2017 President James O'Connor Speech

  • Release Date: 02/03/2017
US ChargĂ© d’Affaires Reece Smyth, Board and Members of the Chamber, Ladies and Gentlemen.
It is my great pleasure to welcome you all as the President of the American Chamber of Commerce Ireland.
I am honoured to take up the baton in 2017. 

I want to thank our outgoing President, Mr. Bob Savage, of Dell EMC, who worked so tirelessly on our behalf last year.

And I also want to thank our Vice President, Mr. Barry O’Sullivan, of Johnson & Johnson, who has already been a great support to me personally. 

I’d also like to take opportunity to pay tribute to Louise Phelan, whose Board term comes to an end today – Louise was our Chamber President in 2014. 

On behalf of the chamber I want to thank you Louise for your outstanding contributions as President and Board member.

2017 will be a year of challenge and opportunity for the very deep US-Ireland relationship.  

A new US administration and the departure of the UK from the EU are to the forefront of all of our minds. 

Already I have had very constructive engagement with our key stakeholders and with our chamber members on the potential implications of Brexit and President Trump’s administration on the US-Ireland partnership.  
And these two significant developments will remain at the front and centre of our work in the year ahead.

Today, I will talk to you some more about these developments and some of the other challenges that we face.
But I am also going to talk about opportunity, strength, and two-way nature of the Ireland-US business relationship.

I want to speak about our Chamber’s vision for the advancement of that relationship.  I also want to highlight the things we are doing well.

The things which continue to deliver significant benefits for our member companies. And I want to talk about what I plan to make the key focus areas for my presidency – things that will help ensure Ireland stays on top of its game in the global battle for FDI.

President Trump’s Administration is signalling some fundamental changes to how the US currently trades with the world.

The full implications of the changes are not yet clear.  But what is clear is that Ireland needs to be sharp, innovative, proactive and swift in how it responds. 

I want to assure you that our Chamber Board will maintain a laser-like focus on the implications of these changes as they emerge. 

We will continue to strongly promote the two-way nature of the US-Ireland relationship.
Let there be no doubt – investing in Ireland has been good for US business. And it has been a good for the United States of America. 

Not only have Irish companies created almost as many jobs in the US as US companies have created here, but we constantly hear the US leaders of our member companies state that their Irish operations are centrally important to their global growth and innovation strategies.

And this is not just talk – the supportive statements are borne out through actions - consistent re-investment and job creation in Ireland and the elevation of executives from Irish based teams to EMEA and global roles – located either here or in other parts of the world.

I have touched on this already, but another major factor contributing to the uncertain outlook is Brexit.
While we don’t know the final shape of that exit yet, we do know that it will bring both challenges and opportunities for Ireland.

The Chamber is ready to assist the Government, the IDA and Enterprise Ireland wherever we can. Helping to make the strong case for further investment opportunities in, and from Ireland.  Apart from the obvious opportunities presented by the businesses that will be seeking a new EU base.

I believe there are other opportunities Ireland can challenge for - for example - in extending our bio-pharma cluster and developing Ireland as the centre of excellence in the data & digital economy.
We know that Brexit is a top priority for the Irish Government.

We have and will continue to strongly represent our members’ views to the Taoiseach and members of Cabinet. We have been reassured by the importance the Irish Government is placing on this defining issue for Ireland.

We will maintain this intensive engagement as clarity on these important developments emerge from the US and the UK during 2017. 

Ladies and gentlemen, I am not the first President of the American Chamber to speak passionately about the deep economic bonds shared between our two countries.

For over 55 years, this organisation has worked hard to grow and deepen the US-Ireland business relationship.  Our vision is very consistent and clear; that Ireland retains its position as the global location of choice for US investment. 

Ireland has been transformed by US investment, and US investment has been transformed in Ireland. Over 700 companies now operate global businesses from here employing over 150,000 people. A further 100,000 jobs have been created in Irish businesses.  The collective US investment now stands at $343 billion.
And that investment has been good for the United States too. Over 200 Irish companies have created jobs in over 2,600 locations across all 50 States in the US. They are generating over $90bn in US sales annually.
The products and services created in Ireland by our member companies are enhancing lives all around the world every single day.

Just a couple of examples to reinforce this point – In the medical field alone,

one quarter of all diabetes patients on the planet rely on products made in Ireland.

One third of all contact lenses are made here. 

Our Chamber represents companies large and small. It represents people from all walks of life in Ireland, as well as those who have joined us from overseas to make Ireland their home.  

Our member companies have also contributed to a more inclusive and progressive Ireland. Creating and maintaining a talented and well educated workforce means being able to rely on each other.

It means having strong core values including acceptance, openness and inclusiveness.
It means being able to progress on merit  regardless of background or colour, where you are from
or who you choose to love.

The faces of the world of talent represented by the American Chamber members tell their own story; talented people who take pride in Ireland, because basing themselves here has allowed them to pursue their full potential in their lives and careers.

We also care passionately about our communities. It is a huge tribute to the companies represented here today that every year your employees donate over 600,000 volunteer hours to over 7,000 community projects across Ireland.

Through the diverse range of social, cultural, educational and environmental programmes that have become central to our members in Ireland, and indeed in many cases have been used as the framework of choice for the development of CSR programmes in our businesses around the world.
Our members’ track record of delivery is very impressive. But what got us to this point won’t be sufficient to sustain our success. We now need to compete more intensely than ever before to retain our position at the top of the global league table for inward investment.

In our discussions with Government, we are highlighting the factors that are important if Ireland is to remain a great place to live and work and attract investment.

