deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness - Keynote address on Economy to the Chamber of Commerce, New York Stock Exchange
Speaking at the New York Stock Exchange, at Adelaide House this Morning deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness MP said:
Thank you for the invitation to address you today.
The last four years have seen a step change in politics in the north. We have just completed the first, full term of an inclusive power-sharing executive, a first in the history of this state.
We have faced challenges within and outside of the political process. We have met those challenges and have maintained working institutions.
There remains a strong unity of purpose at the heart of government to build on the achievements of the Executive and Assembly, to strengthen our relationships and to build on our agreements.
In the next term we face the need to deliver for all our people in the face of significant economic challenges.
These challenges are global, national and regional. They are interlinked and impact on all in our community.
Globally, while there has been some growth it is patchy. We are at continual risk of rising inflation due to increased food and energy costs and potential interest rate rises.
Nationally we have the ongoing fallout from the banking crisis in the South. Two of our four big banks are owned by the Irish Government. We could see in excess of £6 billion worth of assets in the North being part of NAMA.
Border regions, in particular, are subject to economic instability as a result of having two economies on such a small island. At different times businesses on either the north or south of the border have benefited or gone bust due to fluctuating and changing economic circumstances. As you all know, business does not like instability and this is not a sustainable long term economic policy for border areas or the island as a whole.
In the north we have the imposition of the Tory led fiscal policy on our economy.
The policies being pursued reflect economic considerations in Britain. Our economy does not register in their economic thinking. There is no support for their harsh economic agenda here and yet they seek to impose it on us.
They have set aside commitments given at St. Andrews. These commitments recognised that the north required specific support as a result of decades of conflict and the legacy of under-investment by successive British governments. The position of the current British government is completely unacceptable.
The application of Tory policies based on harsh spending cuts will present huge difficulties for our economy. We are not in growth and are heavily dependent on public money.
However, I am a believer in fixing problems. The size of the economic challenge we face is huge but we must not lie down under. The political process demonstrates that progress is always possible. At the beginning of this term many commentators said that an Executive led by Sinn Féin and the DUP would not last. I knew then that they would be proven wrong.
The scale of political change achieved over the past number of years provides lessons for how we approach our economic difficulties.
The first is to believe that change is possible, to believe that we can achieve economic prosperity for the benefit of all our people.
Central to delivering change is the process of challenging long established beliefs and working practices. To place the greater good above the accepted status quo. We need to be fully cognisant of the current economic threats and opportunities.
We need the innovative thinking, the hard decision making, the dialogue that marked the process of political change. This is not just an issue for policy makers but all levels of our community and business sector.
We need to look at the current economic reality and identify our competitive advantage. One of the economic successes of the past term has been the high level of quality Foreign Direct Investment that we have attracted.
The NY Stock Exchange is a prime example. They recognised the potential and the expertise of a local company and invested. We have a highly skilled and motivated workforce. We have access to wider European markets and we are a bridge between the US and Europe. Due to Project Kelvin we now have quicker communication and technology links to the east and west coasts of America than they have with each other. And the New York Stock Exchange liked the environment. This same process has been repeated by other US companies such as Citi and Allstate.
We have world leaders in innovative fields such as First Derivatives in Newry. We have a growing creative industries sector including film and music making, software and gaming. This sector alone employs 36,000 people.
Our agri-foods sector is the largest exporter and is a recognised brand throughout the world. We are gaining the reputation as a good place in which to invest and grow your business.
So we have competitive advantage. We now need a strategy to exploit that and build an economy that delivers for all.
We need a new export strategy to deliver jobs and growth. We have the skills, we have the people, we now need to realise our potential.
We need an all Ireland economic recovery plan that prioritises job creation.
Sinn Féin believes that our economic destiny should be in the hands of locally accountable Minsters. The key is to have the powers to impact on our economy and the flexibility to shape our economic conditions.
We need responsibility for economic matters devolved to ministers who understand the local economy and are accountable to the people in this room and the wider community.
This will allow us to develop a regional response to global and national economic changes.
Our economic needs do not register with policy makers in London. The biggest impact on our economy is the situation in the South. Our economies are interconnected and interdependent. This is not a political aspiration but a statement of economic fact.
We believe that greater cooperation across Ireland will deliver more for all our people than the existing competition between our regions.
Given that economic reality Sinn Féin is calling for a frank, open and objective discussion to develop an all Ireland plan to promote jobs, economic growth, innovation and exports. This should threaten no one’s identity and benefit us all.
Sinn Féin is the only party that has consistently advocated transferring tax varying and borrowing powers to stimulate growth and deliver social justice. We have continually called for and will support the harmonisation of Corporation Tax across the island to promote such growth.
