current funding activities are focused on shortages in the Dublin office and residential sectors.

NAMA initiated a 3-year plan in 2014 for 4,500 new residential properties in the Dublin area and the delivery of key Grade A office, retail and residential space in the Dublin Docklands Strategic Development Zone (SDZ) and wider central business district.

NAMA has indicated that, if required, it could advance a further €3 billion over the remainder of its life to support the delivery of Grade A office space and residential development in Dublin and in key urban centres in which debtor and receiver properties are located.

While this funding is dependent on planning, cost evaluations and demand, we believe it can be used as stimulus for the construction sector at a time when there is a need for both housing and commercial property in Dublin and across the state.

Tax breaks/development levies

There is no single solution to the shortage of office space in Dublin.

Even those economists who advocate for tax breaks accept they have not always worked.

Dublin Chambers has called for a 2-year waiver on development levies to address the shortage of offices, housing and hotel space.

This is a big ask and if pursued needs to be accurately quantified.

If the predicted additional revenues were realised, Dublin’s local authorities would still need to provide for the lost revenue during the waiver period.

There are many lessons to be learned from the macroeconomic mistakes made since 2001.

In that time hard won gains in employment, living standards and infrastructure were squandered.

All mechanisms to address critical infrastructural deficits that hinder growth and employment must be on the table.

But so too must be the cost/benefit checks and balances to ensure history doesn’t repeat itself.  

Public Procurement 

Sinn Féin wants to maximise the value of public procurement which amounts to about €12 billion annually in goods, services and capital projects.

I note that Chambers Ireland has described a continued sense of frustration amongst SMEs at the Government’s focus on the lowest tender price above wider social and economic benefits.

Sinn Féin has argued that public procurement acts as a critical stimulus for the domestic economy.

It is an important driver for recovery both in terms of employment and employment standards across the economy.

Sinn Féin's has set out a number of recommendations to increase the participation in public procurement tendering of SMEs, particularly micro and small businesses.

We also note the new EU Directive on Public Procurement provides SMEs and their representatives with an opportunity to make a increased demand of Government.

Budget 2016

As Budget 2016 approaches, Sinn Féin is in the process of finalising our alternative Budget proposals. This is due to be launched in the next two weeks.

Sinn Féin's budgets are costed in full by the Departments of Finance and Public Expenditure and have withstood public scrutiny by senior economists.

Of course budgets are not just about balancing the books.

They also offer an opportunity for the opposition to set out our alternatives to the Government’s policy agenda.

Sinn Féin's budget submission for 2016 will include measures to support and encourage business and entrepreneurship.

Dublin Chambers has set a very clear policy agenda in relation to Budget 2016.

You have also set out more long term proposals.

These include tripling of investment in Dublin’s infrastructure and a new water supply for the Eastern and Midlands region.

These are ambitious goals and Sinn Féin looks forward to a continued engagement with Chambers on how these can be best addressed.

Dublin Chambers has specific demands regarding taxation.

While our methods may differ we share an objective in making a taxation system that is fair.

We have long called for a more progressive approach to commercial rates and have committed to pursue this matter in government.

As with all taxation measures, new taxation expenditure must be found elsewhere.

That is why the costing element of any taxation or expenditure proposals is so central to budget preparations.

Sinn Féin’s first response to the emerging recession in 2008 was to publish a detailed job retention and creation document.

We have retained a focus on jobs since, through numerous policy papers and our work in the political institutions.

We support the proposition that business is a critical component in the economic and societal landscape.

As a political party we must address all of these components.

As republicans we do so in a manner that is fair to all – businesses and citizens alike.

The massive shortfalls in investment and the failure of political leadership by successive of governments are causing fundamental fissures in our society and economy.
Businesses and citizens alike will pay an extraordinary cost if we do not plan for the medium and long term, particularly in the policy areas of housing, childcare and health.

If you ask our best and brightest why they are still emigrating, they will cite poor pay, lack of career progression opportunities, poor access to housing and childcare costs.

Sinn Féin's understands that we must support enterprise to ensure work pays, businesses can grow and new entrepreneurs can flourish.

This will require investment to address serious infrastructural deficits.

These are just some of the challenges we face in developing a programme that achieves our objective of delivering a fair recovery.

Sinn Féin is ambitious for Ireland, we are proud of our workforce and we understand that we do our business in a fast paced, globalised world.

There are numerous policy areas on which we must enhance our shared discussion.

These include Transport, Dublin’s water supply and how we can boost indigenous e-commerce trade to stem the excessive leakage of sales outside the state.

We won’t always agree on everything.

As a progressive political party Sinn Féin has a duty to consider all sections of society and the economy.

We passionately believe that inequality is bad for society, bad for the economy and bad for business.

We want to deliver the best and fairest result for all.

If I am to impart one key message from today’s event, it is that we in Sinn Féin are pro-business, just as we are pro-citizen and pro-fair play.

Sinn Féin accepts the need to work harder to build our relationship with enterprise and those who represent you.

We won’t be able to do all that you ask of us, but we assure you that our door is always open and we will work with you to deliver the fairest outcome. Go raibh maith agaibh.



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