During the term of my presidency – there are six key areas of focus that we plan to prioritise:
  • An education system that equips boys and girls equally to avail of the opportunities that flow from digital transformation in a multi-lingual global community
  • Enhanced physical and digital infrastructure – including the physical infrastructure deficit in the north-west and the capacity issues in our cities
  • A personal tax regime that rewards productivity
  • Sufficient choice of quality rented residential accommodation to meet the needs of a changing population
  • Sufficient choice of schools and pathways to education and training attainment
  • And finally – but critically – the need for extensive broadband access across Ireland
Let me talk to you a little bit more about the importance I place on education - We know that education is the key to unlocking our country’s economic potential.  We support the Government’s ambitious Action Plan for Education - it is vital that Ireland continues to produce the talented, flexible graduates that are needed to fill the high skilled roles available across our member companies and in the broader growing economy.

Ireland must do everything possible to ensure the key STEM subjects get the right level of attention at Primary, Secondary and Third Level so that we retain our competitive edge.

We must promote a learning experience that encourages teamwork, communication skills, creativity & innovation and problem solving. We must also remove all barriers – or perception challenges  - which are preventing girls from pursuing STEM subjects at second and third level. 

Our member companies are also putting more emphasis on lifelong learning. We are showing global leadership by empowering our people to learn and develop their careers for the future. As a Chamber, we are supporting lifelong learning programmes in our member companies, and emphasising to Government the need to instil this thinking into the broader education system.

Another priority that I touched on is our digital and physical infrastructure. Ireland needs to increase our capacity in residential and commercial accommodation for those who want to come to work and live here. The Chamber fully supports measures to boost supply and overcome the infrastructure deficit in our cities and regions. We will engage fully with the Government’s recently published National Planning Framework and the Mid Term Capital Investment Review.

Another priority is the personal tax regime – an issue that has been raised with me personally by many of our members  Ireland needs to address our globally uncompetitive rates of personal taxation – otherwise we will lose out to other territories. 

We need to ensure that the productivity of our people is rewarded and that individuals are incentivised to move to, and stay, in Ireland. There is wide acknowledgment that the marginal rate of tax is too high in Ireland and that it kicks in too early.  This is an area on which we will continue to advocate for change. 
We are familiar with the challenges – but we also have many opportunities in the years ahead. None more so than through digital transformation – another priority area for me.

We believe Ireland has an incredible opportunity to be an EU and even a Global centre of excellence in all things data and digital. Every sector and every organisation now has data and digitisation at the heart of its strategy. We are so fortunate to have the world’s leading companies in every sector, including data, present in Ireland – employing thousands of innovative people.

The potential for data / digital collaboration between multi-national and indigenous companies and sectors is truly limitless. The Chamber will work closely with members to foster the right relationships for the benefit of all.

Ireland’s in a very unique position; we’re at the very centre of the EU-US relationship. AND also with Brexit we will be the only English-speaking member of the EU; perfectly positioned in the global time-zone spectrum; with a diverse multinational workforce. These factors combined present us with a game-changing set of opportunities.

A potential Perfect Storm – we can carve our future while others worry about the uncertain outlook. We can leverage our strengths and our relationships, our talent and our access to strengthen Ireland’s position as the home of choice for US foreign direct investment.

Opportunities are there for public-private sector collaboration but also for multinational and indigenous business collaboration in every region of Ireland.

I’ve had constructive discussions recently with the leadership of Enterprise Ireland and IDA about how the Chamber can play our part in readying Ireland to take advantage of the opportunities on the horizon.  I’m delighted that both organisations are represented here today by their chairmen and CEO’s
We are not planning to stand still. And we are not building our defences. We are looking to the future and are being ambitious.

We won’t wait for opportunities to come to us, we will create our own future – investing in R&D, in our businesses and in our talented people. 

Ladies and gentlemen, when I look around the room today and see the extent of the US companies represented, from data to pharma to medtech, from companies who have been here for many decades to the ‘born in the Cloud’ generation who have arrived more recently.

I am proud of Ireland’s outstanding business relationship with the United States.
I am also reminded that US investment creates opportunity for every kind of talent in Ireland from the skilled electricians working on our state-of-the art facilities to the data scientists working in them.

I remain confident and ambitious about our member companies and our people. Only two months into my Presidency, I have seen and learned so much with the most powerful experience to date being the inaugural Future Leaders Hackathon at the DCU Ryan Academy last month. 

Over 80 talented people from 60 of our member companies took part in the Hackathon.
Their challenge was to come up with innovative solutions that would enhance Ireland’s reputation as a great place to work and live.

They worked in 10 teams, day and night, from Thursday through to Saturday. The ambition, vision, innovation, the digital know-how and the teamwork they displayed filled me with great pride and confidence in what our country is capable of – provided we continue to back ourselves and our future leaders. I would like to congratulate the overall winners LiveWorkPlayIreland who are with us today.

Thank you all for your support – both today and since I commenced the role as President. I know I can count on all our members to back our Chamber priorities as we continue to show the world how the amazing WorldofTalent in Ireland makes it a great place to do business.

As the new chamber President I look forward to representing all of you strongly over the coming year - listening to you and ensuring that your voice – ideas and issues – are clearly heard. That your contributions are recognised, and your constructive solutions to the challenges and opportunities are incorporated into our plans and programmes.
I look forward to working with you in the year ahead.

A year when the uncertainties surrounding Brexit and the new US administration will be ever present but will not deter us from our priorities.

I remain confident that if we focus on our six key areas –
  • An education system to let us take advantage of digital transformation;
  • Enhanced physical and digital infrastructurAn improved personal tax regime
  • Quality rental accommodation
  • Choice of schools and pathways to education
  • Improving broadband access.

I will remain focused on delivering against these priority areas on your behalves.

I am confident that 2017 will be a great year for the member companies of the American Chamber of Commerce in Ireland.

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you.