We need to grow the economy in such a way that it promotes social justice and delivers for all. The economy should serve the needs of all the people, not the other way around.
Investment in Innovation, Research and Development
The key area for growth will be the development of innovation and research and development. This will require investment and capital. This is an issue for banks, third level educations and business alike. Investment by business is critical in this respect. In 2008 businesses in the north invested £160 million in R&D; in the same year businesses in the south invested £1.6 billion. Ten times the amount here. Business here needs to grow beyond the local and reach into the all Ireland, British and global market place. This is a challenge to business leaders. As political leaders we are determined to facilitate that .
There is scope to access European support for R&D and sharing the cost through greater access to existing European programmes and shaping the incoming programmes. Key to this are the Framework programmes. The previous target for local access to this programme was to draw down £60 million, the target for the South in the same period was £600 million. I raised that matter directly with Maire Geoghan Quinn and she and the European Commission pledged to promote greater access to the programme.
We also need to maximise access to other European Programmes such as JEREMIE, JESSICA and the new €500 million PROGRESS microfinance fund.
Sinn Féin is committed to working in the Executive, the Commission, with our MEPs and partners in Dublin to increase the take up of European support.
We have been impressing on the banks the need for them to play a positive role and support finance to business. Sinn Féin has proposed the establishment of a £400 million Sustainable Economic Development Bond with a contribution of £25 million annually from each local bank annually.
Sinn Féin will also work with the Irish government to ensure that the changes in banking in the south recognise and reflect the situation in the North.
The credit Union movement have indicated that they are interested in working to establish a £100 million Social Fund to target indigenous business and deliver social change. Sinn Féin supports this initiative.
Alongside this we are proposing to establish an Investment Fund at the Executive to focus on SMEs, social enterprise, new technologies and tourism and export led manufacturing.
These are just some of the interventions we are proposing to increase investment in innovation and research and development.
We need to fully realise the potential of FDI, not only in terms of increasing direct employment but in building supply chains and encouraging local companies to identify and respond to the needs of inward investors. We need FDI to put down deep roots in the local economy. There is no conflict between seeking to develop local business and encouraging FDI. It is not an either or situation.
There is enormous interest and good will towards Ireland North and South. This won’t last forever and we need to seize the initiative and tap into it. We need to replace competition on the island with cooperation to market and promote business. A small island economy of just over 6 million people does not need a multiplicity of enterprise organisations such as Invest NI, IDA and Enterprise Ireland which ultimately compete within the same investment pool. The best use of resources and networking of business can be achieved through co-operation and joined up working across Ireland
A Functioning and Efficient Labour Market
While we seek to grow business and promote our industries on an international market we must also ensure that we have a functioning and efficient labour market.
As we target new industries and high quality jobs we need to ensure that we have the skilled labour. In the north, we have two world class universities which are part of networks here and across Europe.
Sinn Féin supports greater co-operation between universities and business to ensure that the skills required are available. We are opposed to student fees and the proposed increase, as it will reduce the diversity of students and impact hardest on those less well off. We will oppose the increase in student fees when it comes before the executive.
Sinn Féin also believes that developing innovation and R&D requires specialised centres of excellence on an all Ireland basis. This will deliver savings as we realise economies of scale and deliver the diversity of skills required.
Economic growth requires a functioning local labour market. I recently met with representatives of the chamber who highlighted a number of businesses that were struggling to find suitably qualified staff. Yet we have large pockets of unemployed.
We need to dismantle the barriers to employment that exclude sections of our community. We need to enable all of our people to compete in a equal way for employment. We established the Social Investment Fund with the aim of increasing employment in areas of deprivation.
Sinn Féin supports intervention in the labour market to bridge the gap between the needs of employers and the unemployed as a means of growing our economic and promoting equality.
We face considerable economic challenges and opportunities in the time ahead. Everyone in our society is entitled to prosper economically. We need an economy that delivers that shared prosperity for all.
The political agreements that we have reached define a dynamic approach to relations within the north and across the island that deliver for all without changing our identities or core beliefs. The political agreements have made us stronger.
We now need to build economic agreements that allow for the same dynamic and flexible approach. We need to approach this issue in an imaginative and pragmatic way and look fully and objectively at the benefits of greater co-operation on the island. We need to look beyond the immediate and into the future.
Over the past four years I have been centrally involved in the process of working with investors. We have delivered significant investment including where we are today. I fully understand the needs of business, the needs of the community and the opportunities that exist. We now need to fully realise these opportunities and to be open to new ways of working
For our part Sinn Féin has led on political progress. We will bring the same approach, the same energy and the same innovative thinking to developing an economy that delivers for all our people